Serena ends her Indian Wells exile

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Published: Wednesday 4th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Serena Williams has announced she will end her boycott of Indian Wells next month and look to “write a different ending” to her association with the tournament.

The world number one twice won the event as a teenager, beating Steffi Graf in 1999 and Kim Clijsters in 2001, but experiences of the latter year, when she felt racially victimised, left Williams hurt for many years.

She was handed a semi-final walkover when sister Venus withdrew from their match four minutes before it was due to begin. That fuelled suggestions – always denied by the Williams family – that the sisters were reluctant to play against each other, and that when they did play the results were pre-determined.

Venus and father Richard were jeered as they made their way to watch Serena in the final. As she played the match, the 19-year-old Serena faced a crowd that was firmly against her, and she is convinced racism was the cause.

Serena and Venus have not been back to the tournament, which is now branded as the BNP Paribas Open but was titled the Tennis Masters Series Indian Wells when they last featured.

However the younger of the tennis-playing Williams sisters will compete next month, she confirmed in Time magazine. The tournament runs from March 11 to 22.

She wrote: “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.”

Williams says she felt she had “lost the biggest game ever – not a mere tennis game but a bigger fight for equality” on leaving the Indian Wells Tennis Garden facility 14 years ago.

She might have stayed away for good, but the 19-time singles grand slam champion wants to give Indian Wells another chance.

“Indian Wells was a pivotal moment of my story, and I am a part of the tournament’s story as well. Together we have a chance to write a different ­ending,” Williams added.

Reflecting on her 2001 experience, the 33-year-old American wrote: “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.”

She detailed how the crowd’s reaction affected her father, adding : ” He dedicated his whole life to preparing 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.”

Published: Wednesday 4th February 2015 by The News Editor

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