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"The undercurrent of racism was painful, confusing and unfair" - Throwback to when Venus and Serena Williams boycotted Indian Wells for over a decade

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Venus and Serena Williams were subject to racially-charged jeers at Indian Wells in 2001
Venus and Serena Williams were subject to racially-charged jeers at Indian Wells in 2001

Naomi Osaka recently cited a heckling incident involving Venus and Serena Williams in 2001 as the reason why some jeers at the BNP Paribas Open got to her head.

Venus and sister Serena Williams boycotted Indian Wells for 15 and 14 years, respectively, after being subject to alleged racial jeers in 2001.

Here's what disturbed Naomi Osaka. Naomi was in tears #IndianWells https://t.co/LW16f9pZv4

What led to the racially-charged incident that took place at 2001 Indian Wells involving Venus and Serena Williams?

Venus and Serena Williams were due to face each other in the semifinals at Indian Wells in 2001. They had already established themselves as the next big stars in tennis, and thousands eagerly awaited the clash between the sisters.

However, just minutes before the match, Venus Williams pulled out, citing tendonitis, leaving fans shocked and disappointed. Some fans and players, including Elena Dementieva, claimed that Venus' withdrawal was a deliberate ploy from father Richard Williams.

It was insinuated that the Williams family wanted the younger Serena to rise out of her sister's shadow, which led to Venus giving her a clear path to the final.

This angered fans who believed they had been robbed of a mouthwatering clash due to the whims and fancies of Richard Williams.

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What was the incident?

After receiving a walkover from sister Venus, Serena Williams squared off against Kim Clijsters in the 2001 Indian Wells final. She was subject to alleged racial abuse throughout the fixture, leaving her scarred.

Despite that, Serena showed tremendous mental fortitude to win the final 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

After the match, the 23-time Major champion expressed her disappointment at the behavior from the crowd.

"The undercurrent of racism was painful, confusing and unfair," Serena Williams had said. "In a game I loved with all of my heart, at one of my most cherished tournaments, I suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid."

She pointed out how the largely white crowd displayed aggressive and racist behavior from the stands.

"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," Williams said. "Like these people were going to come down and look for me after the match."

She was not alone, though. Sister Venus and father Richard were also subject to racial taunts as they walked into the stadium to take their seats ahead of the final.

A few days after the incident, Richard Williams spoke to USA Today, describing the vile racist chants hurled at him and his daughter.

“When Venus and I were walking down the stairs to our seats, people kept calling me ‘n******’. One said, ‘I wish it was ‘75, we’d skin you alive’ … I think Indian Wells disgraced America.”

Serena was so distraught during one changeover that she could barely contain her tears. She said a quiet prayer to herself and summoned every last ounce of resolve to close out a historic win.

"Jehovah give me the strength to get up from this chair," Serena Williams had said. "Give me the strength to finish this match. Give me the strength to persevere."

But the Williams sisters understandably had had enough at that point. They boycotted the event from 2002 and were happy to pay the fine for skipping Indian Wells, which was a Premier mandatory event. While Serena made her next appearance at the tournament in 2015, Venus returned a year later.

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Edited by Sudeshna Banerjee
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