March 12, 2015

Look Who's Back!

The ladies have about half a round of play in the books at Indian Wells, but all eyes will be on one player this week.

Serena Williams makes her first appearance at the BNP Paribas Open since 2001 tomorrow, ending a fourteen year ban on a tournament she once vowed she would never play again.

You remember what happened -- after losing to Venus in the quarterfinals, Elena Dementieva made a comment about how Richard Williams is really the one who decides who wins the siblings' matches, and when the elder sister pulled out of the semi minutes before the start of the match, fans suspected something fishy. They booed Serena mercilessly during the final, allegedly slung racial slurs at her father and ultimately caused her to break down in the locker room. Serena was so traumatized by the experience she refused for years to return to the California desert.

But that changes in 2015. In a letter to Time Magazine this past February, she acknowledged how much things -- she, the fans, tennis itself -- have changed in the last decade and a half and that she was finally ready to come back.

She opens against Monica Niculescu in Friday's night match, and as the top seed and undisputed world #1, Serena will be the heavy favorite. She may have to shake off a few cobwebs of course -- we've seen how she can be a little off her game during early rounds before finally finding her groove, and this time more than ever nerves could play a factor. But she's won the title in Indian Wells twice -- including in 2001 when she withstood the jeers of the crowd to beat Kim Clijsters in the final -- and she's riding an eleven match win streak into the tournament. As with most events she enters -- this trophy is hers to lose.

Of course there are a few who may be a little less excited to see Serena return -- in Williams' absence, players like Daniela Hantuchova, Vera Zvonareva, Jelena Jankovic and, most recently, Flavia Pennetta have been able to thrive, notching some of the biggest wins of their respective careers. And 2013 champ Maria Sharapova, still unable to get the upper hand versus her long-time rival, may have to face her again in a final if she wants to reclaim this crown.

But while the road may be tougher for pretty much everyone entered in the draw, with Serena back, whoever does walk away with the title will know just how much she earned it.

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