But she needed to overcome a strong challenge against the recent Pattaya champion, saving two set points in the first set before taking charge in the second.
“Today was really difficult for me,” said the world number one, who was playing her first match since losing to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open. “I felt so rusty out there and a little frustrated.
“I was really telling myself to stay positive, because I was making a lot of errors that I normally don't make, and my serve just wasn't popping the way it normally is. I was just really trying to get in the rhythm.”
Former world number one Ana Ivanovic saved a match point before overcoming sixth seed and recent Doha finalist Angelique Kerber 3-6 6-3 7-6, and 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki fell in the opening round to 2011 Dubai champion Caroline Wozniacki, who won 2-6 6-3 6-3.
Former finalist and world number one Jelena Jankovic overcame qualifier Maryna Zanevska 6-4 6-3, but 2011 US Open winner Samantha Stosur was upset 1-6 6-1 6-4 by qualifier Annika Beck.
Qualifier Flavia Pennetta set up a second round clash with number two seed and 2012 Dubai champion Agnieszka Radwanska by beating Kaia Kanepi 7-5 6-4, and Kirsten Flipkens defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-1 7-5.
But Simona Halep, who on Sunday won in Doha to claim her seventh career title, was forced to retire with a right Achilles injury, handing a first round 6-1 1-1 victory to Alize Cornet.
“I have an inflammation at my Achilles. So when I jump with my serve and when I stop at the rallies, I feel the pain,” said Halep. “I wanted to try, because I like to try to fight for my chance, but here I couldn't. After one set I realized that it is dangerous to continue.”
Ivanovic earned the right to face Venus Williams in the second round, a repeat of their final in Auckland last month that was won by Ivanovic, but it was a tense affair. The result could have gone either way as Ivanovic saved a match point at 6-5 in the tiebreak before closing out the match on her fourth match point.
“She's such a tough competitor, and she retrieves lots of balls. You just have to win points over and over again,” said Ivanovic. “After having the three match points, you know, I didn't feel like I did that much wrong. I hit pretty good shots to get in that position in the first place. Having then match point down, I was really happy to come back.”
Wozniacki and Lisicki also fought out a high-quality contest, and Wozniacki was relieved to recover after conceding the opening set.
“I knew she was going to come out hot and just go for her shots, and I felt like I was just a step behind. I couldn't really do what I wanted from my backhand side, and I was playing a little too short,” said Wozniacki.
“In the second set I started serving really well, I was really pleased with my serves, and I got a lot of her returns back deep, and all of a sudden, you know, the game was different.”
“The battle between Wozniacki and Lisicki would have been an excellent final at most tournaments, but such is the strength of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships that they met in a first round match,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free.
“But it is a great shame that we have lost Simona Halep from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. With her run to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open last month and her triumph in Doha just two days ago, she is one of the most exciting young players on the WTA Tour.”
“There are few, if any, tournaments where the competition is so tough that a Wimbledon finalist can be defeated in the first round of a tournament, but that was the fate of Sabine Lisicki,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak.
“Angelique Kerber is another accomplished player who failed to reach the second round, despite reaching the final in Doha just a few days ago, and even a star such as Serena Williams had to fight very hard to advance to the second round.”
Play in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships began on 17 February with the WTA event, which concludes on 22nd February and features seven of the world’s top 10, including world number one Serena Williams, defending champion Petra Kvitova, former winners Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska, and Serbian former world number ones Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic.
Play then continues between 24th February and 1st March with the action-packed ATP tournament that includes defending champion Novak Djokovic, five-time winner Roger Federer, recent Australian Open semi-finalist and last week’s Rotterdam winner Tomas Berdych, former US Open winner and recent Sydney champion Juan Martin Del Potro, and charismatic Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and operated by Dubai Duty Free, and held under the patronage of H H Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.