Venus Williams saved her best for last: A delicate drop shot on match point that floated over the net, kissed the court and bounced back toward her, beyond the reach of pesky Eva Dyrberg.
That gave Williams a ragged 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory Saturday in the Nasdaq-100 Open.
The match was the defending champion's first since Feb. 22, and the rust showed in her slow start and 40 unforced errors. Among the scattershot strokes was a serve that landed in front of the net _ the tennis equivalent of a free-throw air ball.
"Too much spin," Williams said. "When I try to put too much spin and come down on it, the results are devastating for me."
Dyrberg, a qualifier from Denmark, appeared capable of an upset at 2-2 in the second set. But she wilted and Williams settled down to win 10 of the final 11 games.
"If you haven't played in a couple of weeks, at times you can be a little bit rusty," Williams said. "You can't get your feet to move, no matter how much you beg them."
Also advancing was No. 1-seeded and ranked Jennifer Capriati, who beat Eleni Daniilidou 6-0, 6-3.
Fifth-seeded Monica Seles beat Conchita Martinez for the 20th time in 21 matches 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. Justine Henin lost to Anna Smashnova 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 6-4.
Top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt edged Paradorn Srichaphan 7-6 (7-3), 7-5. Hewitt next faces No. 27 Jan-Michael Gambill, who beat qualifier Andre Sa 7-5, 6-3. Three-time champion Pete Sampras beat Jarkko Nieminen 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Goran Ivanisevic's shoulder forced him to retire leading Franco Squillari 4-3. Ivanisevic, who has a torn rotator cuff, wants to delay surgery because he would miss Wimbledon.
Marat Safin, Thomas Johansson and Roger Federer also advanced.
WTA CHAMPIONSHIP: The season-ending event will switch dates with the Fed Cup final and be held the week of Nov. 4. The Fed Cup final will move to the week of Oct. 28.