Serena Williams to Return to Indian Wells, Tournament Known for Racism


Serena Williams is retuning to Indian Wells, the California tournament where her father ushered her and her sister Venus off the court amid a barrage of racist slurs and boos in 2001.

Richard Williams is a complicated man who was raised in the segregated South, so when his children were playing in the predominantly white sport of tennis, he was prepared for some pushback. However, the Williams family’s experience at Indian Wells kicked off a boycott that lasted over a decade. From ABC News at the time:

“When Venus and I were walking down the stairs to our seats, people kept calling me ‘nigger,”‘ Williams was quoted as saying in today’s editions.
“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 nonviolently. I had trouble holding back tears. I think Indian Wells disgraced America.”

On Wednesday, Serena, recent winner of the Australian Open, announced her decision to face that tournament again and what motivated her emotional decision with Time:

When I arrived at Indian Wells in 2001, I was looking to take another title. I was ready. But however ready I was, nothing could have prepared me for what happened in the final. As I walked out onto the court, the crowd immediately started jeering and booing. In my last match, the semifinals, I was set to play my sister, but Venus had tendinitis and had to pull out. Apparently that angered many fans. Throughout my whole career, integrity has been everything to me. It is also everything and more to Venus. The false allegations that our matches were fixed hurt, cut and ripped into us deeply. The under­current of racism was painful, confusing and unfair. In a game I loved with all my heart, at one of my most cherished tournaments, I suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid.

Williams added that her Indian Wells experience, where a sea of people booed her at just 19 years old, has haunted her and her whole family, it was as if all her doubts became real. But the storied tennis champion isn’t one to run away from a challenge.

I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove. I’m still as driven as ever, but the ride is a little easier. I play for the love of the game. And it is with that love in mind, and a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be tuning in.

Image via AP.

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