July 05, 2008
Settlement in the Williams-Indian Wells hassle?
> Posted by Charles Bricker at 5:09:21 PM
WIMBLEDON, England -- Only one Williams sister could walk away from today's single final a winner, but both Venus and Serena may have won another victory together, and I don't mean the Wimbledon doubles.
Larry Scott, CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, sounds as if he's found a way of avoiding a major, major confrontation with the Williamses over the family's continuing problem with the tournament at Indian Wells.
Here's the background first:
In 2001, father Richard Williams complained of racism when fans there booed the sisters after Venus, claiming injury, pulled out of a much-advertised semifinal against her sister. The Williamses said they would never again play Indian Wells, and haven't.
Then, last year, the WTA passed its Road Map 2009, a major part of which requires top 10 players to play the tour's four most important non-Grand Slam events, which include Indian Wells, followed almost immediately by Key Biscayne.
Any player that didn't play one of these "golden four" tournaments without a sufficient medical excuse would be suspended from the next one.
Wham! That not only burned the Williams family but Butch Buchholz, tournament chairman of the Sony Ericsson Open on Key Biscayne. The Williams sisters are a major drawing card and he didn't want them suspended from his tournament.
Richard Williams threatened to sue if his daughters were suspended for not showing at Indian Wells and Scott went to work trying to find a compromise. He thinks he has it.
He announced today that players can decline to play one of the four big events for any reason IF they agree to do major publicity work for the tournament they miss. That's a good start, but I can't see the Williams plugging Indian Wells, a place they hate. So the next step might be to allow them to do the publicity without directly mentioned Indian Wells or showing up there.
Nothing is fully refined yet, but it sounds as if the Williamses (or any other player who declines to play one of the four big tournaments) could do the publicity anywhere in the tournament's "publicity circumference," which is gauged at 125 miles. That means they could do it from Los Angeles.
But would they have to mention Indian Wells? "Hi, I'm Venus Williams and I'd like to urge you to get out to the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells next week." That ain't gonna happen. First of all, I can't see Venus or Serena saying anything positive about Indian Wells. Second, why would the Pacific Life Open want someone who isn't going to be there plugging the event?
So I asked an official of the WTA if it's possible the Williamses could satisfy their publicity requirement by just doing generic publicity for the tour prior to the Indian Wells event.
For example: "This is (fill in Indian Wells official's name) with the Pacific Life Open. Play starts here on Wednesday with eight of the top 10 women in the world." Cut to, Venus and Serena Williams: "Hi, you're going to love women's tennis." Or something else equally innocuous that doesn't reference Indian Wells.
Could they do something like that and still satisfy the new policy and not be suspended from Key Biscayne? The answer I'm getting is that the WTA is still fine-tuning the policy. But if they're trying to avoid a confrontation, even a legal confrontation, with the Williams family, they appear to be on the right track.
The only thing I see that could knock this strategy off track is complaints from other players that the WTA is prostituting what would have been a very strong "must play" policy so that the Williamses won't have to play.