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Serena Returns, Djoker Defends as Tennis, ESPN Cover Indian Wells

It’s often referred to as the fifth major, and Tennis Channel and ESPN2 are providing major coverage of the BNP Paribas Open.

Top fields at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden are headed by the world No. 1s, Novak Djovokic and Serena Williams. The Djoker is the defending champion, having topped. No. 2 Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 last March.

For her part, Williams’ is returning to the venue for the first time since 2001. Serena vowed never to play at Indiana Wells again after she defeated Kim Clijsters to win the title more than a decade ago. The day before, sister Venus, citing injury, withdrew from their semifinal match minutes before it was scheduled to begin, amidst speculation that their father Richard pushed the older sibling to withdraw. Fans at Indian Wells, unaware of the cancellation, booed Serena in the final and her father Richard said he heard racial epithets from the crowd.

That sparked Serena’s lengthy boycott – Venus has yet to return – which concluded with her 7-5, 7-5 win Friday night over Romania’s Monica Niculescu.

Flavia Pennetta is the defending women’s champion.

Tennis began its coverage of the 96-person fields on March 11, and has expanded its schedule to eight consecutive days of 12-hour, live-match blocks – and 10 days of live matches overall at the 12-day event. More than 100 live hours are planned this year, with 162 overall via encore telecasts.

The dedicated racquet sport service has added a second broadcast booth in the tournament’s new state-of-the art Stadium 2, which bowed last year. This gives Tennis Channel an event presence in three distinct locations: a booth in Stadium 2, a booth on the main court at Stadium 1 and a studio desk on the tournament grounds, the hub of the network’s on-air activity. Most days coverage starts with half-hour lead-in show, Live at the BNP Paribas Open at 1:30 p.m. (ET). Based at the tournament desk, Emmy Award-winning host will appear with Hall of Famers Tracy Austin and Jim Courier, along with Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim. In addition to news and analysis, the quartet will offer special segments, interviews and an overall diary of the tournament’s progression.

The worldwide leader has led in digitally, with ESPN3 providing match coverage from Stadiums 1, 2 and 3.

 ESPN2 and authenticated, streaming service WatchESPN get onto court for some 21 hours, starting March 19 and concluding on ESPN on March 22 with the women’s and men’s championships.