Serena Williams, the top-ranked female tennis player, announced in Time that she will return to Indian Wells in 2015. She boycotted the tournament after 2001, which became a mandatory stop on the WTA tour in 2009, since the tournament director did not apologize for treatment she endured playing there.
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 was raised by my mom to love and forgive freely. “When you stand praying, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father who is in the heavens may also forgive you” (Mark 11:25). I have faith that fans at Indian Wells have grown with the game and know me better than they did in 2001.
In 2001, Serena’s sister Venus defaulted to her due to tendonitis. She claims she told the tournament hours in advance, but the officials did not call the match until a few minutes before it was scheduled to start. People booed and jeered, which carried over to the finals where Serena played against Kim Clijsters. Officials did not tell the audience to quiet down when they cheered every time Serena committed a mistake. Her father Richard Williams claimed spectators spewed racist comments towards him. But thirteen years later, Serena noticed a change within the WTA and USTA (United States Tennis Association):
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.
Thirteen years and a lifetime in tennis later, things feel different. A few months ago, when Russian official Shamil Tarpischev made racist and sexist remarks about Venus and me, the WTA and USTA immediately condemned him. It reminded me how far the sport has come, and how far I’ve come too.
Serena won the Australian Open last week, her 19th Grand Slam victory and second in a row. Her first win occurred at Indian Wells in 1999, which “was a pivotal moment” in her career. The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells takes place from March 11-22.