During the past 14 years Serena Williams has won just about every notable tournament on the WTA tour.
Ever since her historic "Serena Slam," when she won four consecutive Grand Slams starting with the 2002 French Open, Williams has gone on to have one of the most successful careers of any American athlete. She's won a total of 34 Grand Slam titles (19 singles, 13 doubles and two in mixed doubles) and four Olympic gold medals.
But there is one tournament title that is notably missing from Williams' recent run of dominance, and its absence is particularly striking because it is the most prominent tournament in her home state.
Serena and her sister, Venus, have boycotted the Indian Wells tournament for 14 years after a harrowing experience there in 2001. The sisters were set to square off in the semifinals that year, but Venus withdrew shortly before the match because of tendinitis. Collusion theories reigned and angry fans booed Serena in her finals match against Kim Clijsters. The sisters' father, Richard, said racist comments were made to him in the stands, and Serena remembers hearing fans yelling epithets at her.
Serena beat Clijsters to win the tournament, but the experience was scarring.
"The false allegations that our matches were fixed hurt, cut and ripped into us deeply" Williams writes in Time magazine. "The undercurrent of racism was painful, confusing and unfair. In a game I loved with all my heart, at one of my most cherished tournaments, I suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid."
But the 2015 Australian Open champion has reconciled her objections, writing that her personal growth in harmony with the sport's evolution has led her to announce her return to the tournament.
Williams cites a recent incident in which Russian Tennis Federation Shamil Tarpischev called Serena and Venus "the Williams brothers" during an appearance on a late-night television program. Tarpischev was immediately condemned by the WTA and the USTA.
"It reminded me how far the sport has come," Williams writes, "and how far I’ve come too."
In the Time story Williams opens up about her 2001 Indian Wells title, writing that despite her impressive victory she cried in the locker room and felt gloomy on the drive back to Los Angeles. Since 2001 Williams has wavered on whether she would ever return, but she feels now is the right time.
"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. And 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."
The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells begins on March 11.