Friday, November 27, 2009

My New Year wish of healing for Nadal

If Nadal lived in the US, his parents’ divorce would have been plastered across the front page of gossip magazines everywhere. Speculations about the real cause of the divorce would have been rife, and lovers would have been invented for both parties, with quotes being attributed to unnamed ‘close personal friends’ and ‘insiders’, to avoid lawsuits.

Nadal is Spanish and even though I am bilingual, I’d be lying if I said that I make a habit of reading ‘El Mundo’. So I honestly have no idea how his parents’ separation was reported in his home country. But I do remember speculation starting up after he lost at Roland Garros. In June 2009, tennis writer, Peter Bodo wrote in his blog at that, “the rumors that Nadal’s parents are about to divorce keep popping up in the gutter press and in my inbox via emails from acquaintances and sources.”

So I gathered that the Spanish gossip rags were preying on this family drama in much the same way they would have in the US. And it seemed that Nadal’s lackluster performance starting in the middle of this year might have been at least in part due to being profoundly affected by the news of his parents’ disharmony.

It is hard to imagine a dominant sports player in the US being so affected by parental divorce that their performance declines. Within the context of a culture that is highly individualistic, we have long lost any notion of marriage as representing a union of two families. The Williams sisters, for example, seemed more torn up by their sister’s death than by the parting of Richard and Oracene. In fact, Oracene has never looked better.

At the risk of stereotyping, I believe that this is because the typical American marriage is between two individuals, which in part may explain the over 50% divorce rate. It is not uncommon for an American child to go through two or three stepparents before reaching age 18. When a couple elects to uncouple, there may be some impact on the family but only in so far as people deciding whose side they are going to take. I have friends who are divorced and who never again ever saw, spoke to, or in any way kept in touch with former-in-laws. It’s like a phase of their lives had ended and they just moved on.

Not so in Mallorca, where Rafa was a boy and is still growing into manhood. Not so on any small island where everyone knows everyone and where it is not at all uncommon for adult children to continue living with their parents, not because the economy is bad and they have no choice, but because the sense of ‘la familia’ is so deep. In interdependent cultures, the ties to family can be so strong that divorce is almost like a kind of death.

I understand island culture. I have been shaped by island culture. My values run deep in Caribbean soil. I understand why the rate of divorce was only 10% in the Caribbean in 1997, (according to the UN’s “World Women, Trend and Statistics), and why although this percentage has increased since then, it is nowhere near the rate in the US.

I was also unsurprised to discover that a similar rate of divorce exists in Spain. It is one of the lowest in Europe. And I think that this has everything to do with the cultural centrality of the family. In cultures where marriage is literally a partnership between two families, the notion of uncoupling can be very difficult. In the Caribbean it can at times be downright impossible because powerful forces will collude to keep a family intact.

So I completely understand the emotional impact of his parents’ divorce on a player like Nadal. Around the middle of this year, he started giving clues as to the nature of his private distress. Following a loss to Del Potro at the Sony Ericcson in Miami, Nadal was quoted as saying “Always is a reason because you are not playing at your level during the tournament…Always is a reason, but it’s personal.”

Recently Rafa has been more forthcoming about how his parents’ divorce has affected him. In an interview quoted by the Guardian, Nadal reveals that his loss at Roland Garros and his decision not to defend his trophy at Wimbledon both reflected the impact of his inner emotional turmoil:  “My parents’ divorce made an important change in my life. It affected me. After that, when I can’t play Wimbledon, it was tough. For one month I was outside the world. I am OK now, but you need time to accept. And it’s more difficult to accept when you are outside home and don’t know what’s happening.”

Nadal has ended 2009 on a desultory note. My New Year wish for him is that 2010 brings him healing, not just from the many bodily injuries including the tendinitis that have plagued him this year, but also for his emotional pain. A strong and confident Nadal will make 2010 very exciting for us all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Right now, men’s tennis is all kinds of awesome

I have been on such a high. My high started with the released photo of the group of men finalists all dressed in suits. Some of them looked as if they had never put on a suit before and couldn’t wait to wrench it off their bodies and go back to being sweaty. Others looked as if they were born to be dressed by Anna Wintour. Either way, they all looked all kinds of awesome, a group of men dressed in their Sunday best, representing the cream of the tennis crop.

I have previously expressed my disappointment in a similar photo of the women. But photos are superficial and do not necessarily represent the quality of the person underneath the veneer of make-up. Except that it turned out that this time, they did. The women looked a group of broken-down depressed floozies. The women proceeded to play tennis like a group of broken-down depressed floozies. What happened in Doha was shameful. What is happening in London is exhilarating, redemptive.

Is it unfair of me to compare? Perhaps. But one can’t help but get the impression that despite all of the background drama and all of the hustling for overpriced paychecks, men’s tennis continues to seem so much better managed. Of course I am not privy to the background shenanigans and the men may in fact be as miserable as the women clearly seemed to be. But if that is the case, it has not at all been affecting their tennis.

In a sense, I do not understand why the women seemed like such a group of broken-down depressives. And yes I know all of the arguments that the season is too long and that the women were exhausted by the time they got to Doha. I think that that argument is complete BS. I think that the same women who are complaining about the length of the tour will turn around and sign on for exhibition matches in all kinds of far-flung places so that they can earn their money at easier cost.

Furthermore, the notion that a group of women will inevitably show up in Doha looking all kinds of broken-down is not at all supported by the research. Research has consistently shown that not only can women endure more stress than men, but when it comes to physical stress, we are not too shabby either. Men may win marathons at faster speeds than women, but it is women who win super marathons. We are built not for speed but for endurance. Not that there was any evidence of that in Doha.

And in hindsight, I think that the problem in Doha was that some of the women who qualified had no business qualifying. Oh sure their ranking qualified them, but mentally there was no readiness to perform on that kind of stage. And then there were the women who were not there but whose presence would have made a scintillating difference. I am thrilled that Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin are back. I look forward to Sharapova being completely healed. I wish Sabine Lisicki could remain injury-free for more than two tournaments in a row. These are some of the women who would have helped to make Doha the event it was meant to be.

In the meantime, it’s been a thrill a minute with the men. I was worried that after six weeks off, Federer would show up looking all kinds of creaky and rusty. And to an extent this has been true, but only in the first set. That’s his warm-up set. That’s the set in which those synapses start firing as he is figuring out his opponent and creating his master plan for domination. It’s been wonderful to watch the execution.

Del Potro’s close win against Verdasco surprised me. I had expected him to dispose of his opponent in straight sets. But DelPo seems to be a player who gains confidence as the tournament proceeds, so I am not at all counting him out. And I have developed such a crush on Robin Soderling. There is something so sweet about his persistence. He just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would break Nadal in exactly the same way, twice -- in the last game to close out the set and then the match -- but that is precisely what he did. Soderling plays an unnerving kind of tennis that must piss his opponents off royally.

And what can I say about the doubles? It’s been wonderful to see the level of quality. The level is so high that the chest-bumping Bryans saw their gesture not only get co-opted by the likes of Knowles and Bhupati, but also found themselves on the losing end in straight sets. It’s been glorious tennis all around. I have been enjoying every minute of it. It’s been an awesome season of men’s tennis. I wish it didn’t have to end. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The London draw, in haiku

Group A

(1) Roger Federer

Twin motives remind
The king, that win, draw, or lose,
Love still waits at home.

(4) Andy Murray

Irked by the sense
Of being discounted, eclipsed
London is his chance.

(5) Juan Martin del Potro

Full of Argie pride
He’s eager to show the world
That he is the best.

(7) Fernando Verdasco

At times dilettante
Next moment focused, in charge.
Which one will show up?

Group B

(2) Rafael Nadal

Uncle Toni frets.
Is it because of Xisca
Or is he fading?

(3) Novak Djokovic

To close out the year
With that final awesome win,
Would be redemptive.

(6) Nikolay Davydenko

His wife’s sweet kisses
Are inspiration enough
To give of his best.

(8) Robin Söderling

Thanks for small mercies
Federer’s not in his draw.
How long can luck hold?

Withdrawn: Andy Roddick

Is it cowardice
That he’d much rather play
With his wife’s mammaries?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Serena vs. Andre: A tale of dueling memoirs

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not keen on reading Serena’s memoir, which was ghost-written by the prolific Daniel Paisner. My concern was in part based on my perception that Serena does not exactly come across as a self-reflective or introspective individual. A memoir is best written by one gifted in the art of navel-gazing, not navel-baring.

Furthermore, I was concerned that the characteristic Williams’ reticence would win out in the end and that we would not be privy to anything that we don’t already know. And most of the reviews that I have read seem to concur with this prediction.

For instance, one Amazon Vine reviewer notes: “I was hoping for more in-depth knowledge about how Serena thinks, her loves, future hopes...even some juicy stuff. But none of that is in the book. Even when she talks about the events of 9/11 when she and her family were all flying that day, it reads like a dry gulch rather than the tear gusher that it should be. She refers to past loves as ‘so and so’, there’s just not enough details about the private Serena to make this a worthwhile biography. It’s all the stuff about the public Serena and then a few tidbits of stuff thrown in where she calls Venus a nerd. But even that doesn’t seem like sincere banter. OK, very light reading, perhaps read while sitting in an airport terminal somewhere and then leave for the next person to pickup and read.” Ouch.

Let’s be honest, whatever chance Serena had of selling more copies of this book was damaged by her outburst at the US Open. In fact, Serena’s initial attempts to apologize for the outburst were roundly criticized because she seemed to be more focused on plugging her book than on saying that she was sorry. Then came her nude cover on ESPN magazine which seems to have drained away some of the attention from the memoir instead of adding to it as I assume was the intent.

But the death knell seems to have been the publication of Andre Agassi’s “Open”. Andre’s memoir leapt out of the blocks and has been selling like hotcakes. Already we have been privy to a few of its eye-popping and highly controversial revelations.

Like Serena, Andre has been doing the rounds promoting this book. Like Serena he has been hopping from one continent to another, submitting to interviews and fan-filled book signings. Except that unlike Serena, Andre is a thoughtful and self-revelatory interview subject. Here is a report written by Elaine “Lainey” Lui, a Special Correspondent for Canadian TV who interviewed Andre in Toronto yesterday:

“Agassi is very intense and it was early morning so maybe he was more intense than usual, having stayed up the night before for an appearance at a book store with 800 fans. I almost withered under the eye contact. He never breaks. I wouldn’t say he’s super warm, not the friendliest individual, rather guarded in fact, even though he lays it all out in the book. But Agassi is honest and articulate and he is his own person. Did not arrive surrounded by sycophants and an entourage of handlers. He takes care of himself, he doesn’t need to be coddled or protected from the tough questions, and is willingly shouldering his beats – about the meth use, about his hair weave, about his fragile ego, all of it totally Open, his aptly titled autobiography that I powered through this weekend.”

I have not seen a single negative review of “Open”. By all reports it is a stunning book and extremely well-written. Of course I intend to form my own opinions after I read the book. In the meantime, here is Lainey’s assessment of Andre’s memoir:  

“It’s good. Really good. It’s the best sports memoir I’ve ever read and not only because of the scandalous details, but because of who helped him write it. LOVE J.R. Moehringer. “The Tender Bar” is one of my favorite books of all time. And this is what elevates Agassi’s “Open” above the others. The stories are there, sure. But J.R. Moehringer frames them so beautifully, it reads like something entirely different. If you follow tennis, you’ll love the tennis details: the match play, the locker room dynamic, the training, even how he strings his racket – all fascinating. And yes, the gossip too. I’ll never feel the same way about Pete Sampras again. Dude, he’s CHEAP.”

Go here for an excerpt from Andre’s “Open” and here for an excerpt from Serena’s “On the Line”. Each book will probably appeal to an entirely different kind of tennis fan. But at the end of the day, the dueling memoirs are going to be great for tennis.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Super-Sebian versus the French Clown

I can’t wait for the Paris Masters finals tomorrow. Djokovic versus Monfils, the former totally expected given the awesome run of form he is currently enjoying, the latter my heart’s delight, but I fully expect Djokovic to crush him.

The upsets started early in Bercy, with Federer going out in the first round to Julien Benneteau. There is nothing like playing in front of your homies to bring out your best. We saw that the week before when Federer once again made it to the finals of the Swiss Davidoff. I felt badly for him that he lost in the finals in front of his home crowd and his mother. That must sting. But Benneteau (which my spellcheck keeps changing to ‘bonehead’ much to my delight), seemed to have been equally inspired.

Of course he came back down to earth in the next round in the match against Monfils. And this is as good a point as any to talk about how much Monfils frustrates me. Monfils is a puzzling character. On the one hand, he wastes a lot of energy clowning around on the tennis court. I wish he could learn how to control and channel his energy into winning points. On the other hand, he has this completely passive, lackadaisical style of playing tennis that absolutely drives me nuts. I find myself wanting to reach through the TV screen and shake him.

Monfils has a horrible habit of dragging out points. In the match against David Guez for example, whom any self-respecting top-20 player would have sent packing 6-0 6-1 (and the breadstick only because you don’t completely humiliate a man in front of his home crowd or his mother), Monfils eventually won 6-4 6-3. Most of the time he seemed to be returning the ball just to return the ball. He wasn’t creating anything, he wasn’t setting up anything, he wasn’t constructing anything. He seemed to have no game plan other than simply out-waiting Guez. And that irritated me. As much as I love him, it is very hard for me to watch Monfils play. He ends up irking the crap out of me.

Monfils’ passive and lame-brained approach to tennis will not work against Djokovic tomorrow. In fact, I did not expect it to work today against Stepanek. I am still stunned that it did. Indeed, after watching Djokovic blow Nadal off the court, I left home and went to play tennis myself, confident that I would come home to the news of a Djokovic vs. Stepanek finals. I have no idea what Monfils did to win that match. I can only imagine how mind-numbing it was, one ball-poker playing another. I guess youth may have been on Monfils’ side.

Well youth won’t make a crap of difference tomorrow. Djokovic is playing divine tennis. Always one of the more intelligent players on the court, Djokovic seems to have found his second wind late in the season. In fact, if he keeps up the form we saw last week in Basle and this week in Bercy, I will go out on a limb and say that he will be the one to beat in London.

I have previously credited Davydenko for playing smarter tennis than Nadal at the 2009 Shanghai Masters. Today Djokovic went at least 15 IQ points higher. He played Nadal’s backhand like a violin. He drove lethal winners into the Nadal forehand. His serve was on point, especially the serve out wide to the sideline. His placement was awesome, his movement spare and breathtaking, his nerves of pure steel, his body language relaxed and confident.

Djokovic not only had a definite plan but he went out and decisively implemented it. Nadal didn’t seem to know what hit him. When was the last time you saw Nadal completely give up on points? He seemed to know that he was being completely outplayed and that he had no answers for Djokovic’s game. Nadal’s words of congratulations at the net seemed sincere.

I don’t think I am over-reaching when I say that Djokovic is currently playing his best tennis ever. The Djokovic who showed up in Basle and Bercy will make mincemeat of Monfils tomorrow. If I were Monfils I would think twice about inviting my mother.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Can Philippoussis find happiness with a Cougar?

Let me admit straight up that I despise the word “cougar” to refer to older women involved in relationships with younger men. The term invokes the image of a predatory female stalking and feasting on a naïve young lover who is somehow assumed to be incapable of making the choice to date an older women with eyes wide open.

Maybe I’m being a bit defensive. Truth be told, I have never fallen in love with an older man. I’ve dated people my age or younger, but more wrinkled than me? Forget it.

The closest I ever came to dating an older man happened during my internship year. I was in a strange town and did not know anyone there. So of course I took myself to the local gym and tennis courts. At the gym, this older guy kept standing behind me in aerobics class. I ain’t no J lo but I knew that it was the ass that had him hooked. When it turned out that he could not only play tennis but that he was as keen on it as I was, well a friendship was immediately struck up.

For most of that spring, we went everywhere and did a lot of things together. But I was not sexually attracted to him so I kept him at arms length. Of course I asked the standard questions one asks a man who is of the age to have a wife and children. He admitted to having one of the former and two of the latter but insisted that he was legally separated and working on his divorce.

Did I believe him? It didn’t matter. I wasn’t turned on and there was no chance in heck that he was ever getting into my pants. So when a wife mysteriously showed up at the start of the summer, I was neither surprised nor devastated. Turns out the poor woman had only stayed behind while her children finished school. But my would-be lover blamed me. He said that because I seemed frigid, he had no choice but to go back to his wife. Can you believe the boldfacedness of that grizzled-up old fart? I had to laugh. To this day it’s a memory that still cracks me up when I think about it.

But enough about me. This article is supposed to be about the Scud Muffin and his latest betrothal.

When Mark Philippoussis embarrassed himself and all of tennis by appearing on a reality show looking for a woman, I could barely watch for shame. He had the choice of “Cougars” or “Kittens”. Most of the women had that sheen of desperation one comes to expect of women who go on reality shows to find fame, I mean a mate. Mark seemed wooden, lost, vapid. Even Flava Flav with his oversized clocks and horrible gold teeth ended up attracting more lust and created more of a feeding frenzy than poor Mark.

In the end Mark picked a Kitten. I forget her name. He picked her over a middle-aged Cougar. I forget her name too. (I could look it up on wiki but I couldn’t be  bothered.) The show was a disaster, more ludicrous than my memories of being courted by an elderly fart during my internship year. But hopefully at least Mark got himself laid. In the end HIS relationship with the Kitten didn’t last. I don’t believe anyone was surprised.

Now comes word that Philippoussis is again betrothed. He’s been betrothed before, not to the Age of Love contestant but to a previous Kitten. That relationship didn’t work either. Now he has apparently decided to go Cougar. His new beloved is the actress Jennifer Esposito who has starred in nothing that I remember. Her claim to fame is a brief four-month marriage to the actor, Bradley Cooper. Ms. Esposito is 36 to Mark’s 32. Not quite geriatric territory but closer to Cougar than Kitten. I wish them well. I also hope that Ms. Esposito is a generous woman with a huge bank balance because when last I heard Philippoussis was getting the crap sued out of him.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Who does Oudin mean by “some people”?

The US just lost the Fed Cup title to Italy. The US would more than likely have won the Fed Cup title if either of the Williams sisters had played. The US would definitely have won the Fed Cup title if both of the sisters had played. The US needs the Williams sisters. That is the plain truth.

But said truth is not at all simple. And while I would really prefer to treat with the relationship between Serena Williams and the country she happens to represent in international tournaments, I have no choice but to include her sister in the discourse because in all things tennis, they are treated as part of a package deal, the one punished for the errors of the other, the one booed for the non-performance of the other, the one included in a veiled reference to “some people” even though the other made it completely clear from the start that she was not going to play Fed Cup.

From the beginning something went horrifically wrong in the relationship between the tennis establishment and these two African-American sisters. And it’s not entirely the fault of the tennis establishment. From the start the sisters seemed kind of stand-offish, a bit removed, members of a closed society of family who depended on and supported each other but were open to very few outsiders. Richard’s refusal to allow his daughters to play Junior tennis irked more than a few. His refusal to properly acknowledge the role of coaches like Rick Macci to the development of his daughters’ games remains unpardonable for some.

But Tennis USA also made its share of mistakes. It embraced the blond Sharapova so completely you’d swear she wasn’t Russian and playing against the USA for Fed Cup. Sharapova remained a media and corporate darling even after being fined for cheating and illegal coaching. She remained the “It” girl of tennis even after it was clear that her coach was not her father as listed, but Michael Joyce who only recently had the honor of being properly credited for his years of hard labor.

Despite this, I believe that the Williams legacy will be tremendous in the world of tennis. And I believe that they will be lasting inspirations to girls everywhere, not just girls of a darker shade of pale.

I took part in a new tennis clinic yesterday and one of the participants was a talented blonde junior who was there to beat up on the rest of us. During a break I overheard a white woman asking her who her tennis inspirations were. Without missing a beat she replied, “Venus and Serena. Although I kinda prefer Venus because she is tall like me”.

And so I was disappointed to read Oudin’s interview after the US lost at Fed Cup to Italy. In her post-match interview, Oudin was quoted as saying, “For me, this is what I wanted. I wanted to come here. I wanted to play for my country. I don't know, other people choose different things. Some people, I guess, didn't want to play as badly as I did. But I think that the team that we had here really wanted to be here. I think that was what should have happened. I mean, you don't want people here that don't want to be here. Next year we're gonna have people that want to be here again. That's what you want. You don't want people that don't want to be here or play for their country. Even if you lose, if you give it everything you have, then that's the best you can do.”

The “some people” in that extract could only be the Williams sisters. These are the same sisters that Oudin previously credited for inspiring her as a child. How soon we forget.

Oudin is too young in her career to be making these kinds of comments. I get her disappointment. I get that it sucks that while she should be playing tennis for her country, Serena was busy pushing her book in London and talking again about wanting to have an acting career as an action figure. I also get that Oudin is young and not yet practiced in the skills of politics. I get that she may not be privy to the bigger picture, the darker machinations of people who seem motivated only by the desire to once and for all humble Serena Williams. But I really wish Oudin had not said this.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tennis and mental illness

I recently attended a talk given by Herschel Walker, the former NFL running back and Heisman Trophy winner. He shared some of the horrific events of his childhood that probably played a part in the later splintering of his fragile psyche, such as living in terror of being attacked by members of the Klu Klux Klan, and being the chubby kid who was constantly bullied.

Walker also opened up about some of the early glimpses of his mental illness. He first shared his concern with a pastor who then made it the topic of that Sunday’s sermon. Walker even endured an exorcism, before finally obtaining professional help.

As I listened to him share about his diagnosis and eventual treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder, I found myself wondering if any professional tennis players had ever opened up like this about being mentally ill. I don’t remember ever reading about mentally ill tennis players. Have you?

But surely some must exist? Mental illness is not incompatible with playing professional tennis. It certainly did not interfere with Walker’s tremendous accomplishments as a pro football player.

Most tennis players are probably more comfortable talking about their physical injuries than acknowledging mental illness, which may be unfairly perceived as a sign of weakness. As the general population continues to struggle with the unfair stigma attached to mental illness, think of how much more difficult it may be for the professional athlete.

One of the few references I could find to mental illness in professional tennis involved a player named Edwin P. Fischer. He played for the West Side Tennis Club and won the New York Metropolitan Singles Championships in 1896, 1898 and 1899. He won the US Open mixed doubles in 1894, 1895, and 1896 with the same partner, a Ms. Juliette P. Atkinson. He was ranked #9 in the US in 1901. Yes, I had to go that far back.

According to the December 2, 1920 New York Times, Fischer was admitted to Bellevue Hospital after his sister reported that he has been annoying relatives with his dire predictions. On September 11th, 1920 (I kid you not), Fischer sent a number of postcards from Canada, warning friends to get out of New York because Wall Street was going to explode.

The fact that he had accurately predicted the Wall Street explosion was later determined to be  purely coincidental and not evidence of his psychic abilities as he had claimed. Fischer was arrested in front of a crush of paparazzi upon his arrival in New York. In explanation of his bulky clothing, he revealed that he was wearing two business suits for warmth and his tennis clothes underneath in case an opportunity to play presented itself.

Howard Schoenfield is still listed as an inactive player on the ATP tour.  He won most of the tournaments he entered in 1975, including the 18-and-under championship. Later that year he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was admitted to a mental hospital for several months. He attempted to recoup his career the following year but was never again successful. He lives today in a halfway home.

In 1982, Sports Illustrated writer, Barry McDermott, wrote an in-depth piece on mental illness among junior tennis players. Though somewhat dated and containing notions of mental illness that we now know to be inaccurate, the piece is a detailed treatise on the mental decline of a number of Junior tennis players whose emotional unraveling was at the time linked to the pressures of competition and achievement.

The pressure has only grown since then. Does tennis have a Herschel Walker who will step up and courageously admit to his or her struggles?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What’s behind Serena’s Fed Cup withdrawal?

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?