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Australian Open 2014: Serena Williams inspired by Nelson Mandela to end Indian Wells boycott

The Williams sisters have not played there since 2001, but the world Number One admits the Mandela biopic Long Walk to Freedom has made her reconsider

The influence of Nelson Mandela has prompted Serena Williams into a rethink of her long-standing boycott of the Indian Wells tournament. Williams and her sister, Venus, have not played at the annual event, which is staged in the Californian desert in March, since a controversial incident when they were booed and jeered there 13 years ago.

Williams, who is through to the fourth round of the Australian Open after a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Daniela Hantuchova, said here that she had watched Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, a recently released film about the South Africa freedom fighter and former president, who died last month.

Asked if Mandela’s message of reconciliation might have led her to rethink her boycott of Indian Wells, Williams said: “It actually crossed my mind a couple days ago, or after I saw the movie.”

The Williams sisters have not played at Indian Wells since 2001, when Venus pulled out of a semi-final against her sister because of injury, fuelling speculation that the results of their matches against each other were  pre-determined by their father and coach, Richard. The crowd turned against Serena when the 19-year-old played the final against Kim Clijsters. Venus and Richard were also jeered by spectators.

Richard said later that some of the abuse amounted to racism. He described it as “the worst act of prejudice I’ve seen since they killed Martin Luther King” and said it got so bad that one spectator had threatened to skin him alive.

The boycott of the tournament has been to the sisters’ disadvantage. The event is mandatory for the top players, so they are awarded zero ranking points for not playing it. They are also required to make amends by taking part in some community activities in the area, such as helping at coaching clinics.

Pressed further by reporters here, Williams said: “I just have to focus on this tournament. But I think Mandela was a really amazing man. I felt really honoured to have a chance to meet him, get  to know him a little bit, and get to know his story a little better.”