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.
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.
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.
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