Team USA’s Liezel Huber is frustrated at the Williams sisters’ decision(s) not to take part in this weekend’s Fed Cup semifinal vs. Russia in Birmingham, Alabama. The Williams sisters say they need more time to recover from injuries. Via Matt Cronin at Tennis.com:
“We want this trophy and we want them to play,” the South African-born Huber, a naturalized U.S. citizen, said yesterday in Birmingham. “But if they don’t play, it’s very tough for me to be supportive of their decision. Come Olympics time and they want to play, they have to understand the people that [are] going to be loyal, I would hope, are going to go ahead of them. Because we are loyal. We want to bring the Cup home.”
It’s always nice to hear a player speak her mind, and in this case I’m sure many fans agree with Liezel’s comments. Neither Serena nor Venus have participated in Fed Cup since 2007 – even when they were sorely needed in last year’s final vs. Italy. But both love to play for Team USA in the much glitzier Olympic environment, where they’ve teamed up to win doubles gold in 2000 and 2008 and Venus took singles gold in 2000. The sisters say they are both looking forward to playing the 2012 Games on the Wimbledon grass.
If Venus and Serena want to go for that third doubles gold medal – the same medal Huber covets – they will have to join her on the Fed Cup team sometime soon. The IOC’s rulebook for the 2012 Olympics isn’t posted yet, but it’s likely that Fed Cup participation, or a player’s willingness to be “available for selection” at least two times between 2009 – 2012 will be a necessary prerequisite to represent in London. I’m not sure if the addition of mixed doubles in the next Olympics will make a difference in the number of nominations per country, but at the 2008 games, there was a maximum of six women nominated by any one country, with a maximum of four being allowed to compete in the women’s singles. Given the limited spots on the team, and Huber’s own specialization in doubles, a cynic might think she’s simply looking out for No. 1 with her comments. But Huber is a Fed Cup stalwart and the consummate team player. I’m sure she’d rather have the Williams sisters play the deciding doubles this weekend if it would guarantee the victory. At the Olympics though. . .well maybe even Huber holds those medals more dear.
The fact that the Williams sisters – who are undoubtedly the best doubles team in women’s tennis – could be a controversial pick for the Olympic team shows why tennis has such an awkward relationship with the Olympics.While the top players gush poetic about the Games, a medal of any color just isn’t considered to be the pinnacle of achievement in the sport. Roger would dearly love a gold in singles, but if he fails to do so, will it really affect his GOAT status? Andy Roddick was a Davis Cup devotee, but he sat out of the 2008 Games to give himself a better shot at the Majors. The Williams sisters, despite their spotty Fed Cup participation, are starry-eyed participants in the Olympic experience. So is it better to grant spots on the team to players who show patriotism or players who can bring the medals home? Is being on Team USA a perk, a mark of prestige, or what? Isn’t winning major after major good enough, or must players pretend to care about a national team competition that many players, fan and media consider outdated (I’m talking Fed Cup here, though God knows there are a number of people who yawn at the Olympics, too.)
One thing’s for certain – Team USA will need to fight for Fed Cup glory this weekend, even on home turf. And at this point, it’s time to stop worrying about the Williams sisters and start focusing on Shamil & Co. Good luck to Liezel and the rest of the team!