Mothers’ Returns Headline WTA First Round at Indian Wells
Thursday night in Indian Wells, the WTA wrapped up its first round of the BNP Paribas Open on International Women’s day by welcoming two recent mothers back—Serena Williams and Viktoria Azarenka. Both celebrated their return to the tour at the Southern California tournament they had won previously; Williams in 1999 and 2001, Azarenka in 2012 and 2016.
Serena Williams played the first night match in Stadium 1 against Kazakh player Zarina Diyas. Williams won 7-5, 6-3 in almost exactly one and a half hours. In her first service game of the night, Williams convincingly won at love with an ace on her third serve back on tour. She finally broke Diyas in the sixth game to take the first set. Williams’s aggressive serve earned her four aces, but she matched that number with four double faults. Williams overwhelmed Diyas with 63% of service points won. She faces Kiki Bertens  in the second round. A victory over Bertens could lead to a third-round clash with older sister Venus , who received a bye in the first round and plays Sorana Cirstea in the second.
Williams was cheerful speaking with press after her match. Tempering expectations, she explained: “I'm really just trying to take it easy and not put so much pressure or stress or expectation on myself and yeah I feel like it's one of the few times where I've been able to do that and so I'm feeling really fine.” She was happy with her stamina and fitness but expressed the need for more match play to get back her timing to make the key shots.
Viktoria Azarenka of Belarus played the second night match, beating Heather Watson of Great Britain 6-4, 6-2. After several custody related setbacks that kept Azarenka out of tournament play longer than she wanted, she came out of the stadium tunnel like a race horse out of the gate at Pimlico. Having lost significant weight since she last played, Azarenka moved well without noticeable compromises to the power she relies on. As she jokingly explained it to media later, her pregnancy helped her lose her own baby fat.
Azarenka stormed into the match taking the first three games, Watson having won the coin toss and choosing to receive. Down two breaks at 5-2, Watson broke twice before Azarenka broke back for 6-4. In the second set, Azarenka again took a quick 3-0 lead, but Watson still had plenty of fight in her, most remarkably in the seventh game. Azarenka served to 40-15 before Watson was able to force deuce. That 30-point game lasted 18 minutes before Azarenka was able to hold for 5-2. Watson served out the match in another tense 12-point game. In total, Azarenka saved 10/12 break points.
This year also marked Maria Sharapova’s first match back at Indian Wells after her suspension, she won the tournament in 2006 and 2013. Entering the tournament unseeded, she played Naomi Osaka of Japan on Wednesday night. In a match that lasted an hour and a half, Sharapova was defeated 6-4, 6-4. Osaka got an early break and was quickly up 4-1 before Sharapova could break back. In that first set, Sharapova served four double faults, but still maintained a 62% first serve percentage. Both struggled with break points, Osaka not saving any of her three, Sharapova only saving one of six.
Moving into the second round, the bottom half of the draw will be one to watch. Venus  and Serena Williams, Julia Goerges , Madison Keys  and Elina Svitolina  are all in the same quarter. Angelique Kerber  and Caroline Wozniacki  are in the other quarter. Play on the bottom half of the women’s singles draw begins Saturday.