U.S. Fed Cup Team Crushed. But Venus Williams, Head Cheerleader, did Stay Awake

Venus Williams, "available'' at Fed Cup

Venus Williams sat in the stands at the Fed Cup in Germany this weekend, barely staying awake while clapping for a U.S. team she had no interest in whatsoever. And to think: The whole charade was done to try to convince Olympics officials that yes, the Williams sisters really are loyal to their national team.

What a joke. What a dysfunctional mess. What a waste of time.

And how unfair to Melanie Oudin. Meanwhile, the U.S. team lost 5-0 to Germany, relegating itself to some sort of loser’s bracket next year in the Fed Cup’s confusing system.

I’ve already written in the past weeks about why Williams was there. She and the USTA were trying to skirt rules to find a way to get the Williams sisters into the 2012 London Olympics. We’ll have to see whether it works. Under the spirit of International Tennis Federation rules, players needed to play on their Fed Cup teams in two calendar years between 2009 and 2012 to be eligible for the Olympics. Under the letter of the rule, though, players only had to “make themselves available’’ to play. So Williams, who hasn’t played Fed Cup in years, was said to be making herself available, even though she was hurt and wasn’t going to play. She flew to Germany and watched, hoping that would satisfy the ITF.

What I want to talk about here, though, is why I think Fed Cup shouldn’t be used as an Olympic prerequisite in the first place.

The ITF made the rule that you had to play, or be available to play, Fed Cup or Davis Cup to be an Olympian. Also, the ITF runs Fed Cup and Davis Cup. So the ITF is using the Olympics to try to breathe life back into the Fed Cup and Davis Cup. That would be a fine idea if it didn’t mean pressuring players into things they don’t want to, things that might not be best for them.

The argument is that players need to show that they really are playing for their countries, and not just for themselves. Playing for your national team shows a certain loyalty. On top of that, USA basketball made its players compete in the world championships to get into the Olympics.

A couple problems with that: The NBA has worldwide appeal, but is a U.S. league. Basketball has leagues all over the world, but the world championship is a moment when the players come together on the world stage. Tennis players are on that stage all year long against all the world’s top players, with majors in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York. They are already representing their country everywhere they go.

But a little honesty here: More importantly, the Fed Cup is not that important of an event. Basketball’s world championship actually means something to the sport.

I like to watch Fed Cup in the same way that I like World Team Tennis. It’s enjoyable to see the game played well in front of excited fans. But I think of it as an exhibition.

The Fed Cup is nearly as confusing as Davis Cup. And in a time of short attention spans, it drags out all. . .year. . .long.

Olympic tennis is an ITF event, and the ITF has the right to set the rules. I’m not arguing that. But theoretically, the ITF wants tennis in the Olympics because that in itself would promote the game.

Anyway, over the weekend, Williams was clapping away, having made herself available. Available for what, I have no idea. Maybe to be a cheerleader. She was never going to play.

Melanie Oudin

I think she and Serena Williams both belong in the Olympics, considering all they’ve meant to U.S. tennis over the years. But they couldn’t care less about Fed Cup and have chosen not to play on the team since 2007. Serena has left the team in trouble several times, committing to play and then pulling out at the last minute.The ITF will have to decide if they’ve actually made themselves available.

But imagine how Oudin must have felt. She has been loyal to the USTA’s team. Meanwhile, the USTA set up the charade with Williams in hopes that she can get a spot that might have gone to. . .

Oudin. At this point, Oudin isn’t ranked high enough to get into the Olympics, but she had to know that it symbolized rejection of her that Williams sitting there at all.

What a mess. It’s just too bad Williams had to make herself available to see it.

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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