In 2001 Venus Williams dismissed Elena Dementieva in the quarterfinals of the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells 6-0, 6-3.
No big deal – right?
The victory proved to be, until today, the last win she would score in the desert for 16 long, tumultuous years. After she beat Dementieva, Williams suffered a knee injury and pulled out of her semifinal against her sister Serena.
Fans were livid. They insisted, with no real evidence, that there was a fix. Just before the Serena vs. Kim Clijsters final, as Venus and her controversial, bigger-than-life dad Richard walked down to their seats, fans showered them with fierce jeers and taunts. It wasn’t pretty. And for more than two hours there were boos directed at the then 19-year-old Serena.
Many insisted it wasn’t that big a deal – that race didn’t have a thing to do with it. But Venus knew better. And she was right.
For 15 long years, one of California’s greatest tennis champions boycotted California’s greatest tournament.
Finally, last year, following in Serena’s footsteps, she returned. But she lost her opening match to the little-known Kurumi Nara.
Today, it seemed she would suffer a similar fate as she played indifferent, almost listless tennis in the 94° heat and fell behind the Serbian veteran Jelena Jankovic 1-6, 1-4 15-40. A loss seemed certain. Venus teetered. Three times she managed to survive a match point.
But, as Venus later said, “I didn’t see no fat lady singing.” Instead the tall, slender star began hitting out and pasting the lines. Her game suddenly clicked. Venus started to look like the seven-time Slam champion she is. Her backhand was stunning, her aggression was strong. The once-dominant Jankovic now seemed almost hapless. Venus’ comeback astounded. And the crowd in this wonderful, affluent desert enclave – which 16 years ago was so relentlessly unkind – now had Williams’ back, as they chanted, “Let’s go, Venus! Let’s go, Venus!”
Time heals. All things must pass.
After her 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-1 victory, when IT asked Venus to reflect on her “post-boycott” thoughts on Indian Wells, she all but gushed, “It’s wonderful to see how the tournament has developed, which is great for tennis. It’s huge. People come from all over the world…It’s fan-friendly…I love being a part of that…The past is the past, but I’m happy that I was able to move forward and everyone was able to move forward. I had so much support today. Yeah, it was nice to get a win here after so very long (smiling). It’s very rewarding …Serena came to play here a couple years ago, so that was…the first step. I was really proud of her for that. [That] made it easy for me.”
As for last year’s controversy relating to sexist remarks made by the then-tournament director, the often-positive Venus said, “The tournament really is a huge supporter of women’s tennis and a huge supporter of men’s tennis, and tennis in general. The women love playing here.
“I was happy that the tournament did stand for equality and low tolerance of inequality…Sometimes people make mistakes. He probably didn’t intend [it]. You don’t wake up and say that this is going to happen. I don’t think that’s what he was planning… Sometimes things happen, and we all should understand that everyone can have a bad day, and we all can just get better.”
So, she was asked, “You are willing to move on?”
“Oh, God, of course,” she replied. “If I wasn’t willing to move on, I wouldn’t be back in Indian Wells. It’s no good to hang on to things.”
And indeed, Venus, the tournament and the desert fans have moved on. How wonderful is that?