Serena makes winning return to Indian Wells

Sat Mar 14, 2015 1:17am EDT
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By Mark Lamport-Stokes

INDIAN WELLS, California (Reuters) - Serena Williams returned to Indian Wells on Friday after a 14-year boycott due to racist abuse she suffered in the 2001 final and got her bid for a third BNP Paribas Open title off to a winning, though somewhat error-prone, start.

On a sultry evening at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in front of a sell-out crowd, the American world number one overcame a nervous start on the stadium court to battle past Romania's Monica Niculescu 7-5 7-5 in the second round.

Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, the seventh seed and a losing finalist at Indian Wells last year, had a much easier time of it earlier in the day, storming into the third round with a 6-3 6-1 demolition of American Alison Riske.

Williams said she was overwhelmed by the reaction coming back to play at the venue and that Niculescu's style had taken some getting used to.

"I have never played anyone like her, and I was struggling to find my rhythm," she said in a courtside interview after being repeatedly thwarted by an unorthodox opponent who used a heavily sliced forehand. "It was a really tough match."

Williams had skipped the showpiece event after winning her second title here in 2001, beating Kim Clijsters in a final marred by some spectators who booed and heckled the American and her family.

The heckling was in apparent response to Serena's sister Venus having withdrawn from their semi-final that year just minutes before the match.

"It feels overwhelming, walking out and having everyone here cheering me," she said. "It's been really worth it, coming back here."   Continued...

Mar 13, 2015; Indian Wells, CA, USA;  Serena Williams (USA) during her match against Monica Niculescu (ROU) at the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Williams won 7-5, 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports