Serena Williams recalls ‘trauma’ from infamous 2001 Indian Wells after Venus’ withdrawal

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Serena Williams has opened up on the “trauma” she still carries after being booed by thousands of fans in Indian Wells. In 2001, she was set to face her sister Venus in the semi-final before the elder sister withdrew shortly before the match citing tendonitis. The 23-time Grand Slam champion was then booed by the almost-16,000 strong crowd when taking to the court for the final, which she won, and did not play the tournament again until 2015 as a result.

Serena has since shared the long-lasting trauma she suffered following the now-infamous incident in Indian Wells back in 2001.

Aged just 19 at the time, the former world No 1 was set to face her sister Venus in the semi-final of the WTA 1000 event often dubbed the ‘fifth Grand Slam’.

However, the seven-time Grand Slam champion was forced to withdraw before taking to the court against her sister, citing tendonitis.

Venus’ withdrawal came just a day after Russian former world No 3 Elena Dementieva said the sisters’ father Richard Williams would “decide who’s going to win”, as Serena then advanced to the final after being given a walkover due to her sister’s injury.

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When taking to the court for her final against Kim Clijsters the following day, a teenage Serena was booed by the crowd of almost 16,000 fans, as were Venus and Richard when they took their seats in the stands.

The now-40-year-old was still able to secure a comeback three-set win over the Belgian, 4-6 6-4 6-2, to lift the trophy despite the booing.

Now, Serena has opened up on the lasting effect the incident had on her, even 14 years later when she finally returned to the tournament after boycotting it.

“I remember I was playing this infamous match at Indian Wells … That was a rough one for me,” the world No 41 told Will Smith during a Red Table Talk interview, ahead of the release of the film King Richard’, which is about their father and first coach played by Smith.

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“It was so hard. I’ll never forget driving back. I remember just getting in the car and I was just bawling.

“I was at the gas station, there was no celebration and I was just crying and crying and crying.”

The American tennis icon did not defend her title a year later, and went more than a decade without competing in Indian Wells as she and Venus boycotted the tournament for the crowd’s reaction in 2001.

Her first appearance in the Californian desert came in 2015, when she wrote a column for TIME magazine ahead of the event, announcing her intention to end her boycott of the tournament and return for the first time since she, Venus and Richard were booed during the 2001 final.

The 73-time title winner made her highly-anticipated return on March 13 2015, taking to the court for her second-round match against Monica Niculescu, having received a bye as one of the top seeds.

Although she was met with a standing ovation, with the likes of tournament owner Larry Ellison, seven-time Major champion John McEnroe and Bill Gates all in the crowd cheering her on, Serena admitted she was still traumatised when she made her return aged 33.

Speaking to Will Smith, she said: “Even when I went back 14 years later, it was very traumatising,” said Serena, a 23-times Grand Slam champion.

“Talk about post-traumatic stress and mental anxiety. I remember sitting in the bathroom thinking, ‘Wait, I’m not going to go back. I just don’t think I should do this. What if they start booing again?’ It was really hard for me.”
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