Out of one desert controversy and into another! Reports say that the Williams sisters are holding firm on their longstanding Indian Wells boycott but have worked out a compromise with the WTA to avoid any suspensions that the new Roadmap could deal out to them for missing a premier-status tournament. Here’s the scoop from Bob Larson’s Tennis News:
Serena and Venus Williams have informed the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour they will comply with appearance and publicity requirements that will allow them to not play the premier-status Indian Wells tournament (March 11-22) without being suspended.
A WTA source said the sisters will do “promotional activities in the tournament market,” which extends from Indian Wells and Palm Springs, Calif., to Los Angeles.
The Williamses have refused to play Indian Wells since 2001, when they claim that they and their father, Richard Williams, were subjected to racial taunts and comments from a stadium court audience which turned angry when it was announced about five minutes before the semifinal that Venus was injured and would not be able to play her sister.
With the passage of the WTA’s new Roadmap, which streamlines the schedule of tournaments, Indian Wells became one of four premier events that all top 10 players would be required to play. Initially, the tour announced that any top 10 player who declined to play a premier tournament without a legitimate medical excuse would be suspended for the next two premier events.
That resulted in more acrimony as Richard Williams threatened to sue the WTA if his daughters were suspended from playing their home town premier event at Key Biscayne, Fl. — the Sony Ericsson Open. Tour CEO Larry Scott spent months trying to negotiate a compromise that would return the sisters to Indian Wells, but the Williamses would not relent. The WTA has since put into place stipulations that any player declining to play an event for personal reasons could avoid suspension by doing a series of personal appearances promoting the tournament they were avoiding.
“The exact date for the performance of those activities, and the specific activities will be determined by the tour shortly,” a WTA spokesman said.
Think they’re overreacting? Well take a look at this footage from the 2001 final, where Richard and Venus are viciously heckled as they take their seats to watch Serena play Kim Clijsters. (Serena ended up winning the match.) I think you’ll understand why the Williams family is still pissed off:
An interesting tidbit: Russian player Elena Dementieva was a catalyst to the controversy, telling the press after losing to Venus in the quarters that “Richard is going to decide who wins tomorrow.” Some say that Dementieva’s comments fueled the fire, making Venus’s last minute semi-final withdrawal appear more suspicious than it was and inspiring the wrath of the crowd when the family appeared at the final.
It’s a real shame that the Williams sisters won’t play the tournament but this is obviously a very personal decision for both of them and I, for one, respect them for it. Perhaps tournament officials could grovel a little more and plan a “WE LOVE THE WILLIAMS SISTERS!” pep rally at this year’s tournament? They could go all North Korean style and do one of those elaborate coordinated numbers where everyone in the stadium holds different signs over their heads to make designs and spell out words. At this point, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than Larry Scott to get these women to play.
And how awkward are these “promotional activities in the tournament market” going to be? “Come to Indian Wells – if you don’t want to see us play!”