Venus Williams finally made peace with Indian Wells tennis fans Friday by ending her 15-year boycott of the hardcourt tournament, but she couldn’t put away her Japanese opponent.
Williams’ hopes for a story-book ending in her return to the California desert were dashed when she lost 6-4, 6-3 to qualifier Kurumi Nara in a first-round match delayed 30 minutes because of a storm.
The 35-year-old Williams received a hearty reception from the main stadium crowd of about 7,000, with some in attendance standing up to cheer.
But it was a more low key response than the 57-second standing ovation that Serena received here last year when she ended her 14-year boycott of the joint WTA and ATP Tour event.
“It is time to move on and let the past be the past. When I was out there I didn’t think back. It was a long time ago,” said Venus, who was seeded 10th in the tournament.
In 2001, spectators at Indian Wells booed Serena during the final and jeered her sister and father Richard Williams when the pair arrived to watch the match. Richard Williams alleges that racist comments were directed at them.
“We could have come back here and everyone could have picked up where they left off,” Venus said.
“There had to be a change of attitude on both ends. It isn’t always easy. Us, the fans, and the city had to have a positive attitude about it.”
Venus’ stunning loss to the world number 89 dashed any hopes that the Compton, California, sisters could meet in the quarter-finals at Indian Wells, one of the biggest events on the tennis calendar outside of the Grand Slams.
Serena was set to play her first match at Indian Wells later Friday against German qualifier Laura Siegemund.
Venus is a former world number one and the first African-American to become the top-ranked women’s player in the world.
Venus said Richard did not attend Friday’s match. Asked if he might also one day return to Indian Wells, she said, “You would have to ask him.”
Tenth-seeded Venus blasted three aces but made four double faults and won just four of 12 break points in the 101-minute match.
A rain and wind storm struck in the middle of the first set as the driving showers sent spectators and players running for cover.
“It was a tough day,” Venus said. “Very tough conditions. Just brutal out there.”
“She played well. Her shank shots kept going in. I thought, ‘How do I get some of mine in?'” Venus said.
Meanwhile, Polish third seed Agnieszka Radwanska survived a scare to defeat Slovakian veteran Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in her opening match.
Radwanska struggled at times during the two hour, 41 minute match but she managed to keep intact her record of never having lost in the first round in 10 straight appearances in at Indian Wells.
Radwanska, who turned 25 on Sunday, won three tournaments in 2015. She has made the semi-finals in all three tournaments she has played this year, winning the title in Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen was her 18th career WTA singles title.
She finished with six aces, just one double fault and won 56 percent of her first serve points on Friday.
She advances to the third round, where she will face Monica Niculescu, who beat Heather Watson 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
In other women’s matches on Friday, ninth seed Petra Kvitova needed three sets to beat Danka Kovinic 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5) and Jelena Jankovic dominated Carina Witthoeft 6-1, 6-3.