INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Serena Williams said it is ''really cool'' to have older sister Venus with her at the BNP Paribas Open.
''This is kind of where everything started for us,'' Serena said Thursday during a press conference at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. ''This was such a big event for us early in our careers. We both played qualifying here back in `97, a long time ago, so it's just been a place for us that has really meant a lot.
''Then we had that one memory and we both want to get rid of that.''
That one bad memory was of the 2001 tournament, when Venus withdrew with an injury just a few minutes before she was to face Serena in one of the women's semifinals. When Serena took the court to face Kim Clijsters in the final (which she won) she was greeted with boos, as were Venus and their father Richard as they walked down the stadiums steps to their seats. Richard called the predominantly white fans racists who had disgraced America with their actions and the sisters vowed not to return.
They didn't, either, until last year, when Serena came back. She was greeted with standing ovations and despite having to withdraw from a semifinal match against eventual champion Simona Halep due to a leg injury she had a marvelous time. The only negative was that Venus wasn't able to share it with her.
Serena said she ''would never have come if she (Venus) had been like, `I don't think you should.' Or, `I don't think it's a good idea.' I would never have come. So we talked about it even last year. I remember saying it wasn't time for her because she was dealing with a lot physically and her illnesses and she had played a lot already so it wasn't good timing. I know she wanted to try to make an effort to see what it was like and go from there.''
The sisters have done a lot of talking in the year since and Serena said Venus is really excited to be here and I'm excited for her, too, to kind of have hopefully the experience I had last year.''
Venus, who will play her opening match against Kurumi Nara of Japan on Friday afternoon, told the Palm Springs Desert Sun this week that it ''feels great to be back. Serena was a huge influence for me to be here. She really, really paved the way for me. I'm really proud of her.
''More than anything, I think she did a wonderful job doing something she didn't have to do and I'm proud of her for that. She's made it so easy for me to just come and play tennis.''
Serena, who will play her first match Friday against Laura Siegemund of Germany, said she has an idea how her sister will feel when she takes the court in the afternoon.
''We talked about it last year, about how my experience was,'' Serena said. ''I hope she knows what to expect. I was a little nervous. Originally I was a little anxious and then I was a little nervous when it came down to it, the last couple of hours and the last couple of days. So maybe we'll have a little bit of a talk
''I'm definitely a little bit more relaxed (this year). It's definitely more of a normal tournament than last year so we're making strides.''