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10 Mar 2016

Snapshot: Venus Williams Returns to the BNP Paribas Open

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Venus Williams is returning to the BNP Paribas Open for the first time since 2001. Venus Williams is returning to the BNP Paribas Open for the first time since 2001. Kevin Fitzgerald

Wednesday, March 9, was a beautiful day in many ways at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

At 9 a.m., under brilliant blue skies, long-estranged Women’s Tennis Association champion Venus Williams made her first official appearance at the tournament since 2001. She took to Practice Court 1 to begin her preparations for her first match, which will take place on Friday, March 11. Before only a dozen onlookers—only members of the media and security guards—Venus worked on her game. She seemed anxious and a bit surly; while casting surreptitious gazes at the few strangers present, she maintained a serious expression.

At 10 a.m., as her workout entered its second hour, the gates to the grounds opened up for fans—and a crowd of spectators quickly formed around her court. She worked out in brief spurts, taking frequent breaks to rest in the shade, talk on her phone or grab sustenance from a Whole Foods shopping bag she brought with her. During one of those breaks, as the stands filled, she looked around and caught sight of a young girl holding a sign that read: “Welcome Back Venus!”

A smile broke across her face.

As she returned to the court for more work, a healthy round of applause spilled out from the gathered fans.

The tension had been broken. She laughed, and it was pretty clear she was starting feel comfortable at the site of some of her earliest career victories.

Later, when she left the practice court, she walked across the great green area where players regularly congregate for impromptu soccer matches, calisthenics or other activities. Dogged by the ever-present photographers (present company included), she seemed a bit guarded, but then veered off to a crowd of autograph-seekers behind the fence, where she spent a few minutes signing and chatting. Then she was off again.

The final surprise sighting of the newly returned Venus Williams came at the start of her sister Serena’s practice session, around 12:30 p.m. As Serena, the current top-ranked WTA ranked player, laced up her tennis shoes and talked to her entourage, Venus appeared on the court to greet her sister. They spent 10 to 15 minutes together, laughing, dancing and talking with Serena’s guru-in-residence, Patrick Mouratoglou.

With a kiss and a smile Venus left. But make no mistake: She seems happy to be back, and regardless of the ill will from 15 years ago, her fans are happy, too.

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