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Mon12092019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On Wednesday evening, March 18, halfway through the final week of play at the 2015 BNP Paribas Open, storm clouds and gusty desert winds swept across the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

They came and went with minimal impact—much like the highly publicized return of No. 1-ranked Serena Williams to Indian Wells for the first time since 2001.

After winning four matches, Williams withdrew from the tournament on Friday, March 20, shortly before her scheduled semifinal meeting with No. 3-ranked Simona Halep, due to a knee injury.

When asked how emotional it was for her to withdraw, Williams said, “I was really, really disappointed. I was really down. I was really sad.”

Her mood brightening, she continued: “But then I thought, ‘You know what, Serena? This is just an opportunity to be able to come back … and do better next year.’”

So she’s already planning to return in 2016? “I think it’s going to be a must,” she said, smiling.

Halep was the happy recipient of a “walkover” win in her semifinal, which gave her extra rest heading into Sunday’s final. Her rest looked more like rust during a lackluster first set, which her opponent, No. 18 Jelena Jankovic, won 6-2. But Halep then turned on the jets, capturing a tight 7-5 second set and crusing home with a 6-4 final set.

The competitive women’s final set the stage for the return of last year’s men’s singles finalists: No. 2-ranked Roger Federer, and No. 1 Novak Djokovic. And for the second year in a row, Djokovic showed that his game shines in the desert sun, claiming a three-set victory. The first set and the last sets (6-3 and 6-2 wins by Djokovic, respectively) were one-sided displays of Djokovic’s spectacular shot-making. The middle set, won in a tiebreaker by Federer, 7-6 (5), was tense, dramatic and filled with brilliant play on both sides of the net.

Some miscellaneous observations:

• Is it a coincidence that two players who benefited from “walkover” wins in the second week of this marathon championship wound up winning the whole thing?

• Isn’t it unseemly for the impresario of this stellar event, Larry Ellison, to choose not to attend the women’s singles final? Not even the awards ceremony?

• Could there be a better example of irony than Serena Williams being forced to withdraw from her semifinal match due to injury—just as her sister Venus did in 2001?

Until next year! Scroll down to enjoy some images from the second week of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open.

Published in Snapshot

The first week of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open delivered no major surprises on the courts—but it did deliver sweltering temperatures for fans and players alike, as well as record attendance figures, thanks to the return of Serena Williams to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for the first time since 2001.

Almost all of the top-seeded players in both the men’s and women’s singles draws are still competing, while four American players made it into the second week of both draws—exciting news for local fans: On the women’s side, Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys are still alive, while on the men’s side, survivors include John Isner, Donald Young, Steve Johnson and Jack Sock.

The competition will heat up as the tournament moves into its late rounds this week—and the weather forecast calls for continued high temperatures, which makes staying cool and hydrated a challenge for everyone. The longest lines found on the grounds were often for the spectator water-filling stations.

Saturday brought also brought traffic gridlock, as attendees tried to squeeze into overflowing parking lots. Tournament officials reported that Week 1 set a new record, with 241,884 spectators attending the matches.

Scroll down to enjoy a photo retrospective of last week’s BNP Paribas Open experience.

Published in Snapshot

The last time current world No. 1-ranked Serena Williams, winner of 19 Grand Slam tennis titles, stepped onto the Stadium 1 court at the BNP Paribas Open was in 2001. She was 19 and about to play for the women’s singles championship.

“I was looking to take another title. I was ready,” Williams wrote last month in TIME when she announced her decision to return to the BNP Paribas Open after a 14-year self-imposed exile. “As I walked out onto the court, the crowd immediately started jeering and booing. In my last match, the semifinals, I was set to play my sister, but Venus had tendinitis and had to pull out. Apparently, that angered many fans.”

After 14 years of healing after that unfortunate, racially tinged incident in 2001, Williams walked back onto that court at 7 p.m., Friday, March 13, with determination and trepidation. Those in the traditionally late-arriving desert crowd rose as one and cheered wildly to welcome her back. Williams, clearly overwhelmed by emotion, seemed strangely reserved. There were no smiles, really, and she offered just one brief wave to the fans. In fact, we learned later, she was struggling not to cry.

“It was an emotional time,” Williams shared in her Tennis Channel post-match interview. “I didn’t expect to start tearing up. The crowd was just so amazing and so nice. I just didn’t know what to expect.”

She and most of the tennis pundits running around the Indian Wells Tennis Garden certainly didn’t expect the highly competitive match that followed, against No. 68-ranked Monica Niculescu of Romania. Relying on an unorthodox style of play, Niculescu pushed Williams into a sometimes awkward but always resourceful game, which ended in a 7-5, 7-5 victory by Williams.

Thus ended a week of heightened anxiety—and somewhat unnecessary mystery for everyone involved with the tournament, as the return of Serena Williams had everyone on edge. Serena was invisible to most as the week progressed. Her first onsite practice session was held behind locked doors on Stadium 1. While names like Sharapova, Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal practiced publicly and interacted with fans—keeping with the routines that make this tournament renowned as one of the most laid-back in the world—no announcement of Williams’ presence was made to fans or members of the media, who were kept at bay by posted security guards. She surfaced briefly for a pre-match interview session, and then went back into hiding.

Meanwhile, the anticipation built. “The kids are so excited to finally get a chance to ball-kid for Serena,” said Rick Mozzillo, lead chair person of the tourney’s Ball Kids Committee. “The kids had to sign up for that shift a month ago, and we didn’t know that Serena would be playing that day at that time. So the lucky ones who get to work it kind of won a blind lottery.”

Meanwhile, the PR department laid out restrictions for coverage and access to the big match, the type of which are usually only instituted for the championship match—if at all.

“We were outsiders,” Williams wrote in the opener to her TIME about returning to Indian Wells. That’s how she characterized the status she shared with her sister Venus and the whole Williams family back in 2001.

Hopefully, the healing continues, and she and her family can enjoy what today makes the BNP Paribas Open one of the best stops on the pro tennis circuit each year.

Scroll down to see images from Serena Williams’ return to the BNP Paribas Open.

Published in Snapshot

Hardcore tennis fans arrived early on Monday, March 9, to take advantage of the free-entry policy in effect during the first and second days of the 2015 BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. While there was a lot of tennis action for them to enjoy, not much of it involved the sport’s big names.

Some of the game’s stars—like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Serena Williams—have not yet appeared to prep for the tournament, which begins main-draw play on Wednesday, March 11. The big names who had arrived—including Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantukova—worked out on the main stage of Stadium 1 surrounded by thousands of empty seats, because the doors to that court were locked all day, while thousands of diehard fans roamed the pathways nearby.

In an email, the Independent asked J. Fred Sidhu, of the BNP Paribas Open media relations team, why this area was kept off limits.

“The main stadium is open to fans at the start of main draw play,” Sidhu said via email. “It is something that has always worked for the tournament. There is really no official reason. Fans have plenty of opportunities to watch practice on the outside courts.”

Fair enough … but it was unfortunate that most of the top-flight players practiced out of sight of the fans who admire them so.

As the temperatures rose past 90 degrees, the WTA women’s qualifying draw completed first-round action in the battle for unseeded players to grab a spot in the final qualifying draw. Women’s play continued today, while men’s qualifying action got under way.

However, the biggest news of the day came when tournament officials announced that top-ranged Serena Williams would end her 14-year absence from Indian Wells when she takes to the Stadium 1 court at 7 p.m. this Friday, March 13, to begin her quest for a third BNP Paribas Open women’s singles championship.

Published in Snapshot