Maria Sharapova played her first tour singles match in nearly 10 months yesterday, and needed nine match points to finish off Tathiana Garbin of Italy 6-1 6-7 (6) 6-3 in the first round of the Warsaw Open.
"I certainly had desire to win my first match back," the Russian said. "I'm hungry, I haven't played for a while and I want it really bad and sometimes I actually have to stop myself at times and tell myself to be patient."
Sharapova, who last played a singles match in July after being sidelined with a torn rotator cuff in her right shoulder, wore a bandage on the arm but said the shoulder didn't bother her.
She cruised through the first set and grabbed a quick 4-0 lead in the second before her serve started to falter. Serving at 5-3, she wasted four match points - double faulting on two of them - and then failed to convert two more in the tie-break before netting a forehand to give the set to Garbin.
"I created some good opportunities, and played really well in the first set and at the start of the second, but I was definitely a little bit nervous closing that second set out," Sharapova said.
In the third, the Russian dropped an early break before rallying with her trademark groundstrokes to overpower the Italian. Sharapova held serve to go up 5-3, then converted her third match point when Garbin knocked a backhand long.
"When you haven't been there, haven't done that in a while it throws you off a little bit, and then there you are after nine months and you have an opportunity to win your first match back, and you start thinking of everything that's gone on and you kind of lose the present time," Sharapova said.
Once ranked No 1 in the world, Sharapova's ranking has slid to No 126 since her injury forced her to miss the last two Grand Slams.
"Although these nine months have been pretty difficult, I've definitely had to test out my patience," Sharapova said.
"In these nine months the only thing I've accomplished is probably a good pasta carbonara," she added. "At the end of the day that's not my specialty, my specialty is to go out and compete and win Grand Slams."
Sharapova refused to speculate about next week's French Open, saying she was only thinking about Warsaw this week. But she stressed that playing matches was the only way to return to her championship form.
"I've been absent for so long, and I've said it many times, you can do so many things, you can practice and you can play practice matches, but it's never the same as going out and playing in a tournament, and I think that's what I'll need," she said.
"I've played millions of matches in my career, and I'll play millions more, and I think right now it's just going to be getting that experience back and the thought process on the court and doing the right things to finish the match."
In other first round action, Marta Domachowska of Poland beat Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan, 6-2 6-1; Anne Keothavong of Britain downed Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States, 6-2 7-6 (4); Jie Zheng of China beat Olga Govortsova of Belarus, 4-6 7-6 (0) 6-3; Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine beat Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, 7-5 6-2; Julia Goerges of Germany downed Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada 7-6 (5) 6-3; and Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine eliminated Katarzyna Piter of Poland 6-0 6-0.