Top 20 Wishes for the 2011 Tennis Season

With January upon us, it’s time to role out my wish list for the 2011 tennis season. I always get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I put together a new wish list. Starting from scratch offers renewed hope that wishes can in fact, come true.

Looking back on 2010, a few of my tennis wishes did, in fact, materialize. Kim Clijsters shook up the top 10. And although Rafa didn’t hire a fashion consultant, his wardrobe choices were a bit easier on the eye.

There were a few wishes that didn’t exactly go my way. I was sure Justine Henin would win Wimbledon for the first time. Not easy to be wrong on that one. Thinking that Juan Martin del Potro would win another Grand Slam didn’t seem so far-fetched at the end of last year, but no one could have predicted that he’d be out for most of the season with a wrist injury. And still no hot chocolate at tournaments. I guess I’ll have to bring my own.

It is possible that last year’s wish list was a bit too ambitious. This year’s list is all about cautious optimism, with a hint of greed. Which is why I’ve decided to bump up my wish list to 20 (up from 10 last year). More wishes = more wishes granted, right?

2011 Wish List:

1) With Serena Williams out of competition indefinitely and Elena Dementieva retired, the upcoming season will be an opportunity for the up-and-comers to break through. I hope to see the next great female player emerge from the pack this year. Jarmila Groth and Julia Goerges are a few names that come to mind.

2) For Rafael Nadal to win another Grand Slam is practically a given, but for him to repeat his 24-match winning streak (April 12-June 11) from 2010 would be astounding.

3) In 2010, we saw a few records broken. The Isner/Mahut first-round Wimbledon match is probably the one that stands out the most. The 11-hour, five-minute match was epic, freakish, mind-boggling, and exhausting all at the same time. How can anyone top that? My wish is that no one will.

4) Caroline Wozniacki will have a lot to prove in 2011 as a Slam-less No. 1 player. But at age 20, she has many more years left to reach that milestone. My wish is that she holds onto the No. 1 position for a full season. This will give her the credibility she needs to be considered the best in the world.

5) Serena Williams needs to hire a PR person to monitor her tweets. Seriously, how many tweets does she need to send just to convey how much she loves Green Day and shoes?

6) Microphones need to be removed from on-court coaching on the WTA Tour. Does anyone watching on TV ever remember what was said?

7) Dinara Safina will need to make a full recovery from her long-standing back problems to make a significant comeback on the WTA Tour. I hope she can regain her top form this coming season.

8) Welcome back, Juan Martin del Potro. My wish for him is to come back strong in 2011. That’s it. No hopes for a Grand Slam. Just play and see where he can go with his game.

9) Indian Wells has implemented more Hawk-Eye coverage for the 2011 season and beyond. I hope this encourages other tournaments to do the same.

10) My wish for Roger Federer is for him to earn two more Grand Slams in 2011, bringing his total to 18. It will be tough for him this year with Rafa being in top form, and Djokovic nipping at his heels. But I think the Swiss superstar has enough juice left in him to pull it off. 

11) I’d like this year to be a time for the under-rated players to shine. Every player needs his or her day in the sun.

12) I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Juan Martin del Potro needs to get a website.

13) Few moments tickled my funny bone more than when Kim Clijsters congratulated Italy’s Fed Cup team (via Twitter) for winning the final over the US team before they won. I’m hoping for more funny goofs like that in 2011.

14) Victoria Azarenka: Probably the only player to suffer a concussion in tennis. Granted, it was from an injury sustained prior to her match, but symptoms caused her pass out during her match. Fortunately, she made a full recovery. Azarenka definitely has the ability to take her game to further hights. I hope this year she's can make that climb.

15) I’d like to see the tennis season reformulated. Have the "regular" season end after the US Open, and begin the "post" season October 1, with X number players in the post-season race who qualify for play. Subsequent tournaments can serve as a race to the Championships, which can take place the first week of November. Fed Cup/Davis Cup finals after that.

16) I’d be happy if ONE Slam-less player could win one this year.

17) I’d like to see more players, coaches, and tennis analysts embrace Twitter. Who doesn’t like free promotion?

18) I’m hoping that Esther Vergeer (champion of wheelchair tennis who hasn’t lost a match since 2003), keeps her winning streak going, and serves as an inspiration for others to pick up the sport.

19) Venus Williams: I still haven’t decided if her on-court fashion choices are good for tennis or not, but her game definitely is. Here’s hoping that the 30-year-old remains injury-free this season.

20) Andy Roddick: I’m hoping he can pull of a BIG win this year, before injuries make it too difficult to reach for the stars.

Feel free to add your own wishes. Here’s to a competitive, dramatic, injury-free, and fun-filled 2011.

USTA to Invest Millions in Support of 10 and Under Tennis Development

Bob Larson's Tennis News
December 9, 2010

Over the next three years, the USTA plans to invest $5 million dollars in 100 markets to foster the growth of 10 and under tennis. The money will go towards marketing, training, courts, competition, schools, and equipment. The $5 million dollars will also be matched by USTA sections, district and/or state associations, as well as local associations. The average investment per market has been estimated at $50,000.

“There is nothing we can think of that is more central or more important at this time to growing participation, developing players, creating fans, etc. than this 10 and under initiative, says Scott Schultz, Managing Director, Recreational Tennis at the USTA. “If we are successful, every stakeholder in tennis wins -- clubs, pros, manufacturers, events, tennis publications...everyone.”

This new 10 and under tennis initiative will allow for more kids on a practice court, translating into higher revenue for clubs, coaches, and supervisors. In the 5-8 age group, there are some programs that are currently using six (36-foot) courts positioned sideways on one 78-foot court, with six kids per court. With up to 36 kids on one practice court, that can mean higher revenue for court time, per hour.

Some organizations have already begun to implement this system in competition on a smaller scale, setting up 2-4 courts on 36-foot courts. “For clubs and coaches that run these types of events, it is very beneficial, says Schultz, who also leads the 45-person team at USTA for 10 and under tennis. “You can get more kids per court competition, and since the scoring is much shorter than 2 out of 3 sets, the events don’t take as long.” According to Schultz, the 8 and under competition using the new ITF rule changes have already begun, using 36-foot courts, using a red foam ball. The new rules for 10 and under competition for USTA-sanctioned events won’t officially go into effect until 2012.

Making Room for Coco Vandeweghe

Dec. 3, 2010

It’s the most wonderful time of the year in tennis: The off-season. Sure, it lacks excitement. It’s quiet. The pressure’s off. There’s no drama. No injuries. No winners. No losers. Just what an off-season should be. This short break in the action provides an opportunity to look back at 2010—sort of a rewind and review.

When I was skimming through my 2010 tournament notes, I noticed a few pages that were marked with an asterisk (my way of finding the important stuff, or stuff that seemed important at the time). I stumbled upon one marked page with Coco Vandeweghe’s name on it–underlined. I have to admit, Coco’s name didn’t exactly leap off the page. It was more like a reminder for 2011, or a note to self: Keep an eye on this one.

I’m keeping an eye on Coco Vandeweghe for good reason. There’s plenty of room in American tennis for a newcomer. Despite some gutsy Fed Cup performances, and a much talked about 2009 U.S. Open run, Melanie Oudin hasn’t (yet) materialized into the next great American star. Bethanie Mattek-Sands has also been a clutch player in Fed Cup, and is now the third highest ranked American at No. 59, (she rose 70 points since 2009), but is still nowhere near the top 20. And what about Venus and Serena Williams? File them under TBD for now.

Coco Vandeweghe had already made her mark in tennis as a junior, winning the 2008 girls U.S. Open, but most people didn’t begin to notice Coco until this summer at the Mercury Insurance Open, when the 18-year-old Californian upset world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva (as a qualifier). She made it to the quarterfinals, only to lose a close match against Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Since this summer, Coco has been slowly and quietly making a name for herself.

At the end of September, Coco entered the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo as a qualifier. She went on to defeat five top 100 players en route to the semifinals: Julia Goerges, Tathiana Garbin, Jarmila Groth, Klara Zakopalova, and Aravane Rezai.

In November, Coco received the opportunity of a lifetime after both Venus and Serena Williams backed out of the Fed Cup final due to injury. U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez chose Coco as a last-minute second singles player for the final vs. Italy. Coco was the first player since 1995 to make their Fed Cup debut in a final. Despite the risky decision, Fernandez stood by her choice.
“I decided with Coco, with her height, her serve, her ability to really hit the ball up here, that’s a good choice to start the day,” said Fernandez.

But just about everyone knew that the US team was the underdog going into the final against Italy, and needed some big guns to pull off a win. When Coco stepped onto the court in the opening rubber, it was clear that the 6’1” American was in over her head. She had a few good rallies, but Coco’s “rookie” nerves and her lack of experience resulted in two tearful losses in two days. It was simply too much, too soon.

But when it comes to those experiences, most players would agree that you learn more from your losses than your wins.

Coco Vandeweghe’s rise in the rankings has been a more positive experience. She began 2010 at No. 354, and went on to achieve a career high ranking of No. 113 in October. After ending the year at No. 117, she is poised to crack the top 100 by early 2011.

When it comes to skills, Coco has a big serve, good height (which can’t hurt her serve), and has powerful ground strokes to set up long baseline rallies. But admittedly, she needs to work on her movement and footwork in order to improve her game. Coco has tremendous untapped potential, but hasn’t been able to put it all together in one season—yet.

Luckily, Coco Vandeweghe will be getting an early start on the 2011 season. She was chosen as one of eight men and eight women to compete at the USTA’s 2010 Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Atlanta, December 17-19. Vandeweghe won last year’s wild card playoff, which earned her a spot into the main draw of the 2010 Australian Open.

I expect continued improvement from Coco Vandeweghe in 2011 as she develops her game as well as her confidence. But for now, she might have to be known as Coco Vande-wait-and-see.

Serena Williams Partners With OPI to Launch the Glam Slam Collection

 Bob Larson's Tennis News

Thirteen-time major champion Serena Williams has partnered with OPI to sell her own line of nail polish, called the Glam Slam Collection, set to debut in January, 2011.

The Serena Williams Glam Slam collection will become available to the public during the Australian Open in January, with plans to debut two new shades of nail polish during each subsequent Grand Slam event during 2011.

Simply Smashing, a bold gold nail color, along with Black Shatter, a top coat with a crackle effect or “shatter” pattern, will go on sale in January.

Williams, who has been studying to become a nail technician, has expressed interest expanding her business ventures by launching her own chain of nail salons.

WTA CEO Stacy Allaster Highlights Growth in Year-End Address

On the Baseline Tennis News

Stacey Allaster has completed her first full year as head of the WTA, after replacing Larry Scott in July, 2009. Her strategies for growth and sustainability of the WTA are far-reaching and ambitious. In this global economic downturn, women’s tennis has shown significant financial growth via sponsorships, as well as increases in global TV viewership, and event attendance in 2010. Allaster’s priorities for 2011 include the circuit structure (Roadmap), nurturing sponsors, digital growth (social media, web, live streaming), marketing efforts in China, as well as the season-ending championships in Istanbul.

Weathering the Economic Storm

During her speech, Stacey Allaster seemed confident that the WTA has been able to weather the challenging economic storm quite well. In 2010, premier events showed a “slight” growth in attendance. Seven tournaments secured new title sponsors, with just one tournament losing its title sponsor.

Roadmap: Is it Working?

The circuit structure (Roadmap) has been a front-burner issue for Allaster. The WTA launched the Roadmap in 2009 in an effort to shorten the season, offer better geographical flow, and minimize injuries. A new tournament in Doha has been added for 2011 to follow Dubai, so players can make an easier transition (i.e., less wear and tear from travel). Allaster has also made it a priority to monitor the overall health and well-being of players, giving them some breaks in between tournaments. Is the Roadmap working? “Absolutely,” said Allaster. “Compared to where we were in 2008, withdrawals are down 35%, and our top 10 players are committing at 84% to our top events.”

Changes to the Calendar

Four new tournaments have been added to the WTA’s 2011 Calendar:

1.      Doha: Qatar Ladies Open (Premier) 2/21/2011
2.      Belgium: Brussels Ladies Open (Premier) 5/16/2011
3.      Azerbaijan: Baku Cup (International) 7/18/2011
4.      Maryland: Troy Park Women’s Tennis Championships (International) 7/25/2011

WTA Brand: Simpler is Better

The WTA recently unveiled its new logo. In her speech, Allaster went into detail about how they developed the new logo, and reviewed the history of name changes to the WTA since 1973. She and her team ultimately decided to go back to the organization’s roots: The Women’s Tennis Association. “That would be our hero brand”, said Allaster. “Then we would create a sub-portfolio of brands: WTA Tour, WTA Championships, WTA news, rankings, scores, WTA Premier event. We wanted to keep our communication simple, and also create a model for commercialization so we could have revenue growth.” Allaster also stressed the need to make the logo smaller to be effective in mobile communication, television graphics, and social media.

Sponsorships Old and New

The WTA lost Sony Ericcson as their title sponsor, but was able to re-negotiate a new partnership, making Sony Ericsson its Lead Global Partner for 2011 and 2012. This new partnership will allow the WTA to pursue new marketing programs that specifically target the young, up-and-coming players in the 30 to 50 ranking category.

In 2010, the WTA secured three new sponsors, with two more in the works. “We had not secured a new sponsor in six years,” said Allaster. “I think that had everything to do with the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Because when you have such a dominant brand [Sony Ericsson], it is much harder to attract other brands to want to partner.” Allaster noted that this new commercial model has enabled the WTA to generate more revenue than they had with Sony Ericsson as their title sponsor.
Oriflame, a Swedish-based cosmetics company, will have a presence at a majority of the European tournaments. Peak, a Chinese-based apparel company that also works with NBA China, is part of the WTA’s strategic effort to grow tennis and promote the WTA brand in China. In 2011, Peak will launch a WTA clothing line in China in 6,000 retail outlets.

The WTA’s third sponsor will be announced in the next few weeks.

Digital Endeavors: Website, Social Media (formerly has seen a 40% increase in activity in 2010. Digital innovations include a new mobile website, as well as a Spanish website. Allaster’s plan for the website is to eventually change the URL from to, but that domain name is currently owned by someone else.

Social Media has been a tremendous area for growth. The WTA has seen an increase of 1.5 million fans via social networks this year, bringing the total to five million fans connected with players and the WTA.

TV and Live Streaming

There are complications in this area, as well as room for growth. Allaster says digital needs to strike a balance with broadcast rights, but is looking forward to exploring the possibilities. The WTA currently shares the portal with the ATP for live tournament streaming. “As we look to our new TV strategy, it’s definitely one of the components that we’re looking in. Production values, optimizing our exposure, and reaching more fans internationally.” Production costs are also much less with live streaming. In addition, Allaster believes that the streamed matches don’t necessarily need to have the same production quality as television broadcasts.

TV Viewership

Allaster reported a 15% increase in global TV coverage of women’s tennis. The reason, said Allaster: “I think it’s because of that depth of athlete that we’ve been talking about all year. Eight players from different nations in the top 10. That has created new stars in global markets, and created more demand for WTA.”

WTA Working More Closely With ATP

In 2011, 20 of the WTA events will be combined with the ATP Tour, and six of the ATP Masters Series will be combined with the WTA’s top, premier events. Having a combined championships isn’t so simple. With the men’s tour ending in November, the idea of bringing the two season-ending championship events from both Tours together would be impossible. “If they can perhaps achieve their goals to shorten the calendar, that will bring us closer to that potential reality,” said Allaster.

International Growth Strategy: China and Its Youth

The WTA has targeted Asia-Pacific (China specifically) as a strategic market with tremendous potential for growth. One of the four Premier Mandatory events (China Open) was placed there specifically with the intention of growing tennis in China. The WTA will be working closely with the Chinese Tennis Association to educate Chinese youth about tennis. “We need to get racquets in their hands and show them our sport is fun through tennis festivals throughout the country,” said Allaster. That’s created an opportunity for our brand, and also assets for our partners, like Peak.” Li Na, China’s No. 1 player and first player from China to crack the top 10, has also helped to expose women’s tennis to a wider audience in her home country.


Starting next year, the WTA Championships will have a new home: Istanbul. The tournament will be located there through 2013, and will be known as “The People’s Championships”. Allaster commented, “Rather than it just being those corporate boxes courtside, let’s bring the fans and people down. They get to do that at Wimbledon, and there’s nothing more exciting that when we see that one section of the stadium with all of fans being totally into the event.”

With strong prospects for growth in multiple areas, 2011 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the WTA.

On-Court Coaching: Fair or Not-So-Fair?

On the Baseline Tennis News

There always seems to be a few hotly debated issues that bubble up now and again in tennis: Who’s the GOAT? Is the season too long? Should on-court coaching or from-the-stands coaching be allowed? To pick just one issue to debate is not so easy.

The GOAT debate usually turns into a circular discussion, with no right answer. And when a tennis debate reaches an apparently irresolvable status, I can’t even go there. I will say this: Can we all at least wait until players have retired before they are included in the GOAT conversation? Thank you.

The length of the WTA Tour’s tennis season has long been blamed as the reason for too many injuries, and the WTA’s 2009 Roadmap didn’t seem to resolve that problem. With so many people having a vested interest in the Tour’s schedule, there’s no simple solution or quick fix to make it all better. For now, I’ll leave this debate to the experts.

If I were to choose one tennis debate to dive into head first, it would have to be on-court coaching. It is a relatively new debate, with rules that, from a distance, don’t exactly seem fair to the players or coaches.

Starting in 2009, on-court coaching was permanently implemented after a two-year trial. It has become an optional “benefit” for players on the WTA Tour, but with limits—just one coaching request per set allowed, either at the end of a changeover, or at the end of a set.

Players can also request their coach’s presence on-court if their opponent has taken a medical timeout, a toilet break, or change of attire break. Surprisingly, on-court coaching is not allowed at Grand Slams, where the stakes are the highest.

On-court coaching is also a source of amusement for TV viewers, with coaches being required to wear microphones during their conversations with a player, only if the match is televised. To be honest, it really isn’t all that amusing if the coach and player are speaking Russian or Polish, or some other language that most viewers don’t understand.

The real point of contention is not whether on-court coaching should be allowed, but rather, should coaching-from-the-stands be allowed. Justine Henin is one player who has been chastised for taking cues from her coach Carlos Rodriguez, via hand signals, as he sits and watches from the stands. As if they’re committing a crime, or the player is cheating on a test.

What exactly is wrong with coaching-from-the-stands? Is it really cheating? Is it giving a player an advantage over their opponent, even though their opponent has the option to do the same? Does it alter the integrity of the sport? Should players not be allowed to look into the stands during a match? I’m all in favor of following rules, but I don’t believe that rules are always fair (or are even sensible) in every instance.

If you look at other professional sports—baseball, football, basketball, or hockey—coaches are situated on the side of the field, on the court, or standing next to the players’ bench. Some even wear headsets so they can talk to other coaches off the field. Coaches are free to talk to, yell at, or point fingers in the direction of any player at any time during the game.

Tennis coaches aren’t allowed anywhere near players during a match unless they are called onto the court. Even then, they typically have just two minutes at the end of a set, or 90 seconds during a changeover to give their best advice before heading back to their seat, in silence.

I understand. Tennis is different. It’s an individual sport. It’s a quiet sport (grunting aside). Players are out there, alone, and have to rely on themselves for support. Which is why tennis is such an interesting sport to watch. It’s a mentally challenging game.

Which brings us back to the issue of fairness. If the WTA Tour is going to allow on-court coaching, why should the rules limit the amount of coaching? Why not just give players the option to call their coach on-court during any changeover, at the end of each set, and during the occasional medical time out?

Here’s a head-scratcher that also feeds the fairness debate: The person that a player chooses for on-court coaching doesn’t necessarily have to be their actual coach. It is completely within the rules for a player to choose a parent, friend, boyfriend, sister, brother, or even a fellow player as an on-court coach for their match. Baffling.

I’m not sure what the answers are to the on-court coaching issues, but I am sure the debate will continue. As far as the GOAT debate is concerned, I’ll go there once I can figure out the right answer.

Top 20 Takeaways from the 2010 U.S. Open

  1. Without a doubt, two of the biggest opponents at the 2010 U.S. Open were the heat and the wind. Record temperatures during the first week approached triple digits. In stark contrast, the second week was much cooler. Remnants of Hurricane Earl produced winds gusts of at least 30mph in Ashe Stadium. Ball kids were chasing down balls as well as flying napkins.

  1. For a moment, winning and losing suddenly didn’t matter much when Victoria Azarenka collapsed on court during her second round match vs. Gisela Dulko. Azarenka was later diagnosed with a mild concussion after she fell during a pre-match warm-up.

  1. Serena who? Oh, right. The No. 1 ranked women’s player. She made a few appearances to cheer on her sister Venus, and got her feet wet (even the injured one) in the broadcast booth.

  1. We all know that Novak Djokovic is a bit of a showman. Now we know where he gets it from: His parents. They were both sporting t-shirts with pictures of their son during his matches. Hey, whatever works.

  1. Roger Federer’s father was spotted wearing an autographed RF cap from his son. I wonder if he knows how much he can get for that on eBay.

  1. In my quest to take a large quantity of behind-the-scenes photos at the U.S. Open, I stumbled upon this guy, standing in the Unisphere, sweeping up the gunk from the bottom of the fountain--clearly the worst job at the tournament. Some would argue that cleaning toilets would be a worse job, but you never know what’s in that fountain.

  1. Rafa: The guy set a goal, and accomplished it. His personal-best 135mph serve was icing on the cake compared to achieving his career Slam. And he didn’t seem to mind taking this van back and forth to the tournament. There has to be some irony there somewhere.

  1. Venus Williams: Her over-the-top outfits emblazoned with sparkly fireworks made a bold statement, but her game was no match for Kim-possible in the semifinals.

  1. Vera Zvonareva: The last Russian standing advanced to her second consecutive Grand Slam final, and didn’t drop a set until the final. She also didn’t have a prayer against Kim Clijsters in their 59-minute match. Kim told Vera afterwards that it took about 5-6 Grand Slam finals before she won her first title. Now that’s a champion—trying to console your opponent after winning the U.S. Open.
  1. Ryan Harrison: New blood. ‘Nuf said.

  1. Some were hoping that No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki would go on to win the title so that she could take over the No. 1 ranking, but it wasn’t to be. On another note, Donald Trump’s appearance in her player’s box was just that. An appearance. He called her agent to get those seats.

  1. Mardy Fish: I don’t know what you’re eating, but whatever it is, keep it up.

  1. Melanie Oudin changed the mantra etched on her sneakers from “Believe” to “Courage”, but couldn’t repeat last year’s quarterfinal breakthrough, losing in the second round. No offense to Melanie, but maybe the motivational mantra for next year should be placed closer to her head.

  1. Was it just me, or was everyone waiting for Ana Ivanovic to crash and burn in the first round? Her fourth-round run at the U.S. Open not only surpassed everyone’s expectations, it gave us all a reminder that just because you're down doesn't mean you're done.

  1. Was it Novak Djokovic’s fault that fans were denied a Federer/Rafa final at the U.S. Open, or did Roger Federer simply run out of steam? Tough call. In any case, you simply can’t deny Novak Djokovic anymore. The guy came back after saving two match points to beat the greatest player of all time.

  1. The rains came on Sunday just as Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova were facing a potential loss at 5-4 in the third set of the doubles final, and had to finish up the match on Monday. The extra time seemed to be just what they needed to turn the match in their favor, winning their second consecutive Grand Slam doubles title. They now have a 12-0 record in Grand Slam doubles matches.

  1. Esther Vergeer, champion of wheelchair tennis, was the talk of this year’s U.S. Open. I had the pleasure of watching her play, and was simply in awe. The No. 1 wheelchair player won her fifth U.S. Open title and is currently on a 396-match winning streak. She has the same number of Grand Slam singles titles as Roger Federer (16).
  1. Sam Querrey had his best U.S. Open result to date, reaching the quarterfinal in his second match (ever) on Arthur Ashe Stadium. An injured John Isner also had a respectable third round result. I think it’s safe to remove these guys from the up-and-comers category.

  1. Francesca Schiavone’s “Tweener”. Federer’s got some competition.

  1. For the third year in a row, the U.S. Open men’s final was moved to Monday due to a rain delay. Yes, building a roof over Arthur Ashe stadium would be expensive, given its size. But such an undertaking could create thousands of new jobs, and would guarantee a Sunday men’s final. Everybody wins.

      Williams Sisters Fed Cup Commitment Under Scrutiny

      On the Baseline Tennis News

      The U.S.A. will play host to Italy in the Fed Cup final at the San Diego Sports Arena on November 6-7. This marks the first Fed Cup final played in the U.S. in 10 years, and the second consecutive year that the U.S. has faced Italy in the Fed Cup final.
      They’ll be looking to avenge their 4-0 loss to Italy in last year’s final with a home court advantage, and playing on hard courts. The U.S. currently holds a 9-1 leads over Italy in their head-to-head race. Liezel Huber, Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands will once again be part of the U.S. Fed Cup lineup for the final, and they will be joined by Venus and Serena Williams.

      Mary Joe Fernandez, who took over as U.S. Fed Cup captain in 2009 and has been granted a two-year extension by the USTA, is hoping to lead the U.S. to its first Fed Cup title since 2000. Both Venus and Serena have said they’ve committed to play in the Fed Cup final in San Diego, but there is legitimate reason for doubt, given their history of backing out of Fed Cup ties at the last minute, as well as their apparent lack of interest. This year is different. The Olympics are now in clear view.

      Venus elaborated on her commitment to playing in the Fed Cup final after her semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open. She insists that this year is different from her 2009 wait-and-see-commitment to playing in the Fed Cup final, and then backing out at the last minute due to injury. “Last year, I didn’t commit. I couldn’t go. This year is different. I’ve already said I’d be there,” said Venus. It is worth noting that Venus and Serena Williams have not made themselves available to play Fed Cup since 2007.

      When it comes to competing in the Summer Olympics, eligibility hinges on a Fed Cup commitment. According to Olympic rules, a player must make herself available for Fed Cup play twice during a four year Olympic cycle to be eligible to play in the Olympics. For the 2012 summer Olympics, that cycle is 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. One of those availabilities must take place the year before or the year of the Olympics (2011 or 2012).

      Upon closer examination, the rules for qualifying for the 2012 Olympics with a Fed Cup commitment are not without caveats.

      Caveat #1: If Venus or Serena are on the Fed Cup team roster and are not chosen by Mary Joe Fernandez to play either singles or doubles in the final, that counts as having fulfilled their commitment to play Fed Cup for that year.

      Caveat #2: If Venus or Serena are injured just prior to the Fed Cup final after they have committed to play, they would have to be physically present at the location where the tie is taking place in order to fulfill their commitment to play Fed Cup for that year.

      What does this mean for the Williams sisters? If either of them follow through on their commitment to play in this year’s Fed Cup final in San Diego, they will need to play again in 2011 and 2012 if they want to remain eligible for the 2012 Summer Olympics, held in London. According to Tim Curry, spokesperson for the USTA, if the U.S. team makes the Fed Cup final in 2012, that tie won’t take place until after the Olympics. That could pose a potential problem for the Williams sisters.

      Will either of them show up and play in November? We’ll just have to wait and see.