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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Serena Williams

"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," Serena Williams said.

Photo credit: corleve

Serena Williams will make her long-awaited return to Indian Wells next month.

The world No. 1, who has not played the tournament since defeating Kim Clijsters in the 2001 final marred by jeers and boos from some members of the crowd, announced today she will play Indian Wells.

Williams made the announcement in a column she wrote for Time Magazine.

"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," Williams wrote. "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."

The 19-time Grand Slam champion has won Indian Wells two of the four times she played the tournament. A 17-year-old Serena defeated Steffi Graf, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, in the 1999 Indian Wells' final.

Two years later, Venus Williams pulled out of a scheduled semifinal against Serena with a knee injury, withdrawing minutes before the sisters were set to take the court for a scheduled nationally-televised match on ESPN. When Serena took the court for the final against Clijsters some fans booed and jeered and father Richard Williams  revealed some members of the crowd yelled racial taunts at his family.

In his book, Black and White: The Way I See It, Mr. Williams said some fans hurled racial epithets, including the N-word, throughout the final. 

"The chorus of boos that cascaded through the stadium sent a powerful message to America, to Venus, to Serena and to me," Mr. Williams wrote. "It was a message from the past, one 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 threw the stadium. No one questioned the unruly behavior of the fans. The only thing in question was our character and our integrity. My daughters were treated without an ounce of dignity or respect. They were treated like criminals."

Some players at the time, including Russia's Elena Dementieva, suggested Mr. Williams pre-determined the outcome of his daughter's matches.

Those "false allegations that our matches were fixed, cut and ripped into us deeply," Serena wrote in recounting the allegations prior to the 2001 final.  

"In my last match, the semifinals, I was set to play my sister, but Venus had tendinitis and had to pull out. Apparently that angered many fans," Serena wrote. "Throughout my whole career, integrity has been everything to me. It is also everything and more to Venus. 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."

Last fall, Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpischev made racist and sexists comments about the Williams sisters on Russian television, which were immediately condemned by many players, officials and the game's governing bodies. 

Serena said the swift rebuke of Tarpischev's remarks showed tennis has made some progress in its response to racism and sexism.

"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," Williams wrote. "It reminded me how far the sport has come, and how far I’ve come too."

After a 14-year-absence, Williams said she has faith her return to the desert will be a positive one.

"I was raised by my mom to love and forgive freely," Williams wrote. "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. "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."


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