Women’s world number one Serena Williams has held out the possibility of lifting her 13-year boycott of the Indian Wells tournament after being inspired by a movie about Nelson Mandela, the American said at the sidelines on Friday.
Williams, who eased into the fourth round with a victory over Daniela Hantuchova, and older sister Venus have never returned to the tournament in the California desert after being jeered by spectators in a controversial final in 2001. The Williams sisters were due to play each other in the semi-finals but Venus pulled out minutes before the match, citing injury.
Spectators vented their displeasure with the late withdrawal during the final, booing 19-year-old Serena in her match against Belgian Kim Clijsters and also jeering her sister and father Richard Williams when the pair arrived to watch the match.
Richard Williams alleged he had heard racist taunts from the crowd and the family have not returned since. Serena was asked if Mandela’s message of reconciliation might have led her to re-consider her boycott. “It actually crossed my mind a couple days ago, or after I saw the movie,” the 32-year-old told reporters at Melbourne Park.
“I thought about it… Right now I don’t know. I just have to focus on this tournament. But I think Mandela was a really amazing man. I felt really honoured to have a chance to meet him, get to know him a little bit, and get to know his story a little better.”
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” a movie about the anti-apartheid hero, opened just days before his death at 95 last month.
Serena’s relationshoip with Melbourne though, has always been sunny. Williams defeated Romania’s Irina Spirlea, a former top 10 player, in her Melbourne Park debut in 1998 before being beaten by Venus. Williams has won five titles at Melbourne Park since her debut at the year’s first grand slam 16 years ago and is a hot favourite to win a sixth.