Barely a week ago, The International Tennis Federation (ITF) confirmed Serena as part of the team representing the US in the upcoming Federation Cup finals match. I was more than a bit surprised because Serena has not played Fed Cup all year. But the decision seemed in keeping with her thrust to close out 2009 in a spectacular fashion. (She must still be pissed over losing at doubles in Doha.) Serena herself confirmed her intent to be on the team come November 7-8 in Reggio Calabria. She called out Melanie Oudin and Alexa Glatch as part of “a great team”.
Venus on the other hand stated from the start that she was not playing, citing exhaustion as well as acknowledging her year-long absence from Fed Cup: “I'm just unable to play more tennis after this. The team got to the finals without me. So they can definitely win without me.” That she is hurting was evident in the final match today.
In fact both women look kind of banged up. In fact all of the women look kind of banged up. So had Serena done like Venus and stated from the outset that she was not available, no one would have surprised. Few would have held it against her.
But she said she would play. And less than a week later, she has announced a change of mind. Now she anticipates that she is “…just going to be wiped out by the end of this. I’m literally just giving everything I have.” Did she not know this a few days before?
It is a fact that Serena gave Doha her all. She won every single one of her matches, dropping only one set in an early round to her sister Venus. There is no doubt that she is battered and exhausted. When Tracy Austin asked Serena how come the weather in Doha did not seem to be affecting her, Serena looked at her as if she had lost her mind. It was a stupid question. Just because she didn’t burst into tears like Wozniacki doesn’t mean that Serena is not hurting. She just copes with typical Williams stoicism.
But I can’t help but wonder if there is some kind of back story to her decision to withdraw from Fed Cup. Surely a week should be enough for her to recover? Unless her decision to enter was simply part of a ploy to repair her currently damaged reputation, and her withdrawal an indicator that said ploy was not going to work.
Rumor has it that Serena might be banned from entering the Australian Open as a result of her mad-woman breakdown at the US Open. Did she decide that there was therefore no point in playing nice and supporting Mary Jo and her Fed Cup?
The question of how Serena should be punished has become a sensitive one, discussed in sotto voce with no clear pronouncements by anyone in a leadership position in the USTA. Tennis commentators like Mary Carillo and Pam Shriver came down harsh on Serena at the time. Both advocated a punishment of not being able to enter a Slam.
I too agree that Serena has to face some kind of punishment. While I empathized with her frustration over the foot fault call, it would have been great if she had found some way to control herself. She needs to practice self-talk that can help her to deescalate.
But what about the lineswoman? Is she going to be punished as well? After all, it was a critical moment in the match and that call was horrific. And am I the only one who has observed how often the Williams sisters have had foot faults called against them ever since? If any other player got a foot fault call in any tournament since the US Open, I must have missed it. But Venus and Serena? It’s like they suddenly don’t know where to place their feet when serving. Or am just being a conspiracy theorist?