Serena Williams announced Wednesday she will play at Indian Wells in March, ending her 14-year boycott of the event after accusations of match-fixing and her father's claim that booing by fans during the 2001 final was racially motivated.
Williams made the announcement in an article she wrote for Time.com, saying she would "proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015." Williams also looked back on the last time she played in the tournament, an experience that hurt her deeply, she said.
The controversy around the 2001 tournament began to swirl when -- minutes before sisters Venus and Serena Williams were set to play each other in the semifinals -- Venus withdrew with an injury, allowing Serena to advance to the final in a walkover.
The crowd booed the sisters, and Venus was asked by reporters whether their father, Richard, decided which sister would win the matches between them. Venus denied the accusations, but the crowd loudly booed Serena during her victory over Kim Clijsters. Richard later said he believed the intensity of the crowd's anger was racially-motivated, a feeling Serena addresses in her Time.com story.
"The false allegations that our matches were fixed hurt, cut and ripped into us deeply," Williams wrote. "The undercurrent of racism was painful, confusing and unfair. In a game I loved with all my heart, at one of my most cherished tournaments, I suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid."
Even though she went on to win the tournament, Williams said the experience made it difficult for her to imagine playing at Indian Wells again.
"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 is also using her return to Indian Wells to bring attention to the Equal Justice Initiative (video, above), a nonprofit group that provides legal representation to indigent defendants.
Last month, Williams, ranked No. 1 in the world, captured her 19th grand slam title in winning the Australian Open for a sixth time. Williams, 33, says she's eager to establish a new legacy with Indian Wells.
"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."