World number one Ashleigh Barty said Monday that she will need to be patient as she returns to competitive action this week for the first time since the US Open in September.
Barty is celebrating 102 consecutive weeks at the top of the women's game but after falling in the third round at Flushing Meadows she ended her season because of the pandemic and returned to Australia.
The 25-year-old two-time Grand Slam champion said she spent the time with family and worked on her game in a bid to win her first Australian Open later this month.
The newly engaged Barty, who will open her season at the Adelaide International this week, said: "I love to try to get better each and every day.
"I'm excited now to try and bring it all together as best that I can and understand in the next couple of weeks I'll have to be patient with myself.
"It has been a while since I've played a competitive match, but I feel good, I feel ready."
Barty, who has a first-round bye in Adelaide, said results last year showed that there was now enormous depth in the women's game -- and with that come challengers to her top ranking.
British teenager Emma Raducanu won the US Open, beating fellow 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez in the final, while 24-year-old Spaniard Paula Badosa broke through in 2021.
"There's fresh challengers every year regardless of who is what spot on the ranking list," said Barty, who last year became the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980.
"Girls really stepped up, were able to play really consistent seasons which is exciting to see for the women's game.
"It feels like it's just good competition.
"Genuinely there is really good depth and you have to bring your best time and time again to be able to compete with everyone and give yourself a chance to win the big titles."