Venus Williams wrote a poignant essay about her return to the Indian Wells tournament 15 years after she and her sister Serena were verbally harassed by spectators.
In an essay for The Players' Tribune, Venus wrote about how Serena inspired her to return to Indian Wells in California after their bitter experience in 2001.
Venus recalled the accusations hurled against them and their father after she pulled out of a semi-final match against Serena, citing a knee injury.
Their father, Richard Williams, was accused of orchestrating Venus's withdrawal from the match to let Serena win, which he refuted. He said his family was also subjected to boos, threats, and racial slurs from the crowd, including people who called him the N word.
"I think Indian Wells disgraced America," he told reporters at the time.
Venus wrote about how she never felt welcome at Indian Wells after the tournament.
I remember the pain of my knee injury, and how badly I wanted to play in the semis against Serena — before finally accepting that I wouldn't be able to. I remember the accusations toward me and my sister and our father.
I remember the crowd's reaction, as I walked to my seat, during Serena's match in the final. And I remember how I couldn't understand why thousands of people would be acting this way — to a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old, trying their best.
She also wrote about what it was like being the older sister in the family and the fame and responsibilities that come with it.
"Being the big sister meant that, when I became world No. 1 in 2002, I wasn't just world No. 1. I was also the first black American woman to reach No. 1. And it meant that I had to carry with me the importance of what I had accomplished. And I was honored to do that.
Being the big sister meant that, when my little sister made her professional debut, I became a lot of new things to her — her colleague, her competitor, her business partner, her doubles partner. But I was still, first and foremost, the one thing I had always been: her family. I was her protector — her first line of defense against outside forces. And I cherished that."
"Being the big sister means that nothing ever has to be said out loud. It’s unspoken, and understood: You can do it. I did it, so you can do it. Just follow my lead."
Venus also laid bare her insecurities about returning to Indian Wells. Unlike Serena, Venus explained that she didn't show her emotions and competitiveness on court, which made it harder for her to come to terms with what happened at Indian Wells all those years ago.
While Venus was proud of her sister for returning to Indian Wells in 2015, "my personal feelings hadn't changed: I didn't think that playing Indian Wells again was something I'd ever do."
"But then I saw Serena. And it was in that moment, seeing Serena welcomed with open arms last year at Indian Wells, that I think I fully and truly realized what being the big sister means."
"It means that, for all of the things I did first, and all of the times when I paved the way for Serena, the thing I can be most proud of is this time.
When Serena paved the way for me."
Now, Venus said she is looking forward to her first appearance at Indian Wells in 15 years.
"But most of all, I'm looking forward to playing tennis.
Sounds simple — I know. But after almost 30 years of playing this sport, I've learned something. I've learned that, no matter what happens, or happened … or where you are, or where you've been … at the end of the day: tennis is tennis. It's always, always tennis. And there's nothing better.
Who taught me that?
Actually, funny story — it was the greatest player in the world.
I'm her big sister."