A R L I N G T O N, Va., March 26, 2001 -- The father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams told USA Today his family was subjected to racial slurs at the Indian Wells tennis tournament after Venus Williams withdrew from a match with her sister.
In an interview conducted at the Ericsson Open, Richard Williams said his family was booed and taunted by a racist crowd.
"When Venus and I were walking down the stairs to our seats, people kept calling me 'nigger,"' Williams was quoted as saying in today's editions.
"One guy said, 'I wish it was '75; we'd skin you alive.' That's when I stopped and walked toward that way. Then I realized that [my] best bet was to handle the situation nonviolently. I had trouble holding back tears. I think Indian Wells disgraced America."
Boos for Serena
With just a few minutes notice, Venus withdrew from the California tournament March 15 as she was about to play her sister in the semifinals. She said she had tendinitis in her knee, but controversy erupted over whether Richard Williams orchestrated the withdrawal to steer a victory to her sister.
Serena Williams automatically advanced to the finals with her sister's withdrawal and went on to win March 17 as some in the crowd loudly booed her.
Charles Pasarell, director of the Indian Wells tournament, told the newspaper he was "cringing when all that stuff was going on. It was unfair for the crowd to do that."
Of the claim that the boos included racial taunting, he said: "If Richard says someone yelled something, maybe they did, but I know that's not Indian Wells people."
Father Maintains Daughters Are Competitive
Williams accused the media of creating controversy over the withdrawal.
"The media is trying to nullify what Venus and Serena have done, cast a shadow on the family," Williams told USA Today. "No, I have never asked Venus or Serena to lose a match."
Referring to the sisters' showdown last July at the Wimbledon semifinals, he said that when Serena lost, "she cried like hell, not because someone asked her to lose but because Serena hates to lose. Venus isn't like that. When Venus loses, she walks off the court and is ready to get something to eat."
He also said his daughters are subjected to jealousy in the locker room.
"Every girl in the locker room feels she should be in the place we're in," he said. "Jealousy devours you, makes you feel you don't have something that you want."