Moms Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka Return to the Court on International Women’s Day at the BNP Paribas Open
(March 8, 2018) INDIAN WELLS, California – On International Women’s Day, two mothers took center stage at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday night in first round wins.
Serena Williams returned to competition the first time since winning the Australian Open last year and then having a baby girl named Alexis Olympia in September. Williams defeated No. 53 Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 7-5, 6-3 for her first competitive match-win in 14 months. Victoria Azarenka held off Heather Watson 6-4, 6-2.
Williams was one out of six break chances in the first set, four of them coming in the fifth game, when she had a 0-40 lead. Williams finally broke serve in the 11th game for a 6-5 lead, holding to capture the first set.
The second set saw multiple breaks of serve for both women, five straight games from 1-1 to 4-3. Williams won the next two games for game, set and match.
This is just the sixth time that the 23-time major champion is playing this event under the protected ranking of No. 22.
“It was incredible. It’s been over a year and a kid later. I get to go home to her now and I’m excited about that,” Williams said in her on-court post-match interview.
“It definitely wasn’t easy but it was good. I’m a little rusty but it doesn’t matter. I’m just out here on this journey doing the best I can.”
“I almost cried before the match,” Williams said in her news conference. “I texted Alexis, I was like, is it normal that I want to cry? I really missed her, but playing at night really helped because I know she goes to bed and she goes to sleep. I can’t like play with her right now.”
“Right now, for this particular tournament, I’m really just trying to take it easy and not put so much pressure or stress or expectation on myself,” she said. “I feel like it’s one of the few times I’ve been able to do that.”
“I’m playing with nothing to lose, I only can gain,” she said. “For me, it’s a real joy to be out here.”
So what’s it like to transition from traveling with a baby and a husband in tow? “It’s definitely different,” Williams said. “I just felt like my entourage grew. Mostly with the baby, because Alexis works a lot so, like he’s here today, gone tomorrow, back for the next match so that’s an adjustment as well. I don’t know, I like it. Literally just going with the flow. I’ve never done this before, I know I’m going to make mistakes and I’m okay with that and I’m just going to ready for what happens.”
Williams will play the No. 29 player in the world in Kiki Bertens next.
The 28-year-old Victoria Azarenka won a hard-fought match with Great Britain’s Heather Watson 6-4, 6-2. Azarenka is a two-time winner of this event, the last time she was the champion, she beat Serena Williams in the 2016 final. The two-time major champion from Belarus needed a wildcard to get into Indian Wells because she has been off the tour since Wimbledon dealing with custody issues regarding her son Leo, which has hindered her travel.
“Unfortunately, this situation is a little bit out of my control, so I have to go with the flow and continue to be positive, continue to be optimistic and continue to just fight, because that’s what I’m best at — fighting,” the Belarusian said to media. “One day, I’ll write a book about this because it’s Hollywood-worthy for sure, but right now, I just want to keep it private because it’s something that needs to be private.”
“It truly means the world to me just to be here, and to play, and enjoy myself and do what I love to do,” she said during her on-court interview. “There were some moments I lost my concentration not playing so long, but it’s a pretty good start. I had my heart out playing here and that’s the most important.”
Azarenka will play Miami but further plans are still tenuous due to the custody dispute.
Azarenka said that there were so many emotions coming on to court. “There were so many mixed emotions, honestly. The last couple of days and overall just being here, it’s been so many awkward emotions just to come here and so many people were surprised to see me – not awkward bad, awkward good, but still awkward.
Hardest thing for her was to go on the court and lower her “expectation,” and just go out there to enjoy the moment and for once be nice to yourself a little bit on the court, don’t beat yourself up too much.”
Azarenka will play 13th seed Sloane Stephens in the second round.