Williams, who had not played a singles match since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant, chalked up 27 unforced errors with 34 winners to defeat her 53rd-ranked opponent in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd in California.
The former world number one was only two points from dropping the opening set but showed the sort of poise that has earned her 23 grand slam singles titles. The second set was a fairly even contest, with Williams again coming through on most of the big points.
Williams is unseeded at Indian Wells, which is why she had to play the first round while the seeds, including sister Venus, enjoyed a bye. The Williams sisters could meet in the third round.