Serena Williams won her first match at Indian Wells since 2001 on Friday, beating Monica Niculescu in straight sets to end her 14-year self-imposed exile from the California desert event.
World number one Williams earned the 7-5, 7-5 victory in two hours, three minutes in front of a crowd of about 14,000 on the Tennis Garden stadium court.
The 19-time Grand Slam winner walked onto the court to a roaring ovation from the crowd, a sharp contrast to her last Indian Wells appearance when as a 19-year-old she was booed after beating Kim Clijsters in the final.
Friday evening’s match was one of the most anticipated of the two week hardcourt tournament because Williams finally decided to bury the hatchet after telling herself she would never play in Indian Wells again.
“I felt excited to be out there, almost overwhelmed,” Williams said. “I wasn’t able to get off to as fast a start as I wanted to. It felt so good, I just wanted to be out there.”
Williams won the Indian Wells crown in 1999 at age 17 and again two years later when she rallied to beat Clijsters in the final 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 after a controversial semi-final walkover when her sister Venus pulled out.
Niculescu came out onto the court first Friday followed a few minutes later by Williams who received a warm reception from the crowd as she emerged from the tunnel.
One fan yelled “We love you Serena” which was followed by more clapping and cheering.
Several members of Williams’ family were in also in attendance including her mother Oracene. – Agence France-Presse