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.

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