Indian Wells, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - American Sloane Stephens was a straight set winner as the $5 million BNP Paribas Open commenced Wednesday in the California desert.
Stephens had her troubles with Chanelle Scheepers, but ultimately won 7-5, 7-5 to advance on the hardcourts at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Britain's Heather Watson held off German Julia Goerges 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, while Romanian Monica Niculescu whipped Serb Aleksandra Krunic 6-2, 6-1,Croat Donna Vekic dismissed American Louisa Chirico 6-4, 6-3 and German Mona Barthel outlasted France's Kristina Mladenovic 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
Also on Day 1, Russian Elena Vesnina drilled Ukrainian Kateryna Kozlova 6-3, 6-3 and Russia's Daria Gavrilova doused Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-3, 6-4. Gavrilova should have her hands full with second-seeded Simona Halep in the round of 64.
Additional first-round wins came for Katerina Siniakova, Alison Van Uytvanck, Marina Erakovic, Sachia Vickery, Irina Falconi, Lara Arruabarrena, Monica Puig, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Alison Riske.
The top seeds here are world No. 1 Australian and U.S. Open champion Serena Williams, French Open titlist and Aussie Open runner-up Maria Sharapova, the French Open runner-up Halep, and U.S. Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki. Sharapova is a two-time winner at Indian Wells, while her fellow former No. 1 Wozniacki captured the title in 2011.
The 2001 Indian Wells champ Williams will end her self-imposed exile from this tournament and play here for the first time in 14 years.
At the 2001 BNP Paribas Open, Serena and her older sister Venus were booed by fans who accused them of match fixing when Venus withdrew from a scheduled semifinal match.
The 19-time major titlist Serena will open her stay against the aforementioned Niculescu.
Flavia Pennetta was last year's surprise champion, after upsetting Agnieszka Radwanska in the final.
The 2015 Indian Wells champion will earn $900,400.