Serena overwhelmed by fan love on Indian Wells return

Sat Mar 14, 2015 2:58am EDT
 
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By Mark Lamport-Stokes

INDIAN WELLS, California (Reuters) - Fourteen years after leaving the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in shocked disbelief after being heckled by the fans, Serena Williams soaked up their adulation on her return to the venue on Friday.

The American world number one, who was booed by the crowd as she beat Kim Clijsters in the 2001 final to win her second title at the California desert resort, felt overwhelmed after receiving a standing ovation at the start of the match.

"I didn't know what to expect," said an emotional Williams, who struggled to find her rhythm against a highly unorthodox opponent before battling past Romania's Monica Niculescu 7-5 7-5 in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open.

"In the last couple of moments leading up to it, I was focused on warming up for the match and I wasn't really prepared for that. I was overwhelmed by it.

"It was such a warm feeling. It made me feel incredibly well. And receiving the love from the crowd here, it really meant a lot to me."

During the 2001 final at Indian Wells, Williams was repeatedly booed by the crowd in apparent response to Serena's sister Venus having withdrawn from their semi-final that year just minutes before the match, citing injury.

Her father, Richard Williams, alleged he had heard racist taunts.

Fast forward 14 years and Williams was greeted with huge cheers while walking out on to the stadium court, prompting her to remove the headphones she was wearing and raise her right arm skywards to acknowledge the crowd.   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. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports