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Original Issue

Big Return

Serena Williams goes back to Indian Wells

THE CATALOG OF Serena Williams's tennis virtues is a thick one. It starts with furious ball striking. Then there's the slobber-knocking serve—the best in the history of the women's game. There's speed. Competitive resolve. Tactics that don't get enough credit. And while flexibility would not rate high on the list, last week Williams distinguished herself for just that, pivoting gracefully from a position that she had long held.

It was 14 years ago that Serena was supposed to play her sister Venus in a much anticipated semifinal at Indian Wells. Venus withdrew shortly before the match, citing injury and angering the crowd, who thought the Williamses were manipulating the results. When Serena played the final, boos echoed in the stadium, and the Williams family said they were subjected to racist taunts. There are still discrepancies and dueling narratives, but everyone agrees on one thing: It was an ugly day all around. Serena won, but both she and Venus vowed never to return to the tournament.

Serena was a 19-year-old with one Grand Slam title at the time of the incident; now she's 33, with 19 Slams. Purchased by tech billionaire Larry Ellison, the Indian Wells event has evolved too. Last month Serena reversed course. She wouldn't necessarily forget, but she would forgive. On Friday night she played her first match at Indian Wells since 2001, a 7--5, 7--5 win over Monica Niculescu. Serena put it this way when she announced her decision: "I'm fortunate to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove."

She's right. And that's precisely the time when athletes do some of their most meaningful work.


"That's on the list."

Dave Pasch, ESPN announcer, responding to his partner Bill Walton's question during a Pac-12 tournament game: Ever been to a volcano while it's erupting?