MIAMI (AP) -- Serena Williams is ready to get back on the tennis court after an eight-month layoff.
``When I first got off and took a break, it was really like a relief,'' she said. ``I could wake up when I wanted to, and not have to go to the court. But after a while that gets old.''
Williams underwent surgery on her left knee Aug. 1, and said Tuesday that she had been advised by four doctors to delay her return until now for fear of more serious injury. She said she expects to play her first match since winning Wimbledon at the Nasdaq-100 Open next week.
``That's been my battle, fighting with the doctors,'' she said.
Williams had a 38-3 record in 2003, winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and reaching the French Open semifinals. She said she spent her time off focusing on other pursuits, but was back to practicing by November.
``I enjoy doing a lot of stuff like acting and fashion, but my true love has always been tennis,'' she said. ``So I've just been desperate to get back to the court.''
Williams said she has been having trouble staying patient with her return to the Key Biscayne tournament just around the corner. She won the event the past two years.
``The only thing I can say is I'm so excited,'' she said. ``I wish I could play today. All day long I think about it, so I have to calm myself down to make sure I'm really ready to play.''
Top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne, who beat Barbora Strykova 6-3, 6-4 in a fourth-round match at Indian Wells, Calif., on Tuesday, said she was happy Williams is returning.
``I think that's really good news,'' she said. ``That's great for the people that are coming to watch tennis, for the WTA, for the players, for everyone.''
Williams' time off the court, coupled with the family tragedy when her half-sister Yetunde Price was fatally shot Sept. 14 while riding in a sport utility vehicle in Compton, Calif., led her to re-evaluate her priorities.
``Tennis was just so much of my life, and then you begin to realize there are just so many things in life that are more important than hitting the ball over the net,'' Williams said.
Williams appears to be taking on a full schedule, saying she expects to play at Amelia Island and Hilton Head after Key Biscayne. She also wants to play for the U.S. Federation Cup team in Slovenia in April, and at the Olympics in August.
``I would love to have the opportunity to win a gold medal in singles,'' she said.
In the meantime, she will be focusing her attention on a return to No. 1 in the rankings. During her layoff she slipped to No. 6.
``I'll work harder so I can be back to No. 1,'' she said. ``I do like being there, and I don't like seeing a different number next to my name. So I think that's really going to make me work a little harder.''
Despite her lack of playing time, Williams said she remained confident in her abilities on the court.
``If I didn't feel confident, I'd have no business coming back, no business trying to compete,'' she said. ``I'm a competitor. I may not win every match, but I'm sure going to try to win every match.''
But despite her confidence, she said it will be an odd feeling to return to competition.
``I never said I'm not nervous,'' she said. ``I'm not quite sure how I feel right now. It's kind of like playing your first match all over again.''
Henin-Hardenne isn't playing next week in Miami, but does plan to play at Amelia Island -- on clay -- the following week.
``It's going to be a lot of motivation for all the players to see her coming back,'' Henin-Hardenne said. ``I'll look forward to playing her on clay.''
Henin-Hardenne said her own game has improved, but believes Williams still will be difficult to beat.
``I'm sure it's going to be tough when I have to play against Serena again. I'm sure she's going to come back really strong,'' Henin-Hardenne said.
``Serena is a great player. She won so many titles. She's a champion. When she comes back, I think she will want to win a lot of tournaments. We have to be ready for that.''