Richard Williams consoles and protects his daughters from the crowd at Indian Wells in 2001.
The issue of race had always been the elephant in the room when it came to the Williams sisters. Although both Williams are extremely patriotic, and even initially played more U.S.-based tournaments to support the growth and popularity of the sport in the U.S., they have often been met with cold and even hostile reactions from the crowds, even at home.
While most players enjoy the support and encouragement of their hometown crowds, the Williams sisters have too frequently been taken for granted and under appreciated in the U.S. It's hard to argue that race does not play a part in this isolated issue involving both Williams Sisters.
In 2001, at Indian Wells, California (Serena Williams grew up playing tennis less than two hours away), Serena would meet one of the most hostile crowds in tennis history.
Angry over a canceled semifinal match between Venus and Serena because of an injury sustained by Venus the day before, the crowd would boo, chant and whistle at not only Serena on court, but Richard Williams and Venus in the stands.
Serena stated that she was called a "nigger" and other racial slurs by several people throughout the crowd. The crowd would cheer her errors and double-faults, and instead encourage Belgian newcomer Kim Clijsters. Serena WIlliams was only a 20-year-old girl, defenseless in a situation that was quickly spiraling out of control.
The first set was won by Clijsters. The crowd would reward the foreigner with a standing ovation for defeating Serena 6-4.
Yet, in true champion form, the youthful Serena would somehow block out the distractions of the surrounding danger and focus on sending her feelings back to the crowd with a victory. Suddenly her serve was back on, and her ground strokes were hitting every corner of the court.
After her victory, Serena would fall into the arms of her father and protector Richard Williams, and later break down and cry in the press conference. It was the last time either Williams sister stepped foot on the courts of Indian Wells.
However, Serena would learn early on that she would have to work even harder than her white counterparts just to receive the same respect as a champion, and for the next 11 years she did just that.