Indian Wells, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Serena Williams entered the hardcourts at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden to a chorus of cheers as she made her first appearance at the BNP Paribas Open since 2001.
After a heartfelt standing ovation that brought visible emotions to Williams, she went out and battled her way past Monica Niculescu 7-5, 7-5 on Friday.
The 2001 Indian Wells champ Williams ended her self-imposed exile from this tournament to play here for the first time in 14 years.
At the 2001 BNP Paribas Open, Serena and her older sister Venus were booed by angry fans who accused them of match fixing after Venus withdrew from a scheduled semifinal match. In an article published by USA Today soon after, Serena's father, Richard, said he was a victim of racial abuse as he watched Serena defeat then 17-year-old Kim Clijsters.
Serena, a 19-time major titlist and top seed at Indian Wells, defeated Niculescu in their first career meeting.
Third-seeded French Open finalist and steady Romanian Simona Halep started off slowly before rebounding to best Russian Daria Gavrilova 2-6, 6-1, 6-2.
In other second-round action involving top-10 seeds on Day 3, No. 7 Agnieszka Radwanska routed American Alison Riske 6-3, 6-1 and No. 8 Ekaterina Makarova mauled fellow Russian Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-0. The Polish Radwanska was last year's Indian Wells runner-up to Italy's Flavia Pennetta.
Czech Lucie Safarova, the No. 10 seed, had her troubles with Mona Barthel, but ultimately won 6-4 (7-4), 7-6. The 12th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain cruised past Monica Puig 6-1, 6-1, while American Sloane Stephens upended 13th-seeded Angelique Kerber 7-6 (8-6), 6-2.
Rising 14th-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova moved on by dismissing Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena 6-3, 7-5.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova defeated No. 17 Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-3, 6-3, 19th-seeded Garbine Muguruza downed Irina Falconi 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, and 22nd- seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Katerina Siniakova, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 to move on.
The two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova was the back-to-back Indian Wells runner-up in 2007 and 2008.
Meanwhile, 23rd-seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina overcame Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1, 26th-seeded Varvara Lepchenko eased past Sachia Vickery 6-4, 6-1, 27th-seeded Timea Bacsinszky took care of Marina Erakovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 28th-seeded Kazakhstani Zarina Diyas drubbed Croat Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-3 and Britain's Heather Watson dismissed 29th-seeded Italian Camila Giorgi 7-5, 7-5.
The 2015 titlist will earn $900,400.