Serena Williams made a winning return as she defeated Zarina Diyas 7-5 6-3 in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells

It was the 36-year-old’s first competitive match in almost 14 months – 404 days to be precise – and the near capacity crowd inside Court 1 greeted her arrival with thunderous applause.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion was the headline act on International Women’s Day, and she made it a night to remember for her army of fans.

It quickly became apparent that Williams’ serve had lost none of its potency during her absence. She was the dominant force in the opener despite the close scoreline, however the second set was less straightforward.

Unsurprisingly, the former world No.1’s level of play dipped considerably in the second set. Unforced-errors were prevalent and breaks of serve were frequent as both players wrestled for baseline supremacy.

Williams eventually established control after registering a rare service hold to move 5-3 in front. Diyas tried desperately to extend her stay in the California desert, but she failed to win another game.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” admitted Williams after netting her first victory as a mother. “We always have a couple of tight sets but it was good. I was a little rusty, but it doesn’t matter. I’m just out here on this journey doing the best I can.

“I was so excited to play on this night [International Women’s Day] and it was meant to be, I think. I’m just really happy about that.”

Williams will take on No.29 seed, Kiki Bertens, in the second round later this week.