Serena ready to find winning form -- now

STANFORD, Calif. -- As statements of intent go, they don't come any clearer than 6-0, 6-0.

Serena Williams kicked off her hard-court campaign Tuesday evening at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, dispatching Anastasia Rodionova without losing a single game. Williams dropped just five points on serve, rarely lapsed into unforced errors and smacked several clean winners from the baseline, including a big forehand on match point.

And if that wasn't enough of a message, she made it clear she's just getting started. Playing just her third event after nearly a year off with injuries and related health problems, Williams feels she still isn't completely comfortable back on court. "I'm still working on that," she said afterward. "I've only played about seven matches, so it's still really early on."

In Williams' book, Tuesday's performance was solid rather than spectacular. "I feel good, just wanting to be more consistent," she said. "I think I was doing that tonight -- not going for too much, not doing too much."

She wore a simple but flattering dark green and black outfit and sported long, manicured nails, but the most significant part of her look was the lean and toned physique that indicates the intensity with which she has been training since losing in the fourth round of Wimbledon. "I didn't practice on the plane ride back, so that was about it," she said. "Definitely, I was disappointed, even though I shouldn't have been, I don't think. So I hit the courts."

So while most players were on their traditional midseason break in early July, the 13-time Grand Slam champion was hitting balls. "I didn't deserve a break," she said, but more to the point, she didn't need one. Breaks from tennis are something Williams has had enough of in recent times. Shortly after winning the Wimbledon title last year, she cut her feet badly on broken glass, a freak injury that required surgery and set off a string of problems: another injury and more surgery in October, a fall on a bicycle while rehabbing, emergency treatment for a pulmonary embolism in February and then another stint in the hospital for bleeding under the skin. She resumed proper training in May and returned to competition in June at Eastbourne, the week before Wimbledon.

In this context, her Wimbledon showing was more than respectable, but Williams clearly wanted more. Now, with more practice and matches under her belt, her expectations can only be higher for the summer hard-court season. Tuesday's match was Williams' first tour appearance on home soil since her infamous outburst over a foot-fault call in the 2009 U.S. Open semifinals, which resulted in a point penalty on match point. Now ranked No. 169 because of her long absence, Williams has opted to use her injury-protected ranking to get into the U.S. Open this year rather than ask the USTA for a wild card.

"I wouldn't be playing, if I don't think I have the chance to do well or be on top or to win," she said. "I think if I focus I can do it. I've always said that I think when I'm playing my best, no one can beat me. So I've just gotta get back to the level of me playing my best and doing my best. Hopefully I can get there again."

This week should offer a good test of where she stands at the moment, with the solid Maria Kirilenko her next opponent and then a possible blockbuster against Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Stanford is one of three tournaments Williams has entered before the U.S. Open, along with the Premier Five events in Toronto and Cincinnati.

Winning more majors is her main goal. Over her career, Williams has become famous for her ability to return from long breaks and easily resume her winning ways. But she's been prepared to invest more in what she calls her toughest comeback yet.

"I've never been an overworker," she said. "I've always been the kind of girl that'll practice two days, then a day off. So I've actually tried to work harder and maybe practice more on a daily basis as opposed to taking so much time off. And you know, I've been concerned -- am I overdoing it, should I do more or am I doing too much? I don't think I am, so far."

She is also trying to manage her own expectations. "I have no patience," she admitted. "But you know, maybe this is teaching me to be more patient."

These aren't the only things that have changed after Williams' harrowing year. She says she now carries a pair of running shoes with her when going out, to protect her feet, if necessary. "I'm so paranoid, it's like I'm super, super careful," she said.

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.