Women's main draw singles play in the 2014 BNP Paribas Open began Wednesday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, with organizers predicting record attendance for the tournament, which runs through March 16.
Tennis Garden CEO Raymond Moore said he is hoping that more than 420,000 fans attend the tournament, which also includes men's play. The tournament drew more than 382,000 fans last year, a record.
The optimism about the attendance stems from the expansion of the facility, including the 8,000-seat Stadium 2, new restaurants, including Nobu, a new East entrance and Walk of Palms, a 19,000-square-foot additional shade structure with video walls and more concessions stands.
Attendance would likely have gotten another boost if Serena Williams, the world's top-ranked women's player, had played.
Organizers announced on Jan. 22 Williams had entered the tournament. However, she issued a statement on Feb. 7 withdrawing from the tournament without giving a reason.
Williams hasn't played in the tournament since 2001, when she, her sister Venus and her father Richard were jeered by spectators during the final.
The sisters would have played each other in the semifinals, but Venus bowed out at the last minute, claiming an injury. Richard Williams said he heard racial taunts from spectators.
Serena Williams said she considered returning to the tournament after being inspired by "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," the 2013 film about the late South African president and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela, according to published reports.
There are 16 women's singles matches scheduled for today, but none involving seeded players. All 32 seeded players in the 96-player draw received first-round byes.
Li Na of China is seeded first. The seedings are based on the Women's Tennis Association rankings.
There are 13 Americans in the tournament, with Sloane Stephens the lone seed among them. She is seeded 17th. Serena Williams is the most recent American tournament champion, winning in 2001.
Russian Maria Sharapova is the defending champion. This is the women's tournament's 25th year and only once has a champion successfully defended her title -- Martina Navratilova, who won in both 1990 and 1991.
The winner will receive $1 million and the runner-up $500,000. Each of today's losers will receive $11,000, with each of the winners guaranteed at least $16,000. The total prize money is $5,240,015.
Men's singles qualifying concludes Wednesday with 12 matches. Men's main draw singles play is set to begin Thursday.
– City News Service.