My column on AOL Fanhouse
With tickets sold, it’s time to go ahead and erase Serena Williams‘ picture from the poster.
She isn’t coming.
Williams withdrew Monday from the Nike Clash of Champions exhibition March 8 in Eugene, Ore. It was going to be the first time she had played publicly since July. She has been out with a mysterious foot injury that she has given varying explanations for.
It’s not nice to say “I told you so,” so let’s just say this: tennis fans, you were warned.
The event was supposed to have Williams, Maria Sharapova,Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. And every event like this puts a little disclaimer on the bottom of posters somewhere, about players being subject to change.
But this one was weird. The press release announcing the field spelled it out prominently, right in the second paragraph:
“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.”
I called it The Serena Clause.
It was as if they knew something.
It took 11 minutes for the 12,000 tickets, minus a few singles, to sell out. It took two weeks for Williams to pull out.
This has happened at Fed Cup, at an exhibition in New York, at TeamTennis and now here, not all for the same injury. And all of that is just in the past year and a half or so.
How many tickets have people bought over the years expecting to see Williams, only to have her not show up?
And that doesn’t even include her old habit of showing up at smaller tournaments and then losing quickly to players far beneath her just to get out of there.
“I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to play at the NIKE Clash of the Champions as I had anticipated,” Williams said in a statement. “I’m thrilled, however, to still be able to participate in the Family Tennis Festival and in the exhibition as a referee during the mixed doubles.”
A referee, huh? Not what fans were spending their ticket money to see.
Look, I’m calling foul on Nike on this one, too. It sure appears that they were selling tickets for something they knew wasn’t likely to happen. Williams just recently got the boot off of her foot from surgery.
Disclaimer or not, it is dishonest to promote Williams and to sell tickets based on her name, with such a strong hint that she might not be there.
The most recent story from Williams seems to be that she cut her foot right after Wimbledon on broken glass in or just outside of a restaurant in Germany. She went ahead and played an exhibition in Belgium anyway, and was moving slowly. She had surgery, then began a comeback, and re-injured it.
The German media have found no evidence of the incident at the restaurant, according to two German reporters. And it has been out of character for Williams not to tear into the restaurant publicly for the millions of dollars it has cost her by having broken glass on the floor, if that’s what happened.
She also told conflicting stories to USA Today about whether the surgery was necessary, or was just a way to avoid having what she called a drooping toe.
It has been eight months, though, and Williams, the most divisive player in tennis, is only adding to the divide by not sitting down and explaining fully what happened. Instead, she shows a disturbing lack of interest in her own fans by allowing them to buy tickets to see her, and then pulling out.
It’s not just me questioning her, either. Even Patrick McEnroe, a USTA official, wrote this in his book about Williams withdrawing from the 2009 Fed Cup at the last minute, claiming fatigue: “I wasn’t buying it.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Fed Cup team will compete in Germany April 16. Williams has said she will play, but if she withdraws, and then the team loses, she will not be eligible to compete in the 2012Olympics. It is a ridiculous rule that players must make themselves available for Fed Cup in two calendar years between Olympics to be eligible for the Games. Williams already competes for, and represents the U.S. every time she plays around the world on an international tour.
But those are the rules.
Well, Victoria Azarenka, ranked No. 9, will replace Williams in Oregon. Williams is still the hottest draw in women’s tennis, and that’s not going away any time soon, if ever. And this might seem cold to the people in Eugene who spent their money to see her, but when she’s into it and trying, Williams is a thrill to watch.
If you really want to see her in her comeback, you can always buy tickets to the Fed Cup in Germany and fly out there.
Go ahead and plan it now. She is committed to play.