Serena Williams' return to the Indian Wells tennis tournament, after a 14-year absence brought about by her personal boycott of the event, ended with her default Friday night, just prior to her semifinal match.
Williams said she had an injured right knee.
“I have a small sprain in my quadriceps tendon,” she said, “which is inflamed as well.” She said she hurt it “a few days ago” on the practice court. “. . . I went for a serve and felt a super sharp pain in my knee. It was like, OK, and I served again. I felt it again.”
She said she had “done everything, from taping to injections.” She said the injections were anti-inflammatory.”
In timing, the default brought back memories of the original controversial situation that prompted her boycott.
On women's semifinal Friday night in 2001, Williams was scheduled to play her sister, Venus. They were both at the top of their careers at the time, and the match was a headliner.
Minutes before the match was to begin, it was announced that Venus would default because of tendinitis in her knee. The crowd in the 16,100-seat stadium was told by public address system a doubles match was put on the court.
Two days later, when Serena took the court to play Kim Clijsters in the final, she was booed, off and on. The media reported that as part of the match description. Williams won the match.
About a week later, Williams' father, Richard, their longtime mentor and coach, told a USA Today reporter that he thought the booing had been racially motivated.
When that was reported nationally, fans who were at Indian Wells that day told reporters the booing was not racial, but a reaction by many who had paid top dollar for a high-profile match they never got to see.
There had been discussion at the time that Venus Williams could have eased the situation had she gone out on the court and spoken directly to fans via the public address system. Friday night, Serena Williams did just that — although neither she nor the PA announcer specifically said she would not be playing the semifinal against Simona Halep.
Finally, the PA announcer apologized for “any inconvenience.”
Later, during a news conference, Williams was asked if, in light of the history here, she feared the on-court appearance. “No, I think both myself and the crowd have a great appreciation for each other,” she said. Asked if she would play at Indian Wells next year, she said, “I think it is going to be a must.”
Asked about the coincidence of her default on the same night her sister withdrew in 2001, she said, “I don't make anything of it. I feel that was 14 years ago and this is now. I did the best I could at this event, and I am really happy to have put a lot of that behind me.”