(Reuters) - World number one Serena Williams has buried the hatchet and will return to Indian Wells to play in the tournament she has boycotted for 14 years after suffering racist abuse.
In an interview with TIME magazine, the 19-times grand slam singles champion said she had discovered the “true meaning of forgiveness” and would go for a third title in the Californian resort in March.
“It has been difficult for me to forget spending hours crying in the Indian Wells locker room after winning in 2001, driving back to Los Angeles feeling as if I had lost the biggest game ever -- not a mere tennis game but a bigger fight for equality,” the 33-year-old Williams wrote.
“I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove. I’m still as driven as ever, but the ride is a little easier. I play for the love of the game.
“It is with that love in mind, and a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015.”
Williams won her second title at the showpiece event in 2001, beating Kim Clijsters in a final marred by the behavior of some fans who booed and heckled the American and her family, apparently in response to sister Venus withdrawing injured from their semi-final.
In her autobiography My Life: Queen of the Court, Williams describes the events which prompted her boycott: “I could hear the shouts of “Nigger!” here and there.
“I even heard one angry voice telling us to go back to Compton. It was unbelievable.”
Williams made her main draw debut at Indian Wells as a 17-year-old in 1999, beating Steffi Graf in the final.
“I have thought about going back to Indian Wells many times over my career,” Williams, who won the Australian Open on Saturday, said in the TIME interview.
“I said a few times that I would never play there again. And believe me, I meant it. I admit it scared me. What if I walked onto the court and the entire crowd booed me? The nightmare would start all over.
“I’m just following my heart on this one,” she adds. “Indian Wells was a pivotal moment of my story, and I am a part of the tournament’s story as well.
“Together we have a chance to write a different ending.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar
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