By Nomalanga Mhlauli-Moses
Serena Williams had not played at Indian Wells for 14 years and at times, she thought that she would never, ever go back.
On Friday night , Williams fought back tears after beating Monica Niculescu 7-5, 7-5 during the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.
The match was significant because it was Williams’ first at Indian Wells after 14 years. In 2001, Williams beat Kim Clijsters and won the title. At the time, for her it was one of her greatest victories.
Unfortunately, during the match, her father, Richard, and sister, Venus, were subjected to verbal abuse and even some alleged racist slurs. Both the Williams sisters were so upset and insulted that they did not come back to the tournament until now, 14 years later.
Speaking about the experience, Williams said,
“It has been difficult for me to forget spending hours crying in the Indian Wells locker room after winning in 2001, driving back to Los Angeles feeling as if I had lost the biggest game ever—not a mere tennis game but a bigger fight for equality. Emotionally it seemed easier to stay away. There are some who say I should never go back. There are others who say I should’ve returned years ago. I understand both perspectives very well and wrestled with them for a long time. I’m just following my heart on this one.”
After winning the match, it was obvious that the whole experience was once again very emotional for her. If anyone did not know that she was not playing a championship match, they would be convinced that was what she had won because of her emotional reaction to winning her second round match.
Even if she doesn’t win the championship, Williams has already won by showing the grace and courage to return to a place where she had been so brutally mistreated.