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Monica Niculescu books Serena showdown at Indian Wells

Indian Wells: Monica Niculescu rolled over Aleksandra Krunic 6-2, 6-1 to book a second round clash with Serena Williams at Indian Wells, where the American returns this week after a 14-year hiatus.

Reigning Australian Open champ Williams is one of 32 seeded players who received a first-round bye at the joint ATP Masters and WTA tournament in the California desert. Top seed Williams is competing in the tournament for the first time since her self-imposed exile began in 2001. She claimed two singles titles in 1999 and 2001. "It's exciting," Serbia's Ana Ivanovic said of Williams' return to the event.

Serena Williams
Serena Williams. Pic/ AFP

"Obviously you want to compete against the best." This will mark the first career meeting between Williams and Romania's Niculescu when they square off Friday night on stadium court at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. "I don't really know what to expect because we haven't played before," Niculescu said.

"But obviously I know she has a lot of power, and I know I'm going to run a lot. I'm just going to play my game." Four-time men's champion Roger Federer arrived in Indian Wells Wednesday less than 24 hours after competing in an exhibition match against Grigor Dimitrov at Madison Square Garden in New York. Federer, who won his seventh title in Dubai earlier this month, will begin his Indian Wells campaign with a second round match against either Jerzy Janowicz or Diego Schwartzman.

The world number two said he is hitting the ball well and is feeling good about his chances this week. "I don't feel like I have that many bad days anymore," Federer said. "Maybe sometimes you come out and it's not working. That's something that happened very few times in the years where I was very dominant. Otherwise, I feel like I am playing very well."

Federer said he is going to use the time between now and his first match to adjust to the playing surface. "I was always going to come here and make sure the first few days I get used to the courts. I had a bit of a slow week last week after Dubai, so I think the next few days are going to be important for me," he said.

In other first round women's matches on Wednesday, British number one Heather Watson, Mona Barthel and Irina Falconi emerged victorious.- Watson hangs on for win - Rising star Watson took on former top 15 player Julia Goerges, of Germany, in the first main draw contest of the tournament. Watson appeared to be headed for a straight-set victory by compiling a 6-4, 5-3 lead. But Goerges rallied to win five games in a row to take the second set and go up a break at 1-0 in the third. Still, Watson regrouped to beat Goerges 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.

American wild-card Falconi beat Croatia's Ajla Tomljanovic 7-6 (8/6), 6-4. The 24-year-old Falconi was one of seven Americans who took the court Wednesday. Among other matches, Germany's Barthel outlasted Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, Elena Vesnina of Russia beat qualifier Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine 6-3, 6-3 and qualifier Daria Gavrilova of Russia surprised Silvia Soler Espinosa of Spain 6-3, 6-4. 

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