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Introspective Serena Williams Embraces Role Model Chance in Indian Wells Return

Published by Bleacher Report on Fri, 13 Mar 2015


INDIAN WELLS, Calif.Shes spoken out before. Well, shouted out. At a linesperson during the 2009 U.S. Open. Endless invective. Serena Williams was never afraid to show her passion.Or now after years of boycotting one of the more important tennis tournaments in the world, her compassion.The incident lives here in the California desert of the baronial estates and well-watered fairways east of Palm Springs.Fourteen years and nobody has forgotten.Including Serena and Venus Williams, the American ladies who dominated tennis for a decade.It was 2001 and in the semifinal at Indian Wells, a tournament now underway and known as the BNP Paribas Open. Serena, still a teenager at 19, was to play Venus, 20. Moments before the start, Venus defaulted because of announced knee tendinitis.Fans at the big stadium were outraged. They thought the girls father, Richard, had, according to stories then circulating, made the decision because he didnt want the Williams sisters facing each other.During the final two days later, Serena was booed continually, even after winning the match.Richard Williams called the reaction blatant racism. He and the sisters refused to enter an event called by many the most important in the sport other than the four Grand Slams.Since then, all of tennis' stars have come to the desert: Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal. But not the Williamses. Never the Williamses.Overtures were made to the sisters and father. They were refused. Until a few weeks ago.Until Serena, with her 19 Grand Slam championships, including the most recent Australian Open in January; with her celebrity status from appearances on Letterman and other shows; with her alluring style in fashion, decided enough was enough.She authored an essay in Time magazine on why she was coming back. AndThursdaythere she was, among a media crowd numbering in the dozens, and saying with all the troubles in societyread that racial incidents, University of Oklahoma; Ferguson, Missourishe felt compelled to help solve problems, not add to them.Its a great opportunity, said Williams. If youre in a position where you can stand up and be a role model, then why not do it' I feel this is a perfect opportunity and a perfect session for me to do it.We age. We change. Maybe its incorrect to say Williams has matured, as if say five years ago she was immature, but her perspective is different.What she said was pain that left her in tears from the booing that day has eased, if not disappeared.The world may not be a perfect place, yet that doesnt mean our sporting heroes and heroines should stop attempting to try to make it perfect.Williams said she confronted her demons, the fright of returning to a place where she felt alien. She talked to her mother, Oracene, who long had taught forgiveness. She talked to her father, who had known prejudice growing up in the South. He told her it would be a mistake if she didnt come back.In order to forgive, said Williams, you have to let everything go. I kind of did that a long time ago, but still I wasnt ready to come back."That either Serena or Venus would not play their best, said Serena, is unimaginable. I have a tremendous amount of integrity, she said. Even in doubles if Venus or I touch a ball, we say its not our point. Were clearly incredible athletes, and our whole career has been focused on that.An organization, EJI for Equal Justice Initiative, played a part in Williams decision to forgive and return. So did the history of Nelson Mandela, and his fight against apartheid. Why should a tennis player not do her part to ease tensions' As Billie Jean King put it:I thought it was really good timing, she said, not just for me, but for Americans in general to step up and say we can do better.Indian Wells is about 120 miles from Los Angeles. Williams said she stayed in L.A. an extra day, hesitant to face the memories and the media. The nerves will be present when she steps on Center Court again that first time.I really wouldnt be telling the truth if I said there wasnt, Williams remarked. To be honest, I was a little nervous to come here (to do the conference). In the beginning, I was like, What was I thinking' I kind of had to overcome that hurdle.Im looking forward to letting the whole world know, if its something that wasnt right, hurt you, hurt your family, you can just come out and be strong and say, Im still going to be here. Im going to survive. Im going to be the best person I can be.'An estimable quality for anyone, especially if shes already the best tennis player she can be.
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