Racism charges swirl as Williams sisters advance
Updated: Tuesday March 27, 2001 9:11 AM
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) -- The father of Venus and Serena Williams says the jeers directed at his family during a tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., were racially motivated.
Richard Williams made the allegations at the Ericsson Open, where his daughters both won fourth-round matches Monday.
"The white people at Indian Wells, what they've been wanting to say all along to us finally came out: 'Nigger, stay away from here, we don't want you here,'" Williams said.
The crowd booed the family March 17 after Venus pulled out of her semifinal match against Serena, citing knee tendinitis. The withdrawal sparked a new round of speculation that the result of matches between the sisters is predetermined by their father, which the family denies.
Taunts by the crowd went beyond suspicions of match-fixing, Richard Williams said.
"It's the worst act of prejudice I've seen since they killed Martin Luther King," Williams said. He said that as he and Venus were walking to their seats for the final, about a dozen fans used the racial slur and one spoke of skinning him alive.
Williams said he resisted a temptation to respond. Instead, he said, he watched near tears as fans jeered Serena and cheered when she double-faulted en route to a victory against Kim Clijsters. He characterized the crowd as white and wealthy, with all but about a thousand fans in the crowd of 16,000 booing his daughter.
"That's the hardest time in the world I've ever had," Williams said. "I'll never go to Indian Wells again, because I believe that guy would skin me alive."
Asked about her father's allegations, Venus said: "I heard what he heard." She declined to elaborate.
Williams developed his daughters into Grand Slam champions but has a history of outrageous comments. Top-ranked Martina Hingis, who didn't attend the Indian Wells final, said she likes the sisters but discounted Richard Williams' allegations.
"I think it's total nonsense," Hingis said. "I don't feel like there is any racism on the tour. It's a very international sport, and I even would say because they may be black, they have a lot of advantages. ... They can always say it's racism."
Indian Wells officials didn't return phone calls seeking comment. Charles Pasarell, director of the Indian Wells tournament, told USA Today he was embarrassed by the boos. As for racial taunting, Pasarell said, "If Richard says someone yelled something, maybe they did, but I know that's not Indian Wells people."
Serena Williams said she hadn't spoken to her father about his allegations and couldn't confirm them.
"I'm not really trying to get involved in any type of controversy," she said. "I stick by my dad and know that he's usually a very true-hearted person."
Wearing a T-shirt bearing a caricature of himself, Williams managed once again to upstage action on the court Monday. The media section was nearly empty during Andre Agassi's victory, while outside the stadium reporters and cameras surrounded Williams as he spoke.
He said reporters erred by writing about unsubstantiated allegations of match-fixing, and he accused other players on the WTA Tour of jealousy toward his family.
"The girls that play professional tennis are always saying something about me," he said. "The only way those girls get their names in the paper -- they would have to say something about me. Otherwise, no one would write about them."
Williams said he'll let his daughters decide whether to play at Indian Wells again. He praised Ericsson fans, who have cheered for his daughters and reserved their boos for line judges and chair umpires.
"This reception here at the Ericsson has been tremendous," he said. "You can see the results with the score today. Serena wasn't being booed, so she was able to play her game."
The sisters advanced to the quarterfinals and remain on course for a sibling showdown in Saturday's final. Serena, seeded fifth, won the first set in 16 minutes and beat No. 11 Clijsters 6-0, 6-2. Venus, seeded third, needed more than two hours and 10 match points to defeat Tathiana Garbin 7-5, 7-6 (2).
Serena's opponent Wednesday will be No. 4 Jennifer Capriati. The Australian Open champion beat Tamarine Tanasurgarn 6-4, 6-0.
Only five seeded men among the top 16 reached the fourth round. No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten was upset by Thomas Johansson 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. No. 3 Agassi eliminated David Prinosil 6-1, 6-3.