All eyes will be on Serena Williams as she takes to the court once more at the famous Indian Wells Tennis Garden in the Californian desert. Can she win her first title since ending a 14-year boycott? We look at her history at Indian Wells.
The BNP Paribas Open is live from Indian Wells from 6-19 March.
Serena Williams was first seen at Indian Wells in 1997, when the 16-year-old lost in her first round of qualifying. The American rookie would go on to win her first professional match at the event, partnering Venus as the sisters reached the doubles' quarter finals.
By the time she came back to the Tennis Gardens in 1999, she had won her first professional singles title in the Open Sud de France in Paris, before moving on to Indian Wells (then called the Evert Cup). Beating World No. 2 Lindsey Davenport in the second round, and sixth seed Mary Pierce in the quarter-final, she reached the final without dropping a set to face Steffi Graf. Starting strongly she took the first set only to be pegged back by the German two-time champion before a taut deciding set, emerging victorious 6-3 3-6 7-5.
Serena Williams defeated Steffi Graf in a three-set thriller to win her first Indian Wells trophy in 1999. (Photo by: Gary M Prior /Allsport).
She failed to defend her title in 2000, losing to Mary Pierce in the quarter-finals in rather humbling fashion as the Frenchwoman won 6-2 6-1.
By 2001, Williams had won her first Grand Slam title (US Open, 1999) but ugly rumours had started surfacing once Serena and Venus were both in the top ten, starting to meet in tournaments, suggesting that father Richard Williams was determining who should win their matches. Until they were scheduled to meet in the 2001 semi-final, Venus had won their first three encounters (Australian Open 1998, Rome quarter-final 1998, and Miami final 1999) before Serena beat her older sister in the Munich final (1999). Venus advanced at her sisters expense at the Wimbledon semi-final in 2000, on her way to the first of five Wimbledon titles in her own illustrious career.
In 2001 Venus defaulted after picking up an injury in her quarter-final against Elena Dementieva, and withdrew from her semi-final. Although Venus claimed to have informed the tournament official in good time, the official word was that the notification was 10 minutes before the scheduled start of the match, which angered fans who had come to see the match.
The atmosphere during the match for the final between Serena and Kim Clijsters was hostile from the start of the match, with Williams jeered from the warm up to the final presentation after she beat Clijsters, coming from a set down for a 4-6 6-4 6-2. Tournament officials made no attempts to quiet the crowd, and Richard Williams alleged that he had also been subjected to racist comments while watching his daughter from the stands. The tournament director offered no apology to the 2001 champion, and from that point neither sister participated in what was a mandatory event on the WTA tour.
After winning her sixth Australian Open title, and her 19th Grand Slam title, putting her in touching distance of Steffi Graf’s 22 titles, Williams revealed in Time
magazine that the time had come to put that behind her and accepted a wildcard into the 2015 tournament.
Serena was warmly welcomed by the Indian Wells public on her return to the tournament, and she responded by reaching the semi-finals. But in an eerie twist of fate, the American great was forced to pull out of her semi-final against Simona Halep because of a knee injury- 14 years after Venus had incensed the crowd by withdrawing from a semi-final. This time around, Serena's withdrawal was met with more understanding, although there were still a handful of boos in the crowd.
Williams went on to win an eighth Miami crown, as well as Roland Garros and Wimbledon to put herself on the verge of a stunning Calendar Slam. Unfortunately, she couldn't quite pull it off, suffering a surprise defeat to Roberta Vinci at the US Open semi-finals when she looked odds on to claim the title.
Serena returned to Indian Wells in 2016, few weeks after suffering more Grand Slam heartbreak at the Australian Open (She was beaten by Angelique Kerber in the final). She advanced to her first Indian Wells final since 2001 without dropping a set, getting past Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska in consecutive rounds, but she would fall just short again, losing to Victoria Azarenka in the final.
Serena Williams was in jovial mood despite losing 2016 Indian Wells final to Victoria Azarenka. (Photo by: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Having made the semi-finals and final in consecutive years since her return to the tournament, can Serena Williams take it a step further and claim the crown in 2017? She has started the year well enough, winning her record 23rd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. Will she go on and claim a record 3rd Indian Wells crown?
Find out when the 2017 BNP Paribas Open holds from March 6-19.