The tennis star writes exclusively in TIME about her decision to return to a tournament that has haunted her.
We were outsiders.
It was March 2001, and I was a 19-year-old focused on winning and being the best I could be, both for me and for the kids who looked up to me. I had spent tens of thousands of hours—most of my adolescence—serving, running, practicing, training day in and day out in pursuit of a dream. And it had started to become a reality. As a Black tennis player, I looked different. I sounded different. I dressed differently. I served differently. But when I stepped onto the court, I could compete with anyone.
The tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., held a special place in my heart. I won my first pro match there in 1997, alongside my sister in doubles. I then sat and watched Venus qualify for the singles event and make a magical run all the way to the quarterfinals. It was a giant win not only for her but also for our whole family, and it marked the beginning of a new era that we were unknowingly writing. My first big tournament win also happened there, when I beat Steffi Graf in the ’99 final.
When I arrived at Indian Wells in 2001, I was looking to take another title. I was ready. But however ready I was, nothing could have prepared me for what happened in the final. As I walked out onto the court, the crowd immediately started jeering and booing. In my last match, the semifinals, I was set to play my sister, but Venus had tendinitis and had to pull out. Apparently that angered many fans. Throughout my whole career, integrity has been everything to me. It is also everything and more to Venus. The false allegations that our matches were fixed hurt, cut and ripped into us deeply. 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.
Head to Time.com to read the rest of her story.