Last month, the tennis community was dealt an interesting piece of news, as world No. 1 Serena Williams announced her long awaited return to Indian Wells following a 14-year absence from the tournament. The top seed will begin her first campaign in the American desert since 2001, where she will meet Monica Niculescu in the second round of the tournament. It will be the first ever career meeting between the two players.
Williams vowed never to return to Indian Wells after being ferociously booed at the 2001 final against Kim Clijsters, after sister Venus withdrew from the match hours before the final. Her return to the event this year would have marked a significant step in a potential reconciliation between the two parties.
The American hasn’t played on the WTA tour since her Australian Open title win in January. She defeated a gauntlet of tough opponents during that time, including Garbine Muguruza, Dominika Cibulkova, Madison Keys, and Maria Sharapova. She most recently played in the opening round of the Fed Cup tie against Argentina, where she defeated Maria Irigoyen 7-5, 6-0.
Williams will come up against Monica Niculescu in her opening match at Indian Wells. She defeated Aleksandra Krunic, 6-2, 6-1 to advance to the second round of the Premier event. The Romanian won 70% of her first service points and converted five break points to close out the win in 1 hour and 14 minutes.
She will now be faced with the daunting task of playing Serena Williams in her highly advertised return from a self-imposed exile.
“I don’t really know what to expect because we haven’t played before,” Niculescu said. “But obviously I know she has a lot of power, and I know I’m going to run a lot. I’m just going to play my game.
“She’s playing great and she wins this tournament every time. Hopefully I can play my best.”
This marks the first time that these two competitors will cross paths on the professional tour. Williams will look to make a successful return to Indian Wells, and will be a heavy favourite to win the match and advance to the third round of the tournament.
Prediction: Serena Williams in Straight Sets