Serena: Indian Wells Return Evokes Mandela Spirit

It was to her mother that a nervous Serena Williams turned to see what she would think of her youngest daughter competing in Indian Wells for the first time in 14 years.
Oracene, Serena’s mother said she would be in California to support her.
Serena’s sister Venus also offered her encouragement, and even her father Richard, who has been so outspoken about the booing and jeering aimed at his daughter before the final of 2001 that prompted the boycott, told her that it would be a big mistake if she never returned.
The verbal abuse directed at Williams before that final against Kim Clijsters stemmed from Venus’ decision to withdraw from a semi-final between the siblings because of tendinitis.
In an essay composed for Time magazine, as she announced her return to Indian Wells last month, Williams made clear that she thought some of the vitriol was racist in nature.
She felt she had won the match, but lost a much bigger fight: the fight for equality.
“The false allegations, that our matches were fixed hurt, cut and ripped into us deeply. The undercurrent of racism was painful, confusing and unfair,” she wrote.
Her father Richard was even more direct when his book “Black and White: The Way I See It” was published last year.
“It was a message from the past,” he wrote, “one that America tries to put behind it but can never forget. It was a snapshot from the days when the open humiliation of the black race was accepted without question. Accusations and racial epithets flew through the stadium.”
The tournament had previously held some very happy memories for the Williams family. They may seem poles apart, but Indian Wells is only 125 miles east of Compton, where Serena spent her formative years.
She won her first ever professional match here as a 15-year-old (partnering Venus in the doubles) and made a major breakthrough two years later when beating Steffi Graf to take the title.
Williams considered returning to Indian Wells last year, but was still anxious about the reception she might receive. Even this week, with the die cast, she suffered a late bout of stage fright and opted to spend an unscheduled extra night in Los Angeles.
The world number one has not forgotten spending so long in the locker room in tears after winning the title in 2001, but she is ready to forgive, and at 19:00 west coast time on Friday evening will walk out into the second-largest tennis stadium in the world to play Romania’s Monica Niculescu.

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