Williams was pregnant when she lifted the trophy in Melbourne last year, and missed the rest of 2017 awaiting the birth of her daughter in September.
Monday’s event, which featured eight players facing off in 10-point “super tie breaks” as they vied for a $250,000 winner’s prize, was a chance to sharpen her skills.
Williams bowed out in the second round, gaining a 9-7 lead over China’s Zhang Shuai but eventually falling 13-11.
“It was good,” she said of the experience. “I wish I would have made a few more shots.”
Williams opened the laid-back event with a 10-5 victory over Marion Bartoli, the 2013 Wimbledon champion who announced in December she was planning to return to the court more than four years after retiring in the wake of her only Grand Slam triumph.
After correcting the protocol for the “rock-paper-scissors” game used to determine who served first, Williams fell behind 4-2, but a double-fault from Bartoli followed by two aces from Serena saw the American great ahead 5-4.
A couple of forehand winners and a service winner saw Williams take an 8-4 lead, and she finally finished it off with another winning serve.
“It feels different, it feels good,” said Williams, who returned to competition with a Fed Cup doubles loss alongside her sister Venus last month.
The birth of Williams’s daughter, Alexis Olympia, was followed by complications that scuppered the player’s plans to defend her title in Melbourne.
But Williams says she’s aiming to be back at her best – apparently more than comfortable with coach Patrick Mouratoglou’s comments to wtatennis.com that her goal for this season “will be to win Grand Slams.”
“I think everyone should have high expectations,” said Williams, who will be unseeded at Indian Wells and open her campaign against 53rd-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan. “That’s the message that I’m sending.”
Bartoli, who was forced to pull out of an exhibition event at Wimbledon last year because of a mystery virus and dramatic weight loss, has said she was targeting a return to the WTA Tour at the Miami Open later this month.
However, the 33-year-old told AFP her timetable would depend on how her body holds up to training.
“I do not know if my shoulder and my knees are going to hold, there are so many question marks,” she said.
“What is certain is that I will not return to the court until I consider myself 100 percent. I stopped the competition for five years – and I’ll be back when I’m 100 percent.”
Serena Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian has splashed out on four giant billboards to mark the tennis star’s return to tournament play in California next week.
Ohanian, borrowing from a plot at the centre of the Oscar-nominated movie ‘Three Billboards, Outside Ebbing Missouri’, delighted Williams after the giant adverts appeared on the motorway heading to the desert city of Indian Wells.
The first three billboards, which also feature images of the couple’s baby daughter, spell out the message “Greatest Momma Of All Time”.
A fourth billboard reads: “Serena Williams – G.M.O.A.T – Alexis Jr + Sr”.
In an Instagram post, Ohanian revealed he had designed and paid for the ads himself.
“These just went up alongside I-10 into Palm Springs,” Ohanian wrote. “I wanted to welcome her back to tennis. Designed them myself with some help from Jr,” he added.
Williams was bowled over by the gesture. “Literally am crying,” she wrote in a comment under Ohanian’s Instagram post. “This is so sweet. I love you.”
She followed that up by posting a video featuring all four signs.
The caption read: “I’m so fortunate to have @alexisohanian and @olympiaohanian by my side for my comeback. I love my surprise so much from them. I feel so special. Love you both.”
Williams, 36, has not played a full WTA tournament since missing most of 2017 due to the birth of her daughter.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion played in a Fed Cup game for the United States earlier this month and will return at next week’s BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
Serena Williams says she lives in fear of blood clots, a condition that surfaced during a harrowing postnatal ordeal in September when she almost died giving birth to her first child.
In an op-ed piece she wrote for CNN on Tuesday, the tennis legend lifted the lid on her near-death experience while giving birth to daughter, Olympia, after getting blood clots in her lungs.
“I almost died after giving birth to my daughter,” Williams said.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams said she had to have an emergency Caesarean section surgery after her heart rate plummeted dramatically during contractions. The surgery was successful and before she knew it she was holding the newborn.
“But what followed just 24 hours after giving birth were six days of uncertainty,” she said.
In a Vogue magazine interview in January, Williams said that during her postnatal ordeal she suffered a pulmonary embolism — when blood clots block one or more arteries in the lungs.
But this was not the first time the 36-year-old Williams has had a scrape with death from blood clots. In 2011, she spent nearly 12 months incapacitated after a cut on her foot from a piece of broken glass at a Munich restaurant led to a pulmonary embolism.
“Because of my medical history with this problem I live in fear of this situation,” the American said Tuesday.
Williams said that while recovering in the hospital, one day after the emergency Caesarean, she felt short of breath and after some convincing on Williams’ part, the hospital staff finally sent for a CT scan and then put her on a life-saving drip.
But her ordeal wasn’t over. She started coughing so much from the blood clots that her Caesarean wound popped open.
“I returned to surgery where the doctors found a large haematoma in my abdomen. Then I returned to the operating room for a procedure that prevents clots from travelling to my lungs.
“When I finally made it home to my family I had to spend six weeks of motherhood in bed.”
Williams praised the hospital Tuesday staff saying “if it weren’t for their professional care, I wouldn’t be here today”. She did not reveal the name of the hospital in the CNN piece.
Her kind words though were in contrast to some sharp statements she made in the earlier Vogue article where she says she had to coax the hospital staff to send her for a CT scan and hook her up to an IV.
“I was like a Doppler? I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip (blood thinner),” Williams told the magazine.
Williams said it was a complicated experience and despite the agonising ups and downs she “considers herself fortunate”.
Partly for surviving the ordeal and also because she can still live out her dream on the tennis court once she returns to competitive form.
The former world number one staged her long-awaited tennis comeback earlier this month by playing alongside her older sister, Venus, in a Federation Cup doubles match but it didn’t go well.
Serena — looking rusty and slow-footed — lost 6-2, 6-3 to the unheralded Dutch pairing of Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs.