Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A look back at the Disgusting 2001 Indian Wells onslaught.

Ten years ago this March, the Williams sisters were to play against one another in a semifinal match at the Indian Wells Masters Tennis Tournament in California.

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.
Serena had this to say, "It wasn't coming from just (booing) one section. It was like the whole crowd got together and decided to boo all at once. The ugliness was just raining down on me, hard. I didn't know what to do."

"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.

1 comment:

Carlos said...

There were a lot of elements for this Maelstrom.

1)Venus: In the press conference when asked, "What do you say to the angry people who paid money for the tickets and didn't get to see a match?" Venus, "I can't refund the money to everybody". That answer itself made me angry, I can only imagine how angry people who paid money got.

2)Richard: Mr. Big Mouth himself should have called for a press conference apologizing to the fans for his daughter's remarks and reassuring fans that Venus's injury was not fake, that her injury was real and serious. Tensions were flying high doing so would have calm tensions.

3)Dementieva: The person responsible for inciting a crowd and turn it into a mob is more culpable than the an angry mob. Whether people like it or not, Indian Wells tournaments officials should have banned this idiot life time for her idiotic, incendiary, comments. From comments that Dementieva later made in her career about this tournament, she didn't see it as an important tournament.

4)Serena: The Williams camp already knew fans were angry at them yet Serena was surprised that fans were against her in the match? Really? Come on!

5)The Mob/fans: I don't have a problem with fans yelling profanity, taunting, mocking, at opposing rivals, or refs. I remember in the '84 Olympics, soccer semifinals, Yugoslavia against France. I was at the stadium rooting for Yugoslavia after being down 0-2 in the first half they came back to tie the score in the second half. In over time the referees made too horrible calls resulting in France's two goals costing Yugoslavia the game! After the game, players from Yugoslavia went up to the referee to complain. I was in the stands yelling, 'Kill the referee'. I DO HAVE A PROBLEM WITH RACIAL SLURS! THAT IS CROSSING THE LINE!!! THE REASON WHY I DON'T SUPPORT FED CUP. Fans who were yelling racial slurs at the Williams family should have been kicked out of the venue and also like the idiot who incited them should have given them a life time ban from the I.W. grounds. In Missouri there is a college fan group called the Antlers this guys are probably the worst in the country. Coaches have complained. One coach said that this guys know personal stuff about people. He even asked the question, "Who are this guys been talking to? They know stuff from my private life". He thought they hired a private detective. They yell this personal stuff at games to their rivals; some of this stuff are private, personal, and embarrassing. No complains about racial slurs.

6)Tournament officials: For not doing anything you told the whole world you took the side of a racial slurring mob; meaning tournament officials did have the same type of thinking as the mob. I remember once I was watching college basketball highlights. The news of the day was the Oklahoma game. The Oklahoma football team had earn a spot on the national championship game, "The Orange Bowl" in Miami. The Oklahoma basketball team was at home, during the game fans started to throw oranges on the court. The Oklahoma coach took the microphone form P.A. and told the fans, "The next person who throws anything into the court I'm taking my team off the court and forfeiting this game and I really mean it! I will not risk an injury to my players not to the visiting team! This is Oklahoma act like it!". Why didn't tournament officials did something like this? The apathy from officials spoke in loud volumes.

I never had a problem with the Williams sisters boycotting I.W. I support them for it! To this day I.W. officials haven't said anything on how to avoid a similar incident. Serena is right, crusty old rich white people when insulting a non white, racial slurs is the first thing that comes out of their mouths.

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