Tennis icon Serena Williams still deals with “mental anxiety” from the 2001 incident at the Indian Wells tournament.
Russian tennis player Elena Dementieva had accused Serena’s father, Richard Williams, of manipulating matches between Serena and sister Venus. Those allegations were amplified when Venus withdrew from her semifinal match against Serena with a knee injury, just minutes before it started. Serena then defeated Kim Clijsters in the finals.
Serena was met with boos and lewd shoutouts from the crowd when she took the court at Indian Wells Tennis Garden for the match with Clijsters.
“Even when I went back 14 years later, it was very traumatizing,” Serena said about her 2015 return during an interview with Will Smith on his wife Jada’s “Red Table Talk” show, released Wednesday.
The tournament at Indian Wells is one of the top hardcourt events of each season, which the top players generally attend.
“Talk about post-traumatic stress and mental anxiety. I remember sitting in the bathroom thinking, ‘Wait, I’m not gonna go back. I just don’t think I should do this. What if they start booing again?’ It was really hard for me,” Serena said.
Serena was greeted with loud cheers and a standing ovation when she stepped back onto the court at Indian Wells. It was an emotional scene from fans to the tennis legend tearing up.
During the 2001 match — which saw Serena defeat Clijsters in three sets for her second title at Indian Wells — Richard and Venus were heckled by spectators when they took their seats in the stands.
Richard said that a number of racial slurs were aimed at him throughout the contest.
“It was so hard,” Serena told Smith, who plays her father in the upcoming biopic “King Richard.” The Williams sisters are executive producers on the project.
“I’ll never forget driving back, and [sister] Yetunde was there, and I remember just getting in the car and I was just bawling. I was at the gas station, there was no celebration, and I was just crying and crying and crying.”