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?


Karen said...

No, you are not being a conspiracy theorist. It has been blatant the number of foot faults that have been called on both WS. Is it that the lines people are trying to say that this is something that is endemic to both girls? Were the lines people told to be more vigilant in their foot fault calling. It was instructive though that in the final I can only recall one instance of a foot fault called and that was against Venus. As a matter of fact the commies said that Serena had been standing further back from the line in order not to foot fault. Perhaps that is why she had such an excellent serving day yesterday. Frankly, I think everyone should move on. How the hell do you suspend the No.1 player in the world and the defending champion from the next major. I know that there are many people out there who are clamouring for this, but I do not see how it helps the sport. She has apologised, paid a hefty fine and no one was hurt. The sport was not hurt. It is not like what that douche Agassi is now doing to men's tennis by implying that if you are a popular player you can do drugs, fail drug tests and still continue to play.

tennischick said...

awesome comment. if i could re-write this article, i would quote you. i agree entirely. and thanks for validating my observation of the excessive # of foot faults that Venus and Serena have suddenly started getting. i despise the way the tennis establishment continues to treat them as interchangeable elements. pisses me off.

Karen said...

TC, you are not the only one whose eyes are now opening up to what is happening with Serena and Venus. Sometimes it is good to take a walk through youtube land and listen to the commentary on some of their matches. Sometimes at no point during the matches do you hear anything complimentary being said. No oohs and aahs at the shot making, nothing, just constant yabbering about how they could have been better, how they could this and how they could that. It is like they should be what certain people wanted them to be. I have no idea what US tennis will do when these 2 are no longer playing. I guess they will call upon little Ms. Believe from Georgia to sell American tennis. Ms. Believe who cannot hold serve to save her life and who has never won a title in her career. Pity she is not as tall as Sharapova because girlfriend would surely be the next IT girl.

tennischick said...

Ms. Believe, lol! hey don't be dissing my Oudin -- i like her heart and i certainly wish her well.

but i do agree that Sharapova has gotten more love from the US tennis establishment than Venus or Serena ever will. that said, i do think that the sisters have attracted hordes of new fans to tennis. the bigger question is how many of these fans will stick around after the sisters leave.