DUBAI -- Serena Williams on Monday vowed to try and make amends after missing the Dubai Tennis Championships a year ago due to a last-second injury withdrawal.
The top seed at the Gulf event may even have a hint of a guilty conscience after citing back pains, which came shortly before she was to have taken to the court in her opening match.
This time Williams, 32, who continues to insist that retirement plays no part in her current mindset, believes things can be different at the Aviation Club.
"I really wanted to play here after pulling out in 2013," said Williams, who reached two semi-finals at the hard-court venue. "My goal is to lift the trophy, but we will see how my back feels."
On court on opening day, Lucie Safarova produced 31 winners and broke serve five times in a defeat of former Australian open semi-finalist Sloane Stephens 6-3, 7-5.
Ekaterina Makarova beat fellow Russian Alisa Kleybanova 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4 to earn a second-round place against Williams. Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro defeated Russian wild card Nadia Petrova 6-3, 6-2.
Venus Williams reached the second round over Elena Vesnina 6-3, 6-2 while Sorana Cirstea put out Italy's Roberta Vinci 6-4, 6-3.
Serena Williams only made a late entry into the field, after deciding that the back problem suffered at the Australian Open during a fourth-round loss to Ana Ivanovic had healed enough for her to test it in competition.
"I get bored training. I'd much rather play a match," the 17-time grand slam champion said after confirming that she will partner sister Venus in the doubles to get more matches after playing only eight times so far in 2014.
"My back feels better than it did in Australia. I still have to take it a day at a time. I'll do my best this week, but my goal is to lift the trophy. I always set higher goals; I always want to improve."
The world No. 1 said that she can put no timetable on her career: "Age is not catching up to me.
"This generation is playing longer. I think racket and fitness technology have something to do with it. We know what we have to do in the gym.
"There's no more playing tennis and then going to the bar like several decades ago. The sport now is more of a lifestyle. For me, I just cannot say how long I will play. I'm still setting new goals."
With Williams testing her back injury, third seed Petra Kvitova is putting her fragile fitness on the line after suffering one of her frequent viruses. She lost early at the Australian Open in January and was then unable to play in the Fed Cup for the Czech Republic.
Kvitova won the title in the emirate a year ago and hopes for a repeat. But it all depends on how she pulls up with her delicate body.
"I felt tired when I got here," said the 2011 Wimbledon winner. "But I feel good now. I lost fitness when I was sick, but I did what I could off the court.
"I just hope to get better and better with each match, health and not ranking is always the priority.
"I don't have expectations, it's a tough draw with a low ranking cutoff. Every match is almost like a quarter-final. I just hope I have as good a run as I did last year."
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