Serena Williams Triumphantly Returns to Indian Wells

by Karen Crouse

Serena Williams was conspicuously absent from the BNP Paribas Open for 13 years, so she could be forgiven for lingering in her return. Making her first appearance at the tournament since the 2001 final, Williams, the world No. 1, defeated Monica Niculescu, 7-5, 7-5, in 2 hours 3 minutes in front of fans so firmly behind her, their cheers were like a wind at her back.

Williams had 13 aces, converted 5 of 10 break opportunities and sealed the victory on her fourth match point. She said afterward that the warm welcome was “overwhelming” and added that she was glad to be back to “create new memories.”

It was the first meeting between Williams, who won her 19th major singles title at this year’s Australian Open, and the 27-year-old Niculescu. Williams, 33, started tentatively, producing a few second serves that registered in the 70s, which is the equivalent of an underhand toss for the owner of one of the fastest serves in the women’s game.

Serena Williams at a news conference for the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament on Thursday in Indian Wells, Calif. Williams had boycotted the tournament for 13 years.Sports of The Times: Serena Williams Strikes the Right Note in a Time of TurmoilMARCH 12, 2015
Niculescu, ranked 68th, won the first two games and took Williams to deuce seven times in her second service game before Williams held. Williams needed an hour, but after she passed Niculescu with a backhand to secure the first set, the fans erupted in cheers.

A few hours before Williams arrived for the match, a crowd began forming behind a railing several yards inside the entrance. Some of the fans were indiscriminate autograph seekers, hoping to catch whoever happened to stop before a match or after practice. Others, like the man holding up the sign for the television cameras that read, “Welcome Back, Serena,” had a carefully considered strategy.

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