Venus Williams makes a bad call
By Stephanie Myles, Canwest News Service
The worst conference call in the history of athlete conference calls took place late Monday afternoon.
It was 10 minutes of our lives we’ll never get back. Actually, it was 40 minutes — Venus Williams was a half-hour late.
It wasn’t Tennis Canada’s fault. This summer’s Rogers Cup is slated to have all the top players on the women’s tour in its field and for the first time in her 17-year career, that is to include Williams. A little advance publicity is always a good thing.
Williams is a seasoned pro. She knows the drill. She’s an intelligent, charming woman who has plenty to say, given the opportunity.
So her brutal attitude Monday was disappointing, and thoroughly disrespectful to the journalists and the tournament organizers. She wasn’t doing it out of the goodness of her heart; she gets paid good money to do promotional activities like this.
We tried to think of reasons why, and came up with a few possibilities:
• She’s totally bummed out about being single as she turns the big 3-0 on Thursday.
• She’s not feeling well; she did sound a little congested.
• Maybe it was her nap time; we’ve seen Williams yawning uncontrollably at late-afternoon practice sessions around the same time of day.
It was hard to understand her Monday because she had her mouth full the entire time, but here’s some of what she did say:
• On her success at Wimbledon: “Obviously it’s where tennis started (chew, chew), so it’s pretty exciting (chomp, chomp). I always dreamed of doing that when I was younger (total monotone), so to be able to make my dream come true every year is wonderful (chew, swallow).”
• On her consistent decision to skip warm-up tournaments and practice on hard courts at home in Florida, setting foot on the grass only when she arrives in London for Wimbledon: “I just figure (chomp, chomp) I’m experienced in doing it every time.”
The question was asked because there have been several withdrawals from the tune-up events because of lower-back issues. The bounce is so much lower on grass — especially compared to the clay, which is what they’ve been playing on for six weeks — and the transition is challenging.
Williams, being so tall and having so much of her height in her legs, naturally would seem to be a likely candidate for that.
“Why people have lower-back problems (chew, chew) is beyond me,” she said.
• Has her career-long absence from the Montreal event been in part because she and sister Serena have often chosen to play different events? And has that changed because of the WTA Tour’s new Road Map and the fact that the Rogers Cup is a mandatory stop?
“I don’t know. I haven’t paid as much attention to it (mumble, chew). I think we played wherever we wanted to play.”
• On whether she has bypassed Montreal because she just doesn’t play many warm-ups before the Grand Slams: “I really do enjoy playing the Rogers Cup because it is a bigger event (chomp, chew, swallow), and of course everyone is aiming to play the bigger events and win.”
The Rogers Cup has always been a “bigger event”, but she has never made it here. She was in Toronto in 1995 and ’97, losing in the first round both times, and didn’t return there until 2009.
“I think just bad luck. I think a lot of times, I just haven’t been healthy enough,” Williams said.
That’s partly true. In 1998 and 2004, Williams retired due to injury the week before the Montreal event. In 2004, she even missed the U.S. Open. In 2006, she played only one tournament between Wimbledon and the end of the season.
But in her younger years she opted to play in California instead and even New Haven, Conn., the week right before New York. In 2008, she skipped the two hard-court events she signed up for in advance of the Olympics (including the Rogers Cup) to “rest her knee”, but then played five more hard-court events after Beijing.
Williams’ 2008 withdrawal came at the 11th hour; tournament director Eugene Lapierre had to cancel several promotional activities. We hope he got his cheque back.
Why does Williams plan to come this time? Well, the Road Map requires the top players to commit early to four of its “Premier” events, so Williams said “yes” last December. There are serious sanctions if they don’t commit, including forfeiting a share of the nearly $5 million US in bonus pool compensation.
Williams made it to Toronto last year, but lost in the first round to Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine after taking the first set 6-1.
We really hope she gets to Montreal this time and performs. Venus Williams in person, at full strength, is so much more impressive than what you can see on TV. It just doesn’t do justice to her speed, power, and the incredible slice on her serve. She’s worth the price of admission.
Hopefully by then, she’ll be in a much better (chomp, chomp) mood.