6:22 PM EST, January 22, 2014
The prestigious Indian Wells tennis tournament, the BNP Paribas Open, announced its list of entries Wednesday and one name jumped out.
While tournament officials were quick to point out that this did not mean definitively that she would play for the first time since her controversial final match in 2001, they also acknowledged that she had not entered at all since 2001.
"We'd love to have her back," said Steve Simon, tournament director. "We'd welcome her with open arms, as we would her sister, Venus. And the fans would, too."
Williams can withdraw any time before she plays, but Simon said that the usual withdrawal time would be at qualifying, which directly precedes the March 3-16 event in the Southern California desert.
Simon said he had heard, at the same time as everybody else, that Williams had talked about rethinking her Indian Wells stance after being inspired by the message of forgiveness preached by recently deceased South African legend Nelson Mandela.
The trouble in 2001 began when Serena was to play Venus in a featured match, and Venus announced, just minutes before taking the court, that she was defaulting with leg tendinitis. When Serena ended up in the final against Kim Clijsters, and Venus and her father, Richard Williams, walked to their seats to watch the match, there was prolonged booing.
A shaken Serena lost the first set, but won the match, one of her two titles in the tournament. A few days later, Richard Williams told a reporter from USA Today that he felt the booing had been racially motivated.
Since then, the Williams sisters have not returned to a tournament that has become one of the biggest on the tour, right after the Grand Slam events. Each has lost considerable amounts of money on post-season bonus awards because WTA Tour rules mandate that certain events be played.
The tournament officials announced that, six weeks out from the competition, the entries included 11 past winners and 15 past major champions.
It was also announced that, to give the new multimillion-dollar Stadium 2 court a proper greeting, a special event, the John McEnroe Challenge, would be held March 1. McEnroe, as well as past stars Peter Fleming, Jim Courier and Rick Leach, will compete for charity.
Tickets to that event will be free and on a first-come, first-serve basis.
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