Serena Williams will compete in the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, CA for the first time since 2001. It was the site of one of her first professional career wins, but an incident 14 years ago brought her annual visits to the tournament to an abrupt end.
There were allegations back then that the Williams sisters and their coach/father Richard chose which sister would do well in a tournament. When Venus Williams pulled out of Indian Wells that year due to injury, the reaction from the crowd was swift.
Serena writes in a piece published this morning in 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.
Serena returns to Indian Wells a 19-time Grand Slam champion, the number one player in the world and fresh off of an Australian Open win.
There’s also a philanthropic angle to her return: Fans can donate money to the Equal Justice Initiative for the chance to win a trip to Indian Wells to watch Serena’s first match and hit a few balls with her. Info and the chance to enter here. And below, her video message about EJI and her last visit to the tournament.
If Serena’s there, she’s a favorite to take the women’s side.