404 days have passed since we had a chance to see Serena Willimas in action on the WTA Tour and she made a winning comeback at Indian Wells, beating Zarina Diyas 7-5 6-3 in an hour and 32 minutes. A 23-time Grand Slam champion is currently unranked in singles (her last tournament was the Australian Open 2017) and it wasn't an easy match for her by any means, losing serve twice from five break opportunities she offered to her rival.
Nonetheless, her return game was there to keep her in front, creating 11 break points and converting five to emerge as a winner and reach the second round. The first set was decided by a single break and the second was a little bit sluggish for both players but Serena grabbed it with four straight breaks.
Williams covered the court nicely and she hit the ball well, finishing the match with more winners than unforced errors. A former champion here (Serena won her first Indian Wells crown at the age of 17 in 1999) played a steady opener, losing nine points in six service games and keeping the pressure on Diyas all the time.
Zarina saved five break points in total in the first and fifth games but she fell 6-5 behind when Serena finally broke her in game 11, serving for the set in the following game. Another good hold delivered the hold for Williams and she was hoping for the more of the same in the rest of the match.
She controlled the scoreboard in set number two as well but Zarina kept coming back, breaking Serena in games four and six to stay in touch before she got broken twice in the rest of the set to send Williams into the second round.
Just like Serena, another Grand Slam champion returned to action after a long break, and it was a successful one. A former Indian Wells champion Victoria Azarenka needed an hour and 43 minutes to beat Heather Watson 6-4 6-2, toppling the Briton for the sixth time in as many matches. This is the first tournament for the Belarusian since Wimbledon last summer and she couldn't find her A game, which is perfectly normal after everything she has been through over the last couple of months.
There were 24 break points up for grabs, 12 on each side and Azarenka saved 10 to limit the damage in her games. Watson won 45% of the return points but it wasn't enough to stay in touch for another few games since Victoria broke her five times to close the match in straight sets.
Returner had a chance to steal the game from the server on seven occasions in the opening set and it was Azarenka who raced into a 5-1 lead with breaks in games two and six. Heather wiped out the deficit with back-to-back breaks at love in games seven and nine but she couldn't use this momentum, dropping serve once again in game 10 to lose the opener 6-4.
Vika broke again at the start of the second set to open up a 4-2 lead and a marathon game followed with no less than 12 deuces and seven break points for Watson. Azarenka repelled them all to hold and create a 5-2 gap, sealing the deal with another break of serve in game eight when Watson netted a forehand. First round results: