Williams About to Come Back, but Notice Serena Clause

From my column on AOL Fanhouse

We might have to start calling this the Serena Clause. It took 11 minutes for nearly all 12,000 tickets to sell for Nike’s tennis exhibition March 8 at the University of Oregon.

Roger FedererRafael NadalMaria Sharapova and …

Serena Williams.

That’s right. Williams is about to come back. She will have been gone eight months, since winning Wimbledon and then toughing it out for an exhibition and estimated seven-figure guarantee in Belgium.

Since then, she has missed everything, after having an alleged foot surgery for an alleged incident that allegedly involved broken glass at an alleged restaurant in Germany, a country that definitely exists. Until Williams settles on her own story, we’ll consider all facts up for grabs.

Anyway, the announcement about Williams’ return was exciting and everything until you got to this sentence prominently placed in the second paragraph of the press release for the event:

“Under certain circumstances, it is possible that one or more of the advertised athletes will not be able to participate in the NIKE Clash of Champions.” The Serena Clause.

She’s coming. She is advertised to ticket buyers. She might not be there. Of course, the tickets will be sold, anyway. In this case, at least event organizers are trying to warn you up front.

But the funny thing is how this clause has been taken. In 2009, Williams was scheduled to play an exhibition at Madison Square Garden. She pulled out of that, too. I went back and looked at the promotional posters that had been all over the subways in New York.

It was a picture of the players, including Serena and her sister, Venus, with the standard hype. But then in the bottom right-hand corner, in letters so small you can barely make them out, it says — I’m pretty sure — “Players Subject to Change.”

Was that a Serena Clause, too? I don’t think so. That one was a promoter-making-sure-he-doesn’t-have-to-give-money-back clause.

Presumably, they didn’t return ticket money for that. Or for the 2009 Fed Cup final in Italy. Williams had said she would play in that one, then pulled out later that same week, during a tournament, saying she was too tired.

“The USTA and Fed Cup team had been holding its collective breath, hoping that Serena would indeed make the trip to Italy as promised, ” wrote Patrick McEnroe, head of the USTA’s player development, in his book “Hardcourt Confidential.”

And then, she withdrew, saying she was too tired.

“I wasn’t buying it,” McEnroe wrote. “I knew Serena wasn’t at death’s door, and was certain she’d make her photo shoot (scheduled for London). She just didn’t want to go to Italy.”

This past summer, when Williams pulled out of World TeamTennis at the last minute with the alleged foot injury, the team offered fans a free meal, a discount on merchandise or free or reduced-price tickets later in the month.

It might be common practice to mention somewhere in small print that one of the players might not come. But this statement for the Nike event in March was right there in the second paragraph. You don’t usually put your disclaimer so high. Under certain circumstances? What circumstances?

One or more players? Maybe they were talking about Nadal, who has a sore leg. The difference is, when Nadal gets hurt, in a matter of days he puts his doctor’s words onto his website and a projected return date.

Williams gave conflicting stories, telling USA Today that her doctor said it wasn’t a mandatory surgery, but only needed to fix a “drooping toe.” Who wants a drooping toe, she asked. It sounded almost cosmetic. Later in the same USA Today story, she said it was mandatory. 

And wait: eight months for cosmetic surgery?

She then said she re-tore it from excessive tennis workouts from her burning desire to come back.

We’re never going to know what happened.

Tennis fans aren’t loud enough and don’t go nuts over something like this, anyway. If Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning missed time with a mysterious injury like this, it would be huge.

Williams said she hurt the foot stepping onto, or into, broken glass at a restaurant in Germany. Her agent told me she did not get it from stepping on broken glass at a restaurant.

Well, at the Australian Open I asked a few German reporters what they had uncovered about Williams’ injury.

“We have all looked,” one told me. “We are all trying to find out. But we can’t find anything.”

She said there was a growing feeling that it didn’t happen that way.

“And no offense to Americans,” the reporter said, “But you all like lawsuits.”

Serena has lost millions of dollars from — her story — broken glass that was lying on the ground in, or just outside of, a restaurant. And she never sued — or even said a negative word about the restaurant?

Now, rumors include Williams sitting out, actually, for a nose job. Or skipping the 2010 U.S. Open because she was angry at her fine for the 2009 Open. Or, possibly hurting herself in celebration of her Wimbledon title. Or just taking a break from the tour.

She has brought the doubts on herself in a Serena-who-cried-wolf sort of way. Now, she’s about to come back. She also said she’ll play on the Fed Cup team in April, which might be necessary for her to remain eligible for the Olympics. But “under certain circumstances,” she might not be back.

What circumstances? No one ever says.

Follow me on Twitter @gregcouch

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

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