Indian Wells 2015: Serena Williams ends tournament boycott 14 years after suffering racial abuse from crowd

Her father, Richard, said the events of 2001 had 'disgraced America'

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The Independent Online

Serena Williams is to end her boycott of one of the biggest tournaments in tennis after the racial abuse she and her family suffered there 14 years ago. The world No 1, has not played at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in California since 2001, when the crowd booed and hurled racial epithets at her throughout a match against Kim Clijsters.

She announced her decision in a column published today by “I play for the love of the game,” she wrote. “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.”

Serena had vowed many times that she would never return after the events of 2001, which her father said had “disgraced America”. She was asked only last week whether she would consider playing there again and replied: “I don’t know. I like my vacation time that I get at Indian Wells.”

The tournament, which takes place early in March in Palm Springs, attracts a largely white, middle-class and comparatively old audience. Serena and Venus had been due to play each other in the semi-finals in 2001, but Venus was injured. After the decision was announced last-minute, the crowds voiced their anger.

Serena met the Belgian player, Kim Clijsters, who is white and blonde, in the final. Serena, who was 19 at the time, was booed from the start and heard spectators calling her “n*****”. The abuse continued throughout the match, which Serena won.

Richard and Venus had been victims of similar abuse when they took their seats at the start. He later told USA Today: “One guy said: ‘I wish it was ‘75; we’d skin you alive’.” He added: “I had trouble holding back tears. I think Indian Wells disgraced America.”

Defenders of the tournament claimed that race had not played a part in the crowd’s reaction, but Serena, who grew up with her family in the crime-ridden Californian city of Compton, wrote in her autobiography: “Nobody would have booed some blonde, blue-eyed girl. And nobody would have shouted down her father with cries of: ‘Go back to Compton, n*****!’”

According to Serena, her father had been particularly hurt. “He had to sit and watch his daughter being taunted, sparking cold memories of his experiences growing up in the South.”

Serena said she had decided to return to Indian Wells because of changing attitudes in tennis. She said that had been exemplified when the Women’s Tennis Association and United States Tennis Association took immediate action after she and Venus had been the butt of racist and sexist remarks by a senior Russian official at the end of last year.

“It reminded me how far the sport has come, and how far I’ve come too,” Serena wrote.