*With forgiveness on her heart, Serena Williams is ending her 13-year boycott of Indian Wells and will return to the annual tournament next month, she announced Wednesday in an exclusive column for Time.com.
After winning the tournament in 2001, Serena vowed never to return to play there because of the nasty treatment she received from fans.
It all started in 2001, when she and her older sister Venus were set to play in a semifinal match. The day before, fellow player Elena Dementieva accused the sisters’ father, Richard, of deciding matches between his daughters (she later said it was a joke).
Then, four minutes before the Thursday semifinal was set to begin, Venus withdrew with an injury, leading the crowd to boo. Later, in a news conference, Venus was asked if Dementieva’s comment was true. To some fans, Venus wasn’t strong enough in denying that her father played puppet-master.
Cut to the following Saturday when Serena was booed while battling Kim Clijsters in the final. Serena describes that moment in her Time essay.
“When I was booed at Indian Wells — by what seemed like the whole world — my voice of doubt became real. I didn’t understand what was going on in that moment. But worse, I had no desire to even win. It happened very quickly.
“This haunted me for a long time. It haunted Venus and our family as well. But most of all, it angered and saddened my father. He dedicated his whole life to prepping us for this incredible journey, and there he had to sit and watch his daughter being taunted, sparking cold memories of his experiences growing up in the South.”
Two weeks later, Richard Williams told USA Today that the boos were racially motivated and that he had personally heard racist comments:
“When Venus and I were walking down the stairs to our seats, people kept calling me [expletive],” Williams said. “One guy said, ‘I wish it was ’75; we’d skin you alive.’ That’s when I stopped and walked toward that way. Then I realized that (my) best bet was to handle the situation non-violently. I had trouble holding back tears. I think Indian Wells disgraced America.”
Though tournament director Charlie Pasarell said he was embarrassed about the way the entire crowd acted during the final and didn’t discount Williams’ story, he said he hadn’t heard any of the racist comments.
Despite 13 years of begging from fans, sportscasters and tennis officials, Serena would not return…until now.
Watch her announcement below:
Watch Serena’s boo-filled 2001 final against Clijsters – the last Indian Wells tournament she would play in 13 years – below: