Indian Wells, California

March 8 - 21, 2021

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5 Things to Watch Thursday: Serena Makes Her Long-Awaited Return to Court

serena practice

by BNP Paribas Open

1. Stadium 1 blockbuster

The atmosphere inside Stadium 1 is sure to be electric on Thursday night. The evening session (beginning at 7 p.m.) will feature both Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, two-time champions and new moms making their return to the WTA Tour. Williams, who triumphed at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in 1999 and 2001, will kick things off with her first singles match in 14 months, facing unseeded Kazakh Zarina Diyas. Azarenka, who returns to the BNP Paribas Open for the first time since raising the trophy in 2016, faces Great Britain’s Heather Watson in an intriguing nightcap.

2. Enter the men’s game

The ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event swings into gear with a full slate of men’s singles and doubles matches. Several American men will be among those kicking off their BNP Paribas Open campaign. First up in Stadium 1 (11 a.m.) will be the all-U.S. clash between onetime junior foes Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka. Other Americans taking the court on Day 2 include Steve Johnson (vs. Daniil Medvedev), Ryan Harrison (vs. Federico Delbonis), Donald Young (vs. Borna Coric) and Jared Donaldson (vs. qualifier).

3. Doubling down

There’s a whole lot more money on the line this year at the BNP Paribas Open. For the first time, the tournament will award a $1 million bonus to any player — male or female — who captures both the singles and doubles titles. The added incentive seems to have attracted some potent doubles tandems, several of which will be in action on Day 2. Among those going for the money in singles and doubles are the Pliskova sisters (Karolina and Krstyna), who will open against Monica Niculescu/Andrea Sestini Hlavackova on Stadium 9. Karolina enjoyed an eight-week run at No. 1 in singles last summer, but hasn’t teamed with her sister on the doubles court in two years. Current world No. 1 Simona Halep will double down, too, joining countrywoman Irina-Camelia Begu in the doubles draw. Halep/Begu open against Nicole Melichar/Kveta Peschke on Thursday on Stadium 6.

4. Rockin’ news

The BNP Paribas Open’s lineup of evening entertainment kicks off on Thursday with the fan-favorite Bryan Bros. Band from 5-7 p.m. The Tennis Garden Village will come alive as the greatest doubles team in the history of the game and two-time tournament doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan perform alongside Dan Deshara, Jim Bogios (of Counting Crows fame) and George Holdcroft.

5. Honoring Daniela

The BNP Paribas Open will honor two-time champion Daniela Hantuchova (2002 and 2007) during Thursday’s evening session. The former Top-5 Slovakian, a career Grand Slam winner in mixed doubles, announced her retirement from tennis last summer.

Hantuchova 2002

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