No Changing the Williams Sisters' Minds
No Changing the Williams Sisters' Minds
By PAUL OBERJUERGE
Published: March 19, 2009
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Erma Casey and Phyliss Carelock sat in $50 seats near the top of the stadium court at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on a bright afternoon. They conceded that it seemed like a high tariff to perch a half-dozen rows from the rim of the arena. "But it would have been 30 percent more without my senior citizen's discount," Casey confided.
.Like most of the fans at the BNP Paribas Open in the desert near Palm Springs, Casey and Carelock would have preferred to see Venus or Serena Williams playing in the women's quarterfinals Thursday on the court below. But they know the drill.
Venus and Serena don't do Indian Wells.
"I wish they were here," said Casey, an African-American from Los Angeles. "But I still come because I love tennis."
The most famous boycott in modern tennis goes on. The Williams sisters have not returned here since a celebrated incident in 2001. Venus, citing injury, pulled out of a semifinal match against Serena four minutes before it was scheduled to begin. The crowd booed that night and booed Serena again in the final. Their father, Richard, alleged racist taunts from the crowd. Father and daughters vowed never to return.
They have lived up to that promise, even as new WTA rules punish players who skip one of the tour's so-called mandatory events. The Williams sisters are sustaining injury to their world rankings, losing money from the bonus pool and must perform a day of tennis-related activity within 125 miles of Indian Wells -- or face a two-week suspension and a $75,000 fine.
They remain undeterred. And Indian Wells, perhaps the most important tournament in the world that isn't a Grand Slam, goes on without them.
"Something is missing," said Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a 17-year-old semifinalist from Russia. "With them, it's more of a show and there is more interest and a lot of big fights and good matches."
The tournament director, Steve Simon, makes certain that the Williams sisters, currently ranked Nos. 1 (Serena) and 5 (Venus) in the world, know they are welcome back at any time.
"We've made it clearly known, and will continue to, that we would love to have the girls back and we think the fans would love to have them back as well. In fact, we know they do," Simon said. "We will continue to make sure that message is with them and, hopefully, there will be a day they decide they want to play."
Not that anyone holds out much hope for a rapprochement as Venus, 28, and Serena, 27, approach the twilight of their careers. Venus Williams this month told the news media in New York that she did not anticipate returning to Indian Wells.
Indian Wells officials will not grovel, Simon said, to bring them back. "I've never begged or pleaded for any player to be here," he said. "I want people to play here because they feel good about being here."
Until 2001, Indian Wells and the Williams Sisters were good together. The tournament extended wild cards to the sisters when they were teenage prodigies living in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton. "Serena won twice and Venus had some great successes here, too," said Simon, who has been with the tournament for two decades. "This was a good tournament for them."
Seventeen of the world's top-20 ranked women played here this year, Simon said, the exceptions being the Williams sisters and the injured Maria Sharapova. "No one player makes the difference between success and failure," Simon said, citing record attendance of 331,000 in 2008 and the potential for similar numbers this year, "even in this economy."
But the women's competition has been less than scintillating. Jelena Jankovic and Elena Dementieva crashed out early. The top-seeded Dinara Safina, two victories away from supplanting Serena Williams as the world No. 1, melted down against the 19-year-old Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals.
The semifinalists are the defending champion, Ana Ivanovic, and the lesser-known Vera Zvonareva, Azarenka and Pavlyuchenkova.
But the tournament steams ahead, buoyed by keen competition on the men's side. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martín del Potro and Andy Roddick, six of the top seven seeds, reached the final eight.
" I think everyone would like to see the William sisters play in every tournament because they are great for the crowd " Zvonareva said. " They bring great atmosphere. But there are so many great players out there"