Pierce confident in WTA return.
SAN DIEGO, United States (AFP) - Holder Mary Pierce is expecting few surprises as she returns to tennis for the first time since February, defending her title at this week's San Diego WTA tournament.
"I don't think the tour has changed too much in the time I've been away," said the sixth-seeded Frenchwoman who lifted the title here a year ago when she beat Japan's Ai Sugiyama.
"Martina (Hingis) is back and she's really been making a difference. But other than that, not a lot has changed."
Pierce, 31 and ranked ninth, last played as she lost the final of the Paris Indoors nearly six months ago to Amelie Mauresmo. A torn ligament in her right foot kept the two-time Grand Slam finalist busy with rest and rehabilitation.
But Pierce kept in synch with the tennis world, amazed as Mauresmo claimed the Wimbledon title.
"It was excellent," said Pierce, playing now without coaching from her brother David, who has stepped away from the game for the moment and is remaining in Paris.
"It was amazing to see her win Wimbledon, which I don't think anyone expected. I know how much it meant to her to win that event."
As she tests herself for the first time, Pierce is carrying realistically few expectations into the San Diego hardcourt week.
"Of course it would be great to defend my title, but at the same time I'm coming here without any expectations.
"I want to enjoy myself out on the court and hopefully be pleasantly surprised."
Pierce, who did her rehabilitation in Paris, was in Florida last week hitting with her one-time estranged father Jim.
"I guess I'm a bit like Roger Federer, I'm not totally alone here. But I know my game pretty well and what I need to do.
"I would prefer to have my brother here but he decided to take a break."
Pierce called herself "excited and happy."
"It's nice to come back to one of my favourite events, it's a beautiful place to play," she said of the golf resort setting which looks likely to lose the tournament after 2007 in a dispute over a larger stadium.
The Frenchwoman said that much of her time in Paris was spent healing.
"I've done pretty well to stay active. I don't really feel that I've been out of it for that long.
"I tried to keep a normal schedule in the gym and treatment with the Physios. I've been very busy even if I haven't been playing tournaments."
Pierce said that she had hoped to return in time for Roland Garros but suffered a leg injury which set back her progress.
"I started to hit before the French, but I had to take another break. Coming back from a foot injury like I had, you have to build up to it slowly. I'm excited to be playing again."