Venus ends desert boycott, Serena wins opener

Saturday March 12 2016

Venus Williams returns a shot against Kurumi Nara of Japan during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 11 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 11, 2016 in Indian Wells, California. PHOTO | SEAN M. HAFFEY |

Venus Williams returns a shot against Kurumi Nara of Japan during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 11 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 11, 2016 in Indian Wells, California. PHOTO | SEAN M. HAFFEY |  AFP

By AFP
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INDIAN WELLS

Venus Williams finally made peace with Indian Wells tennis fans Friday by ending her 15-year boycott of the hardcourt tournament, but she couldn't put away her Japanese opponent.

Williams' hopes for a storybook ending in her return to the California desert were dashed when she lost 6-4, 6-3 to qualifier Kurumi Nara in a second-round match delayed 30 minutes because of a storm.

The 35-year-old Williams received a hearty reception from the main stadium crowd of about 7,000, with some in attendance standing up to cheer.

But it was a more low-key response than the 57-second standing ovation that Serena received here last year when she ended her 14-year boycott of the joint WTA and ATP Tour event.

"It is time to move on and let the past be the past. When I was out there I didn't think back. It was a long time ago," said Venus, who was seeded 10th in the tournament.

In 2001, spectators at Indian Wells booed Serena during the final and jeered her sister and father Richard Williams when the pair arrived to watch the match. Richard Williams alleges that racist comments were directed at them.

"We could have come back here and everyone could have picked up where they left off," Venus said.

"There had to be a change of attitude on both ends. It isn't always easy. Us, the fans and the city had to have a positive attitude about it."

Venus' upset loss to the world number 89 dashed any hopes that the Compton, California, sisters could meet in the quarter-finals at Indian Wells, one of the biggest events on the tennis calendar outside of the Grand Slams.

Serena breezed through her opening match on Friday, beating German qualifier Laura Siegemund 6-2, 6-1.

Serena advances to the third round where she will face unseeded Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

Venus is a former world number one and the first African-American to become the top-ranked women's player in the world.

Tenth-seeded Venus blasted three aces but made four double faults and won just four of 12 break points in the 101-minute match.

A rain and wind storm struck in the middle of the first set as the driving showers sent spectators and players running for cover.

"It was a tough day," Venus said. "Very tough conditions. Just brutal out there."

SHOTS KEPT GOING

Venus added that luck wasn't on her side Friday.

"She played well. Her shank shots kept going in. I thought, 'How do I get some of mine in?'" Venus said.

This was Serena's first competitive match since her Australian Open final defeat to Angelique Kerber.

The world number one didn't look rusty from the nearly two-month layoff as she saved three-of-three break points on her serve and broke the German's serve four times.

"The key was my intensity," Serena said. "She was close to breaking me at one point and I knew if I didn't give 100 percent at that point it was going to be a long night."

Meanwhile, Polish third seed Agnieszka Radwanska survived a scare to defeat Slovakian veteran Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in her opening match.

She advances to the third round, where she will face Monica Niculescu, who beat Heather Watson 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

In other women's matches on Friday, defending champion Simona Halep cruised past American Vania King 6-1, 6-1; eighth seed Petra Kvitova needed three sets to beat Danka Kovinic 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5); and Jelena Jankovic dominated Carina Witthoeft 6-1, 6-3.

On the men's side, qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo defeated Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-4, 6-4 to set up a second round clash with world number one Novak Djokovic, who is hoping to win his third straight Indian Wells title.