With her ailing shoulder out of mind, Maria Sharapova just about played like her usual self.
An ongoing shoulder injury had limited Sharapova to a single match since her Aug. 31 win against Casey Dellacqua in the second round at the U.S. Open.
"I know what I can do. I know I've done it before and I know that if I'm not thinking about this or that and I'm loose then I play great," Sharapova said. "I'm not here just to walk around the court and have some presence. I'm here to compete. I'm here to fight for every point and that's what I do best."
Sharapova, who won a lone singles title in 2007 - the fewest in her career for a single season, looked sharp from the first serve. Sitting on the baseline, the former Wimbledon and U.S. Open winner sprayed groundstrokes across the court for winners.
Most of the time.
Hantuchova, who hasn't beaten Sharapova in more than three years, creeped back in the second set as Sharapova had a rash of unforced errors, including five doublefaults. The ninth-ranked Slovak tied it after rallying from a 3-0 deficit before Sharapova came through, hitting 31 winners to Hantuchova's 14.
"It's just great to be out on court," Sharapova said. "For my first match I think I did a good job being solid and just concentrating on what I had to do in order to win the match. I didn't worry about the other things like my shoulder, you know, or how I was gonna play."
As defending champion at Flushing Meadows, Sharapova lost to Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska after her win over Dellacqua. Her only match since was a loss to unseeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus at the Kremlin Cup on Oct. 14.
At least she's well-rested coming into the season-ending championships, which she captured in her debut in 2004.
"I don't have any matches behind my back and really what I'm trying to do out there is just to get the rhythm, just be out in the court again," she said.
The more reserved two-piece outfit she donned looked like a throwback to tennis great Chris Evert - complete with a matching handbag. Even she agreed it was quite a bit different to her usual outfits.
"It's more classy," Sharapova said. "I'm still trying to match the (purple) court as you can see. I don't know what the court color is going to be next year but I promise I'm not doing it on purpose."
Sharapova gets a rest day on Wednesday before her round-robin play continues from Thursday with matches against two other red group opponents: fourth-ranked Ana Ivanovic and second-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova, who fell to Ivanovic in three sets on Tuesday.
Another win will probably clinch her fourth straight semifinals place at the season-ending event. After being out so long, more matches are just what she's looking for to get over her recent ails.
"Like the doctors say, it can't get any worse playing," she said. "It's just a matter of going out there and not thinking that it's gonna hurt."