Tag Archives: Indian Wells

More Controversy at Indian Wells

By Dr. Nancy E. Spencer

Venus and Serena Williams’ return to Indian Wells was supposed to close the book on a controversy that occurred in 2001. They faced a racist incident that was a painful memory for them and a blemish on the tournament. In 2016, Serena hoped to write a new chapter by advancing to the Women’s Singles final where she faced Victoria Azarenka. Their matches had always been close and promised to provide a storybook ending to this new chapter. While the final score did not end in Serena’s favor (Vika won 6-4, 6-4), a new controversy emerged as a result of sexist comments made by Ray Moore, the tournament’s director and CEO. Before the Men’s Singles final, Moore was asked how the men’s (ATP) and women’s tours (WTA) compared. He replied by calling  “the WTA a bunch of lucky coattail-ridin’ dummies who have the men to thank for their continued existence” (Redford, 2016, para. 1). But he didn’t stop there, adding, “If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have” (Redford, para. 2).

In the press conference following her match, Serena was asked to comment on Moore’s statements. She began by saying, “I think Venus, myself, a number of players have been — if I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister, I couldn’t even bring up that number. So I don’t think that is a very accurate statement” (Dator, 2016, para. 4).

Asked further if she was surprised that sexist statements are still brought up, Serena replied: “Yeah, I’m still surprised, especially with me and Venus and all the other women on the tour that’s done well. Last year the women’s final at the US Open sold out well before the men. I’m sorry, did Roger play in that final or Rafa or any man play in that final that was sold out before the men’s final? I think not ” (Dator, 2016, para. 5).

Serena also referred to the history of progress that began with Billie Jean King whose “Battle of the Sexes” victory over Bobby Riggs has been credited with advancing the cause of all women in sport. In fact, Billie Jean also played an integral role in securing equal prize money for women at the U.S. Open in 1973 (D’Cunha, 2016). As Serena pointed out, “in order to make a comment you have to have history and you have to have facts and you have to know things. You have to know of everything. I mean, you look at someone like Billie Jean King who opened so many doors for not only women’s players but women athletes in general” (Dator, 2016, para. 6).

King herself played during the same era as Ray Moore when professional tennis was in its infancy. During that era, the ratio between men’s and women’s earnings was often as disparate as 11:1 (BJ King, personal communication, February 24, 1999). Billie Jean responded to Moore’s comments on Twitter saying she was: “Disappointed in comments. He is wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success.”

Chris Kermode, CEO of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the governing body of men’s professional tennis agreed with King in describing “Ray Moore’s comments towards women’s tennis” as “disappointing” (Rycroft, 2016, para. 5). Adding that the comments were “made in poor taste,” Kermode stated that, “The ATP fully supports equality across society, while at the same time acknowledging that we operate in the sports [and] entertainment business” (Rycroft, 2016, para. 5).

Unfortunately, Kermode’s comments are unlikely to carry as much weight as earlier statements made by the Men’s Singles winner and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who said after winning his match yesterday: “I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches. I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more” (D’Cunha, 2016, para. 15). There is an underlying problem with comments by both Moore and Djokovic, as D’Cunha (2016) pointed out, in that they “are indicative of the general disregard for women’s tennis by their male counterparts” (para. 18).

If there is any consolation it is the outpouring of support for women’s tennis that was expressed on Twitter and in other articles. Hopefully, women’s tennis (and all women’s sports) will continue the legacy begun by Billie Jean King, Gladys Heldman, the “Original Nine” and current WTA players. They’re not riding anybody’s coat tails!!

Note: According to reports on Twitter as of March 21, Raymond Moore has resigned as Tournament Director and CEO at Indian Wells. Perhaps, on this 10th anniversary of Twitter, it is fitting that the social media site played a key role in disseminating news of this controversy so quickly.


Dator, J. (2016, March 20). Serena Williams sends powerful message to Indian Wells CEO over sexist comments. SB Nation. Retrieved from http://www.sbnation.com/2016/3/20/11273222/serena-williams-press-conference-sexist-comments-indian-wells-ceo

D’Cunha, Z. (2016, March 21). Raymond Moore, Novak Djokovic, and the blatant disregard for women’s tennis by the men in sport. Firstpost.com. Retrieved from http://www.firstpost.com/sports/raymond-moore-novak-djokovics-comments-not-only-sexist-but-also-show-disregard-for-womens-tennis-2688386.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Redford, P. (2016, March 20). Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore has some bad and dumb thoughts on Women’s Tennis. Deadspin. Retrieved from http://deadspin.com/indian-wells-ceo-raymond-moore-has-some-bad-and-dumb-th-1766048378

Rycroft, R. (2016, March 21). ATP’s Chris Kermode responds to Raymond Moore’s controversial comments on WTA. Sportsgecko.com. Retrieved from http://sportsgecko.com/atps-chris-kermode-responds-to-raymond-moores-controversial-comments-on-wta/


A Sad Chapter Ends… or Does It?

By Dr. Nancy E. Spencer

On Friday, March 11, 2016, Venus Williams made her return to Indian Wells, facing Japan’s Kurumi Mara in a first-round singles match. It had been 15 years since Venus last played in the tournament, and she received a warm welcome as reflected by her broad smile in the photo below.?

In March 2001, when Venus last appeared at Indian Wells, she was scheduled to meet her sister Serena in the semifinals. As it was reported by most media sources, Venus defaulted just moments before she was to have played Serena. Tennis writer Joel Drucker (2009), wrote that “four minutes before her match against Serena, Venus pull(ed) out with tendinitis. Players usually notify officials that they will be unable to compete at least 30 minutes before a match so organizers can make contingency plans” (para. 13).

Serena related a different version of this story in her autobiography, where she wrote that during Venus’ quarter-final match against Elena Dementieva, she was dehydrated and started to cramp; she also hurt her knee and questioned whether she would be able to play in the semifinals against Serena (Williams & Paisner, 2009). On the morning of their scheduled semifinal, “Venus checked in with the tour trainer and told him she didn’t think she could play” (Williams & Paisner, 2009, p. 64). According to the rules, the trainer needed to give his approval before Venus could officially withdraw. The trainer was then supposed to consult with the tournament director who would typically schedule another match in its place. [This part is confirmed by Drucker’s statement above].

Checking in with tour officials was an especially important step since Venus and Serena were scheduled to play on live TV (on ESPN) before a crowd that eagerly anticipated the “rare tennis treat” (2001, p. 3C) of seeing the sisters play each other for only the sixth time in their professional careers. There was clearly a lot riding on whether or not Venus and Serena played that match. Yet, according to Serena, the trainer “kept telling Venus to hold off on making any kind of final decision” (Williams & Paisner, 2009, p. 65).

Two hours before the match was slated to begin, Venus again told officials that she would not be able to play, but still no announcement was made that she was withdrawing. It was not until five minutes before the match was to start that a tournament official finally “announced to the packed stadium that Venus was withdrawing due to injury” (Williams & Paisner, 2009, p. 67). Needless to say, the timing of the announcement could not have been worse and fans unleashed their anger toward Venus since she was made to appear as the culprit who withdrew at the last minute.

Two days after Venus’ default in the semifinals, Serena played in the final against the Belgian Kim Clijsters. When Venus and her father entered the Stadium to watch the final, fans responded by booing vociferously. Richard Williams proclaimed that a dozen fans in the stands used racial slurs and one fan yelled that he would “skin him alive” (Smith, 2001, p. 3C). According to some sources, fans were upset not only because of the late default, but also because they had the impression that Richard, was responsible for orchestrating the outcomes of their matches. Dementieva, whom Venus defeated in the quarterfinals, had even suggested in her press conference that she thought their father Richard would decide who would win their semifinal match (Drucker, 2009). A headline in the National Enquirer also suggested that Richard ordered Serena to lose to Venus in the 2000 Wimbledon semifinals. This further fueled the impression of match-fixing.

Aside from such accusations about match-fixing, there has never been any concrete evidence to confirm that this is anything more than speculation. In fact, Bart McGuire who was then CEO of the WTA Tour, issued a statement on March 16, 2001, saying that “The tour is aware of the assertions being circulated regarding Venus and Serena Williams’ head-to-head matches. We have seen no evidence to support those assertions, and both players have denied them” (Drucker, 2009, para. 29).

On March 23, 2001, Venus addressed the role of the press in fueling the story about what happened at Indian Wells. When asked about the crowd’s response at Indian Wells, Venus said that she didn’t always understand the press, but she understood that they wanted a big story and they were “interested in selling papers” (Drucker, 2009, para. 49).Indian Wells’ Tournament Director Charlie Pasarell addressed the question posed to Venus about whether it was unfair of the crowd to respond as they did. Pasarell reported that he cringed “when all that stuff was going on,” adding that “it was unfair for the crowd to do that” (Drucker, 2009, para. 51).

At the beginning of Drucker’s (2009) article, the editor noted that “the controversy surrounding Venus and Serena Williams’ decision not to play at Indian Wells has been composed of rumors, conjecture and  confusing comments about racism and match fixing” (para. 1). While it may be difficult to make sense of all that has been reported and recorded by the press about Indian Wells over the last 15 years, what happened there in 2001 was enough to make the Williams’ sisters decide not to play in the tournament for the past 14-15 years. I vividly remember watching that match and was embarrassed by the vitriol spewed toward Venus, Serena and their father Richard. I have always understood their decision not to play at Indian Wells. While I applaud their willingness to forgive and move on, I question if that chapter is truly over if we have not fully addressed the underlying impulse for the crowd’s (mis)behavior at Indian Wells in 2001.


Drucker, J. (2009, March 11). What happened at Indian Wells? ESPN.com. Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/sports/tennis/columns/story?id=3952939&columnist=drucker_joel

Rare tennis treat: Williams vs. Williams. (2001, March 15). USA Today, p. 1C.

Smith, D. (2001, March 26). Williams decries fans as racist. USA Today, p. 3C.

Williams, S., & Paisner, D. (2009). On the line. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

Serena Williams: The Return to Indian Wells (Part I)

This post comes from, Bowling Green State University Sport Management Professor and Maxwell Media Watch faculty advisor, Dr. Nancy Spencer.

By Dr. Nancy Spencer

March 2, 2015

On March 13, 2001, I sat in front of my TV, eagerly awaiting the sixth match that Venus and Serena Williams were to play against one another in a professional tennis tournament. The tournament was at Indian Wells, a small affluent desert community in California that was home to many retirees from the entertainment world.

About five minutes before the match was to begin, an ESPN announcer reported that there would be no live match since Venus Williams had ‘just’ defaulted. The announcement was made in front of a packed stadium of angry fans that proceeded to boo loudly. They felt like they had been robbed.

Unlike in team sports, when a superstar fails to play on a given date, the game goes on. LeBron and Kyrie may not have played against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, but the Cleveland Cavaliers still played. There may have been different match-ups, and fans may have been disappointed that they did not get to see Kyrie and LeBron, but they still got to see a meaningful game. When someone defaults in tennis – especially in the semifinals or finals, a substitute can step in to play an exhibition match, but it is not a meaningful match.

Unfortunately, for the Williams sisters, Venus’ default coincided with published reports (albeit in the National Enquirer) that their father, Richard, may have fixed their most recent match-up in the semifinals of the 2000 Wimbledon. Venus won that match and advanced to win her first Wimbledon title. The report (in the National Enquirer) was enough to fuel speculation that perhaps Richard Williams had fixed this match. There has never been proof to substantiate that or any other allegation, even though Venus and Serena Williams have made it clear repeatedly that it was difficult for them to play one another (since they are sisters as well as best friends).

Two days later, Serena met Kim Clijsters in the finals at Indian Wells. She could not have anticipated the boisterous environment she would encounter. Even as she was introduced and again, when her father and Venus entered the stadium, fans booed vociferously.

In response, Richard raised his fist, evoking the symbolism displayed by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics. Fans continued to boo Serena throughout the match, even when she hit winners and even at the end when she remarkably managed to come from behind to win in three sets. Later, Richard reported that he heard racist comments, including one fan who claimed that he was lucky it wasn’t 1975, or he would ‘skin him alive’ (Smith, 2001, p. 3C). The response from tournament director Charlie Pasarell was that those weren’t Indian Wells fans (Smith, 2001). That seemed a curious statement to make and certainly did not justify the unruly behavior in my book.

My immediate response to watching ‘tennis fans behaving badly’ was that racism in tennis was now visible for the whole world to see – except that this was Indian Wells, not the U.S. Open or Wimbledon, where the whole world would have been watching.

And this was before Twitter and social media would have quickly spread the news. In 2009, Serena’s autobiography was published, containing a chapter on ‘The fiery darts at Indian Wells.’ That was the first I learned Serena’s version of what happened in 2001 (in her own words) (Williams & Paisner, 2009). That was when I discovered that Venus had injured her knee during her quarterfinal match against Elena Dementieva.

On the morning of the semifinal, Venus checked in with the trainer, informing him that she didn’t think she would be able to play. What should have happened at that point was that an announcement of Venus’ withdrawal should have been made and another match should have been scheduled for the Stadium. But it wasn’t – for whatever reason. As a result, when Venus defaulted, it appeared that she made the call at the last minute and fans made the Williams’ sisters the scapegoats.

In her autobiography, Serena details the devastating impact of the fans’ behavior that she and Venus faced at Indian Wells in 2001. Because of that behavior, Venus and Serena determined not to return to Indian Wells since 2001… until this year… Serena is returning to Indian Wells.

Next week: Part II – Serena’s Return: How it Happened/What it Means

Are You Watching Indian Wells?


This is the time of year when tennis is heating up. As a former player, coach/teaching pro, and fan of the game, this is a time when I would normally be watching what is considered by some to be the “fifth Grand Slam” – i.e., the BNP Paribas Tournament at Indian Wells. But to be honest, I have had difficulty watching that tournament ever since March 17, 2001, when the Williams family faced “one of the ugliest scenes in the sport’s history” (Jenkins, 2013, para. 3). From my perspective, I cannot think of an uglier moment.

In 2001, I was among those eagerly awaiting the live televised match that would feature the Williams sisters playing one another professionally for only the sixth time. I remember seeing them play in their first match at the Ericsson (in 1999) when Venus won in three sets. I also watched as Venus defeated Serena in their 2000 semifinal match at Wimbledon. I could not have been more excited to see their sixth match-up, especially since it was scheduled to be shown live on ESPN. Naturally, I was disappointed to learn that Venus had defaulted – supposedly just moments before the match was scheduled to begin. I don’t remember if they showed another match to fill in the time slot. But I do remember seeing the finals between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters when it was played two days later.

Watching that final match left an indelible mark on me, so I can begin to understand how it must have felt for the Williams sisters. Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez were commentators for the final match. I remember Fernandez said tournament officials knew “something might happen,” and they had warned ushers to be prepared. In light of their forewarning, I could not understand why no one intervened when the ugliness began. The vitriolic booing by fans started as soon as Serena was introduced; it escalated when Venus and Richard Williams entered the Stadium to take their seats for the final. As the match got underway, fans did the unthinkable – for a tennis crowd – they booed loudly each time Serena made an error or lost a point.

In a powerful article on SI.com, Elizabeth Newman (2013) argues that “Calls for Williams sisters to return to Indian Wells are wrong.” Newman explains how unusual it is to display such behavior in tennis, writing, “we’re talking about tennis, a sport steeped in etiquette, decorum and protocol; a sport where errant catcalls and whistling are considered low brow” (para. 10). 

In 2001, several things struck me as I watched the Women’s Singles Final at Indian Wells. One was that “no one did anything.” When Serena’s autobiography, On the line (Williams & Paisner, 2009), came out, I was particularly moved by her chapter on “The fiery darts of Indian Wells.” In it Serena wrote that, “Some tournament official could have gotten on the loudspeaker and explained to the fans that Venus had been legitimately hurt, that I had nothing to do with her withdrawal, that every effort had been made to cancel that semifinal match in a more timely manner. Some effort could have been made to quiet the crowd. But no one did anything” (Williams & Paisner, 2009, p. 81). Like Serena, I too was astonished to watch the match and observe that no one did anything.

Another thing that I learned as I read the chapter was that Venus had told the trainer earlier in the day that she was injured and would not be able to play. So why was an announcement not made until four minutes before the match was to begin? At the time, it appeared that Venus was solely responsible for the late withdrawal. To this day, I wonder why the tournament director and/or trainer never acknowledged their complicity in what happened.

In the aftermath of the 2001 Indian Wells final, Richard Williams reported that he heard “racial epithets” and that someone even yelled that he was lucky it was not 1975 or “he would skin him alive” (Smith, 2001, para. 29). Venus heard it. Other fans reported hearing the boos and racist epithets. And yet, Tournament Director Charlie Pasarell’s response was simply to say, “If Richard says he heard racist epithets, maybe he did… but I know that’s not Indian Wells people.” Really? What does that mean? Why was it so important to establish that if there was a racist response from the crowd, it wasn’t “Indian Wells’ people.” It was still racism. Was Pasarell only responsible if Indian Wells’ people were yelling epithets? 

Since 2001, the Williams sisters have (understandably) not returned to Indian Wells, a decision I fully support. Yahoo! Sports’ Merlisa Lawrence Corbett (2013) writes that the 12-year boycott taints Indian Wells tournament – which is not to suggest that the Williams sisters are to blame, but that Charlie Pasarell never stood against “overt racism.”