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Serena Williams is a little nervous in return to Indian Wells

Serena Williams plays her first match at Indian Wells since 2001 on Friday night

It was all about timing and about Time, the magazine. It was about the act of forgiveness, which Serena Williams, after the years and the memories, said she at last found a reason to offer.

Fourteen years ago, in 2001, Williams, a teenager but already a champion, was booed at Indian Wells, booed in a final by a crowd angry that in the scheduled semifinal two days earlier older sister Venus defaulted moments before the start because of announced knee tendinitis.

The belief of some fans was that the women's father, Richard, dictated the pullout so the siblings wouldn't compete against each other. The belief of Richard Williams was that his daughter was being jeered because she was African American.

Serena Williams won that final, defeating Kim Clijsters, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, and then neither Williams sister returned to the event, now called the BNP Paribas Open, until this week. Now Serena, 33, winner of 19 Grand Slam titles, including the recent Australian Open, has come back, if a bit tentatively.

She announced the intention in an essay last month in Time, "I'm going back to Indian Wells." But, she said Thursday at a news conference at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden that as the day and place neared there was hesitancy.

"I think there will be added nerves," said Williams, who plays her first match Friday night against Monica Niculescu. "I really would not be telling the truth if I said there wasn't. To be honest, I was a little nervous to come out here. It was like, 'What was I thinking?' I had to overcome that hurdle.

"I spent an extra day in L.A. I'm like, 'I'm not ready yet.' I just had to overcome that. But once I got here, everything has been really amazing and great."

Williams said in the Time article she was raised by her mother, Oracene, to "love and forgive freely." What she said Thursday was the opportunity had arrived, through a variety of factors, to take that to heart.

Although Williams attempted to avoid any discussion of that 2001 final, her thoughts emerged.

After losing the first set to Clijsters, Williams said, "I remember sitting down and praying. I said, I don't want to win this match. I just want to get through this moment. I don't know what happened. I won after that.

"I don't watch that match. Not a fun match to watch."

Williams was unsure how her parents, now divorced, would react when she told them separately of her intention to come back to Indian Wells.

She explained to her mother what she was going to write in Time. "She said, 'I'll be there for you,' " said Williams, who said she hasn't played much since defeating Maria Sharapova in the Australian final. "I was a little shocked. I don't know why, because she's always been supportive.

"With my dad, I was a little nervous for him as well. I wrote about that. He's been through some things when he was growing up as well. I was like, 'I think I should go back, but I'm not going to go back if you don't want me to.' He said it would be a big mistake if I didn't go back. I thought that was really admirable."

Sharapova was among the WTA players who said they were happy Williams had returned to Indian Wells. "It's good for the tournament," Sharapova said, "and good for tennis."

Williams referred to recent racial tensions in the news.

"A lot of things that have been happening lately, I think, played a part in the whole picture," she said of her return. "I thought it was good timing, not just for me but for Americans in general. We as a people can do better. If you're in a position where you can stand up and be a role model, then why not do it?"

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