Serena Williams has done more than just think about a return to Indian Wells as she has put her name on the entry list that was released by the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday.
However, tournament officials are guarded about Williams actually returning to the BNP Paribas Open for the first time since 2001, where she was booed throughout the finals.
“We’re pleased to see she’s on the list and she’s thinking about it and appears to be,” tournament director Steve Simon said in an exclusive interview with The Desert Sun. “We’ll have to wait to see if she plays.”
While Williams is on the entry list, sister Venus Williams is not.
The BNP Paribas Open is a mandatory event for the WTA Tour players, and attracts the top players for the 96-player singles draw. But since 2001, neither Williams sisters have been on the entry list, according to Simon.
Because a player is on the entry list, there’s no guarantee they will play, whether because of injuries or anything else.
In 2001, Venus Williams withdrew from a semifinal match against Serena due to a knee injury. Because the withdraw happened within minutes of a nationally televised match, ticket holders were left without an evening match, and tournament officials didn’t have time to move in a match to the stadium to fill the void.
When Serena returned for the finals two days later, the full stadium booed her throughout the finals. Venus and father Richard were in the stands and were booed as well.
A week later Richard Williams claimed racial slurs were directed at him during the finals.
No member of the Williams family had publicly returned to the Coachella Valley until December, when Venus Williams was at Pete Carlson’s Golf and Tennis in Palm Desert to unveil her line of active wear.
Then last week, Serena said following a match that she had been thinking about returning to Indian Wells after watching the Mandela movie.
If Serena Williams does return, Simon believes she will be welcomed back warmly.
“We have a long history of working hard that every athlete and performer here is safe,” Simon said. “Obviously she will have a very comfortable environment to here and confident the fans will very much look forward to seeing her play. I don’t foresee any issues in regards to that.”