Panic Time on Getting Venus, Serena Williams into Olympics. USTA Tries Hail Mary

Serena and Venus

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.

Mattek-Sands and Fed Cup celebration

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.

OK?

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.

That’s false.

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.

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

4 responses to “Panic Time on Getting Venus, Serena Williams into Olympics. USTA Tries Hail Mary

  • Paula V.

    If Venus (or Serena) make themselves available to play Fed Cup, it seems only fair that the phrase “might be able to play” should not be an acceptable answer by MJ Fernandez. “Available and able to compete” should be the rule. But I recognize that MJ is in a tight spot–let Venus be on the Fed Cup team and let her watch (not play), or put her foot down and stop being the girl who gets stood up over and over again. By allowing Venus in, she is essentially giving her a pass to compete in the Olympics, which won’t help MJ as a Fed Cup captain, but will help sponsors, broadcasters, or anyone who might benefit from Venus competing in the Olympics. MJ is essentially taking a bullet for the team (WTA), a team that needs big players in the mix to bring in more money.

  • sissi

    get a life Couch, always blowing things out of proportion to make yourself relevant

  • roGER

    The Olympics aren’t about individuals, they are about countries. The Williams sisters play for the Williams sisters, they couldn’t give two hoots about the American tennis establishment.

    But they also want to play in the Olympics. Well, tough. The players who have shown their patriotism and played solidly for the Fed Cup team should be rewarded with the honour of playing in the Olympic games. It’s their reward as professional athletes for disrupting their schedules and playing matches against often obscure competition in shitty venues.

    The Williams sisters have chosen to do it their way which is their right. But they shouldn’t expect to have the rules bent for them as well. They’ve shown zero commitment to the Fed Cup and to US tennis, they don’t deserve to be in the Olympic games, and the games are big enough to not need them.

  • mmlilting@aol.com

    Greg Couch is a racist idiot. He knows full well that Venus and Serena have risked injury playing in Fed Cup for the USA before — and over and over again for the relatively non-existent pay.Or that they couldn’t play because they were nursing other injuries or mourning the death of their sister. But I don’t remember Couch castigating Sharapova for NEVER playing Fed Cup for YEARS UNTIL recently (she just played in the big money events) — or the FACT that Sharapova, when she DID play, played for RUSSIA while enjoying all the money sponsors showered on her instead of on the patriotic, unselfish, more highly skilled Williams sisters. Ostensibly because blonde blue-eyed RUSSIAN Sharapova was allegedly the one who looked “All American.” Never mind the FACT that people who looked like Venus and Serena had put their lives on the line for every every war the USA ever waged! Sad. Truly.

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