Wednesday, February 23, 2011
A look back at the Disgusting 2001 Indian Wells onslaught.
In the quarters, Serena, who at that time was only 19 years old, had beaten veteran player Lindsay Davenport 6-1, 6-2, while her older sister Venus defeated Elena Dementieva in a long, drawn-out match that left her with heat exhaustion and an injured knee.
Long story short, there was a lot of hype put out for this sisters semifinal.
So the stadium was packed, sponsors and fans flocked in to promote and watch it, and up until five minutes before the match was to take place, there was no public indication that Venus might have to bow out.
Venus had hoped that a night's rest might help heal her sore body, but that wasn't the case.
She told the trainer as she arrived early at the stadium that she didn't think she could play.
Venus didn't want to withdraw, but she didn't want to risk serious injury.
The powers-that-be kept putting her off, hoping that somehow she'd recover enough to give it a shot.
Yet two hours before the match was scheduled, the officials knew Venus could not go on but waited until the stadium was full to make the announcement.
Call it miscommunication, bad decision-making or lack of leadership on the tournament director's part, the crowd was very unhappy.
And if you'd planned your day around this match, purchased special tickets, obtained an expensive hotel room and driven who knows how long to get to the stadium, to then find out the match wasn't going to take place minutes before it was to begin - you too might have been a bit emotionally out of sorts.
Guess who took the heat?
It should have been the tournament officials, but they stayed mute while the Williams sisters and their father were caught in a controversy of suggestive questions and bad PR.
Serena was scheduled to play 17-year-old Kim Clijsters in the finals.
Clijsters, the WTA Newcomer of the Year in 2000, was a person Serena had beaten several times before, but what Williams didn't take into account was that the crowd was going to become a mob...aimed at her from the moment she entered the stadium and throughout the match.
"I looked up and all I could see was a sea of rich people. Mostly older, mostly white-standing and booing lustily, like some kind of genteel lynch mob. I heard the N-word a couple times..."
Right before the match began, Serena's father and sister Venus walked down the long aisle to the players box, once again to a chorus of boos and worse.
Cheers and standing ovations for Kim during the match and wild boo's for Serena - even on unforced errors and double-faults.
Williams lost the first set 4-6, thinking there was no way she could survive this onslaught of terrible behavior, but somehow found the inner strength to turn the next two sets in her favor, 6-4, 6-2.
By the end of the match a good portion of the crowd had returned to support Serena's win, but the damage had been done.
As she left the court tears filled her eyes and her thoughts were of Althea Gibson and the trials and tribulations she went through during a period of much harsher conditions.
Since that time, the Williams sisters have boycotted this event, even though it's a mandatory tournament on the tour, meaning they could be fined.
"No, I won't go back. I will not give these people the validation. I will not stand down. It's a point of pride. I don't care what these folks say about me, about how I'm vindictive or stubborn or reading too much into the situation", Serena wrote in her book, "On The Line."
It was a sad day for tennis and what it stands for and from my profession I extend them the most sincere apology.
My hope is that Serena and Venus will someday look beyond that horrendous memory, knowing we've all learned a little more of what it takes in this life to become better people, and that it will continue to be a work in progress.