Williams pops in at meeting of tournament and tour officials and expresses concern about an extra day of play and the lack of equal pay.
By Lisa Dillman, Times Staff Writer
WIMBLEDON, England — There was a surprise guest at a meeting between members of the Grand Slam Committee and Larry Scott, WTA Tour chief executive, on Friday at the All England Club.
It was none other than Venus Williams dropping by for a few words one day before her scheduled Wimbledon final against Lindsay Davenport. Her presence in the room tempered the rhetoric from the committee, according to Franklin Johnson, president of the U.S. Tennis Assn. That is, until she left the meeting.
At issue is a proposal to add an extra day to the French Open in 2006, starting on Sunday instead of the usual Monday, and possibly doing the same at the U.S. Open and Australian Open. The extra day of play would generate more tickets sales and better television ratings.
Johnson told The Times that Williams expressed concern about the impact on lead-in tournaments, such as New Haven, Conn., and that players were already injury-prone from competing so frequently.
He also noted, with a smile, she got in a salvo about the lack of equal prize money in two of the four Slams, the French Open and Wimbledon. The Grand Slam Committee is responsible, among other things, for the rules and management at the four Slams of tennis.
It seemed as though the USTA, which runs the U.S. Open, was poised to move forward, following the French Open's lead. But Williams' comments in the meeting, as well as ones from other players earlier this week in a Reuters report, may have changed the association's approach to the issue.
"It gave us pause," Johnson said in an interview during one of Friday's rain delays. "My main concern is the players. We need to explain to them that it's good for the sport."
To that end, he plans on speaking with Williams and Davenport at the upcoming Fed Cup matches between the United States and Russia in Moscow. The ATP was also involved in meetings on Friday and Johnson thought members of the men's tour were "much more amenable to it."
The Grand Slam Committee put out a polite statement about the players' reported comments on Thursday, saying discussions had been going on with the WTA Tour and ATP since the Australian Open. A day later, Johnson was more pointed about the WTA: "It bothers me how this was handled. I thought it was bad form on their part."
Another USTA official said several concepts were under consideration, not just a Sunday start.
Johnson said he thought if there were an early start on Sunday, it could be limited to a day session at the U.S. Open, perhaps featuring three matches on the main show court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
But he also sought to allay the fears that this was the start of a slippery slope, saying: "We'd be happy to contractually agree not to go to Saturday…. The other issues are non-issues. Anybody playing on Friday or Saturday [elsewhere] would not be playing [the U.S. Open] on Sunday. There would be the same number of days of protection."
Scott said the dialogue in the meeting was "constructive," adding, "but nothing was resolved, and there are going to be future conversations."