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What Serena Williams’ return to Indian Wells says about her as a champion

Serena Williams proves she is a champion off the court by returning to play at Indian Wells and fighting against social injustice.

Serena Williams is the undisputed face of American tennis. The world’s number one player collected her 19th Grand Slam title winning the Australian Open for the sixth time five days ago. Her all around career victories record stands at a remarkable 85%, and the Queen of the Court has earned more than $66 million, highest among women athletes. However, Serena’s  true status as a champion hails from her decision to rise above racial injustice and return to Indian Wells where she won her first-ever professional match in 1997.

The controversy stemmed from the crowd’s reaction to Serena and her family during the finals against Kim Clijsters in 2001. Serena was booed and jeered because Venus Williams pulled out of the semifinals against Serena due to an injury. Although Serena won the match, she felt a heartbreaking deep loss.

“It has been difficult for me to forget spending hours crying in the Indian Wells locker room after winning in 2001,” Serena wrote in her exclusive response for TIME. “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.”

Fourteen years later, Serena will have not the last word but a chance to show how much she has grown and the revelation comes from something very dear to her heart.

“I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove,” explains Williams. “I play for the love of the game. And it is with that love in mind, and a new understand of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015.”

But she isn’t doing it just for the publicity or recognition. Serena Williams is using this very public platform to call attention to others who are wronged. Williams is partnering with the Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI, an organization that provides legal representation to individuals who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. Fans who donate $10 or more to the cause will be entered in a draw and the winner will be her personal guest at the BNP Paribas Open. Serena makes her appeal in a video, not just asking for money, but sharing her deep and personal thoughts on how she was wronged but has evolved as a person and player and how EJI helps achieve a better, safer world. Go to for more information.

As an avid tennis player, I admit, I’m in awe of Serena’s skills on the court. Today, while playing in San Francisco, the talk was about Serena’s impressive personal growth off the court.

“Thirteen years and a lifetime in tennis later, things feel different,” Serena writes in TIME. “A few months ago, when Russian official Shamil Tarpischev made racist and sexist remarks about Venus and me, the WTA and USTA immediately condemned him. It reminded me how far the sport has come, and how far I’ve come too.”


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