Tennis: Williams set to put race row behind her and end 14-year boycott of Indian Wells

Serena Williams celebrating her victory against Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final on Jan 31, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Serena Williams celebrating her victory against Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final on Jan 31, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The world's top-ranked women's tennis player Serena Williams, coming off her 19th Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open, said Wednesday she will end a 14-year boycott of the Indian Wells WTA tournament.

Williams, in a essay written for Time magazine, related happier times at the event, her feelings over racial insults she heard after a controversial 2001 appearance and her hopes for playing the event next month.

"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," Williams wrote.

"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. 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."

Williams has twice won the Indian Wells event, now known as the BNP Paribas Open, first when she was just 17 in 1999 by downing Steffi Graf in the final, and again in 2001, when she rallied from one set down to defeat Kim Clijsters in the championship match.

But in the final, hecklers booed and taunted Williams following the controversial nature of her semi-final, in which her sister, Venus, withdrew rather than play Serena.

It was a move many felt was orchestrated by their father Richard and deprived them of a semi-final classic to gain an edge for Williams in the final.

"I said a few times that I would never play there again. And believe me, I meant it," Williams wrote.

"I admit it scared me. What if I walked onto the court and the entire crowd booed me? The nightmare would start all over. I'm just following my heart on this one.

"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."

Tournament chief executive officer Raymond Moore was delighted to welcome back the world number one and predicted a warm welcome for Williams at the March 9-22 event.

"We are thrilled that Serena Williams, one of the greatest women players in the history of the game, is returning to play," Moore said. "We know our fans will welcome her for the magnificent champion that she is and we really look forward to watching her compete again."

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