Venus and Serena Williams: Opponents On-Court, United Off-Court

On the Baseline Tennis News

INDIAN WELLS, California—Greetings from sunny, Indian Wells, California.

It’s one day before the BNP Paribas (Par-ee-ba), Open kicks off, and I’ve got tennis on the brain. I’m itching to watch the Williams sisters slam their opponents into the…oh, wait. They’re not here.

Disappointed? Definitely. The BNP Paribas Open (formerly the Pacific Life Open) has brought out the world’s top male and female players for over 30 years, and every year, fans fill up all 16,100 seats. So when the No. 1 female player in the world misses this tournament without citing an injury, it raises a few eyebrows. When her No. 5-ranked sister follows suit, everyone takes notice. Granted, this is nothing new –- the Williams sisters have skipped this tournament for the past eight years now.

Since 2001, the details surrounding Venus and Serena’s choice to not play Indian Wells have been a bit sketchy. Reports have alleged that they, along with their father Richard, were victims of racial discrimination from hecklers in the crowd, after Venus pulled out of her semi-final match against Serena, just prior to stepping onto the court.

Heckling and general bad-mouthing from the crowd continued when Serena accepted the winner’s trophy. Eight years later, the sisters are still united in their stance to not play Indian Wells ever again. Whether you agree or disagree with their decision, you can’t help but respect their unwavering commitment to their values.

Nevertheless, the WTA has put new regulations in place for the 2009 Roadmap, which could potentially pose a problem for the Williams sisters. The new rule states that a top-10 player who misses a Premier/mandatory tournament will not receive any rankings points and could face a potential fine and a suspension for two subsequent tournaments. Unless of course, a top-10 player decides to skip a mandatory tournament anyway.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Call it a caveat (or a loophole) in the WTA’s rule book: If a top-10 player fails to compete in a Premier/mandatory tournament, they can avoid any penalties by making a promotional appearance to fulfill their tournament obligation. This will allow the Williams sisters to skip the BNP Paribas Open without skipping a step, and maintain their eligibility for the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

There are two options for Venus and Serena if they want to avoid any penalty:

Option 1: Attend the BNP Paribas Open and make a promotional appearance on a specific date chosen by the WTA. Total time commitment: 3 hours or 4 activities. They would not be required to perform promotional activities for more than a single day.

Option 2
: Make a promotional appearance on one of three dates outside of the tournament, within 125 miles of the BNP Paribas Open. The dates are chosen by the tour in consultation with the tournament, and at least one of the dates will be during the week before the BNP Paribas Open—next year.

According to Andrew Walker, spokesperson for the WTA, “Venus and Serena have indicated to the tour that they intend to fulfill the requirements under our rules in order to avoid suspension.” No word yet on the exact date/location of their promotional appearances.

The Williams sisters’ absence here at Indian Wells is good news for players like Dinara Safina, who was denied the 2009 Australian Open title, losing in the final to Serena Williams. Other thankful players might include Maria Sharapova, who could have faced the Williams sisters in a heated doubles match.

As for the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait a few weeks to see the Williams sisters smash their opponents into…well, the stratosphere.

No comments: