Venus Williams Details How Serena Inspired Her Return to Indian Wells, 15 Years After Racial Attack from Fans

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Venus Williams will return to the Indian Wells tournament after more than a decade-long boycott. Venus and her sister Serena Williams previously dealt with hostility from the crowd there in 2001. (Photo : Getty Images)
Venus Williams will return to the Indian Wells tournament after more than a decade-long boycott. Venus and her sister Serena Williams previously dealt with hostility from the crowd there in 2001. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tennis star Venus Williams has effectively ended a boycott of the Indian Wells tennis tournament after fans hurled racial slurs and threatened to “skin” her and Serena Williams 15 years ago.

In a stirring essay for the Players’ Tribune, Venus Williams writes about the racial attacks that happened early in her career and how Serena’s courage inspired her to return to Indian Wells and win big.

Last year, Serena Williams ended her boycott and played in the March tournament, paving a way for her older sister to return. Her appearance was met with a standing ovation from fans.

Venus writes:

“Not feeling welcome somewhere is a hard memory to let go of — at any age. At 20? It’s almost impossible. And so that’s what I did. I held onto it.

But then I saw Serena.

And it was in that moment, seeing Serena welcomed with open arms last year at Indian Wells, that I think I fully and truly realized what being the big sister means. It means that, for all of the things I did first, and all of the times when I paved the way for Serena, the thing I can be most proud of is this time.

When Serena paved the way for me …”

The Indian Wells Masters tournament — located in the California desert near Palm Springs — takes place annually in March.

According to their father/coach, Richard Williams, fans screamed racial attacks at the young women and in some cases booed. He said these attacks reminded him of the lynching of a dear friend in Louisiana.

“One guy said, ‘I wish it was ’75; we’d skin you alive’,” said Richard Williams. “That’s when I stopped and walked toward that way. Then I realized that [my] best bet was to handle the situation non-violently. I had trouble holding back tears. I think Indian Wells disgraced America.”

Richard Williams believes their upbringing in Compton prepared them for the harsh realities of being Black in the tennis world.

Venus’ essay went on to discuss the alienation she and her sister felt, the awkward looks, and how fans perceived them as they walked on the court and as they played.

Venus won at the tournament 15 years ago against Elena Dementieva 6–0, 6–3. She plans to leave Indian Wells on March 9th with a victory.

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