World number one Serena Williams is prepared to fight through pain to get onto the court Friday and begin defending her title at the ATP and WTA Miami Open.

The 19-time Grand Slam singles champion, forced out before her Indian Wells semi-final last week against eventual champion Simona Halep, said Wednesday that she expects to “manage pain” when she opens in the second round against Romanian Monica Niculescu.

“I’m just managing where I am right now,” Williams said. “Just trying to stay out of as much pain as possible and see what happens. I know I’m going to have to manage the pain. 

“I think if I’m in that mental state, OK, you might be in a little pain. You just have to figure out the best way around it.”

The Niculescu match is a repeat of the second round a fortnight ago in Indian Wells, which Williams won in two difficult sets, and will probably bring her big pain test.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on it before,” she said. “I’m just here in Miami, so I’m just going to go for it and see what happens.”

The top seed will be bidding for a record eighth trophy at her home event, capturing her seventh last year when she beat China’s Li Na in the final.

“I definitely don’t have low expectations,” Williams said.  “I just definitely expect to do the best that I can.

“Whether that’s winning or just stepping out on the court, that’s what I’m going to have to do. I don’t feel any pressure because I have won this title a few times, so I feel good about being here. 

“When I hit on the court today, I just feel so good out here in Miami. I’m just looking forward to just enjoying myself this year more than anything.”

The 33-year-old American admitted that she had not imagined being able to play Miami after her knee problem, but added, “It takes a tremendous amount for me to stop. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or that’s a bad thing, but I think I will be OK.”

– Two-time winner Azarenka advances –

With all seeds on the men’s and women’s draws given byes, first round matches for the remainder continued, with two-time winner Victoria Azarenka strengthening her 2015 injury comeback with a defeat of Spain’s Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-1, 6-3.

Azaranka missed almost all of 2014 with foot injuries but made this year’s Doha final.

“It has been unfortunate the last couple of years for me, but I love this tournament,” said the 2009 and 2011 champion. “I’m just happy to play anywhere I can. 

“Obviously coming back to a place where I have a lot of great memories, it’s always nice. I’m just looking forward to building my momentum here again and try to play as many matches as possible, but really to improve my level.”

Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic advanced over veteran Daniela Hantuchova 6-1, 7-6 (7/5) and Briton Heather Watson defeated Russian Evgeniya Rodina 3-6, 6-1, 7-5.

Americans Christine McHale and Alison Riske both advanced, joining Pauline Parmentier in the second round after the French player beat Kiki Bertens 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

On the men’s side, American Donald Young will line up against British third seed Andy Murray after advancing when opponent Lu Yen-Hsun retired trailing 5-1 with a neck injury.

Argentine Carlos Berlocq beat Australian teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, Dutchman Robins Haase ousted Briton Kyle Edmund 6-2, 6-2 and Finn Jarkko Nieminen began with a 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Australian Marinko Matosevic. – Agence France-Presse

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