See if this passes the smell test: The US Tennis Association announced Tuesday that Venus Williams has officially “made herself available’’ to play for the U.S. Fed Cup team next week in Germany. Yet she has no intention of playing.
She will travel all the way to Stuttgart to be with the team for the big match, but is still too hurt to play.
Loyalty to the team? Uh, no.
“She’s been rehabbing her injury from Australia,’’ Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez said Tuesday. “Hopefully, she’ll be able to practice. I don’t expect her to play, but obviously in the next 10 days if she’s playing great and feeling fit, then there’s always that possibility.’’
Sorry, but I’m going to have to call b.s. here on Venus Williams, Mary Joe Fernandez, and most of all, the USTA. Just go with the truth. Williams is out.
At this point, there is a very real possibility that the Williams sisters will not be allowed to play in the Olympics. That’s what this is all about.
The only reason Venus is flying overseas for a team and match she has no interest in, is to manipulate rules so she can stay eligible for the 2012 London Games.
Serena Williams was considering the same thing, making herself “available’’ and traveling to the same event she wasn’t going to play in. But while she recovers from blood clots in her lungs, travel isn’t safe. So she’s staying home.
The USTA is in full-out panic mode. Why? Because if the Williams sisters don’t get into the Olympics, then it’s likely the U.S. will not have any women ranked high enough to play singles in the Olympics at all.
We all know the sad state of U.S. tennis, but can you imagine? No U.S. women good enough for the Olympics?
How awful for the USTA. And how embarrassing to watch it attempt to twist and re-shape rules to find some way to the get the Williams sisters in.
“In regards to the 2012 Olympic eligibility issue,’’ the USTA said in a statement, “the rules are written in such a way that they are open to interpretation.’’
Let me just stop here and say one thing: The Williams sisters absolutely, positively should be allowed to play in the Olympics. They have meant everything to women’s tennis for over a decade.
Still, they have had every chance to comply with the eligibility rules the past few years, and have chosen not to. That is their fault.
But the rules themselves, put in place by the International Tennis Federation, are outrageous. They are an attempt to strong-arm players into playing Fed Cup, a small time event. Why? Because the ITF makes the rules and the ITF owns the Fed Cup.
There is no reason players should be required to play Fed Cup.
Let me explain.
In theory, the ITF’s rules require players to compete in Fed Cup or Davis Cup in two calendar years from 2009-2012 to be eligible for the Olympics. The Williams sisters have blown off Fed Cup the whole way, not competing in 2009 or 2010. This is their last chance in 2011. If they don’t play next week, then can’t make it.
But the loophole is that players don’t have to “play’’ but rather to “make themselves available’’ to play. In theory, again, that’s meant to work this way: Let’s say Melanie Oudin wanted to play Fed Cup, but the Williams sisters took all the spots on the Fed Cup team for years.
Then, if the sisters suddenly couldn’t play in the Olympics, Oudin, who wouldn’t have played Fed Cup, wouldn’t be eligible for the Olympics. So if she makes herself available and isn’t chosen, then that’s good enough.
The USTA is coming up with its own interpretation. It is saying that if a player shows up at an event, then that counts as making herself available. Available for what, I don’t know.
It’s a stretch, but maybe the ITF is just bluffing here. I mean, will the ITF really want a women’s tennis event on a world stage without the Williams sisters?
An ITF official told me at the Australian Open this year that there is no certainty the ITF will accept the USTA’s interpretatios. The official also said it might not work if the USTA tries to appeal the rules by saying that Serena would have played if she hadn’t gotten sick, or hurt.
She had years to play before this.
While I keep jabbing a stick at the USTA here, let’s not let the ITF get off that easily. Why is Fed Cup an Olympic eligibility requirement at all? The argument is that it shows a player’s interest in playing for her country.
Sure, the Williams sisters have blown off Fed Cup. But the Williams sisters represent the U.S. and U.S. tennis everywhere they go.
The ITF is using the Olympics to pump up their troubled event.
Well, the USTA has been unhappy with the Williams sisters for years, particularly Serena, for committing to play Fed Cup and then pulling out at the last minute.
No time for bickering anymore, though. This is panic time.