Fresh off her triumph in the 2015 Australian Open over the weekend, Serena Williams announced she's planning to do something she previously wrote off: playing a tournament at Indian Wells again.
In a piece for Time magazine, the 19-time Grand Slam singles champion discussed the troubling incident that caused her to stay away for so long, and why she's decided to return. It's a surprising change of heart by one of the greatest tennis players in history.
Williams recounts her feelings when she walked onto the court for the 2001 final and was booed by the California fans. Fans were unhappy that a high-profile semifinal clash with her sister Venus was canceled because of an injury they weren't so sure was legit:
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. 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.
She also mentions the racial undertones of the crowd reaction and the lasting impact it had on her. Amazingly, after dropping the opening set to Kim Clijsters, Williams regained her composure to win the title.
The 33-year-old American says the negative moments from that day were the lasting memories. She notes the impact of the scene also trickled down to her sister and father:
This haunted me for a long time. It haunted Venus and our family as well. But most of all, it angered and saddened my father. He dedicated his whole life to prepping us for this incredible journey, and there he had to sit and watch his daughter being taunted, sparking cold memories of his experiences growing up in the South.
Williams states she's had an internal debate over the years about returning or never going back. She believes now is the right time to make her return with hope her final memory of Indian Wells isn't that unfortunate incident from more than a decade ago.
Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated expects a positive response from the fans:
In the end, it's a major step for Williams to return. She was just beginning her rise toward dominance in 2001 and has been a major force on the WTA Tour ever since. Her lack of participation has always left a void in the event.
No matter whether or not she's eliminated in her first match or wins the whole tournament—the latter being the more likely outcome given her current form—the impact will surely go beyond the result.
The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells is scheduled to kick off on March 11.