Graf, Seles, Sanchez, Williamses skip historic ceremony
Graf, Seles, Sanchez, Williamses skip historic ceremony
Evert: No-shows better have 'really a good excuse;' Navratilova: Venus and Serena 'should have been here,' Steffi never gave much to anyone on tour
By Matthew Cronin
FROM THE WTA CHAMPIONSHIPS IN LA – On a day when Amelie Mauresmo showed her No. 1 potential by shocking top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 6-3 in the semi-finals of the Bank of America WTA Championships and Kim Clijsters continued to punch the clock in an admirable way by knocking out Jennifer Capriati 4-6 6-4 6-0, there were five notable absences from the WTA's 30th Anniversary Celebration.
A harrowing drum roll please for those women who came up with a reason not to thank Billie Jean King, the other original eight founding members of the tour and every other woman of note before them who made them multi-millionaires: Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Venus Williams and Serena Williams.
The combined prize money of the Fab Five no-shows? About $78 million and that's not counting off court earnings they banked as a result of their tennis stardom. Their off court-combined earnings must be in the $250 million range.
"I don't know what everyone's situations were, but I would be disappointed if there were some that could have made it here and didn't," said former No. 1 Chris Evert, who did show up. "That would be too bad. But if you can't, you can't. But it would have been nice. Steffi could have jumped on her or [Andre's] private plane. I would hope you have a really good excuse if you didn't come."
Martina Navratilova said that the Williamses should have showed up.
"They would have liked it if they would have come and be more part of the game and the evolution of it," Navratilova said. "You're part of the history and the present and future. It's too bad they don't make it. I know Serena is in town. I don't know where Venus is. They should have been here."
There were eight former No. 1s who did walk on court including Evert, King, Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne.
"It's a really special time for women's tennis," said King. "It was great to see so many off the former No. 1 players here. I think today's generation of players will continue to build on what we started."
Possibly, but when two of this generation's primary attractions – Serena and Venus – don't show, and when two of the tour's most popular players (Graf and Seles) don't attend, how are fans supposed to put much importance into the WTA Tour's history, meaning or future?
PEANUTS TO MEGAMILLIONS
When King gets on court and speaks about how they used to play for peanuts and that she earned $119,000 at the end of 1972 and Serena topped $3.9 million last year due to the former players commitment to grow the sport, what are fans supposed to think about today's stars being absent?
Here's what: That Serena – who lives in LA – is too busy taking acting lessons or designing dresses; or that interior decorator Venus had to run back to Florida to sketch out an expanded dining room for a wealthy Boca Raton doctor; or that super-parent Steffi is too overwhelmed with her toddler and new baby not to be able to take pack them up, skip over from Las Vegas and find a babysitter for a few hours; or that Monica has too may laps to swim at home in Florida while rehabbing her feet; or that Arantxa is too wrapped up with her commercial obligations in Europe.
They are saying that tennis doesn't matter much. As Evert implied, if someone is ill or is having a very dicey personal situation that need to take care of, they are excused.
Apparently, Sanchez already had a prior engagement and did know until a month ago. One source said that Graf didn't know up until a few days ago, while another said she was informed in sufficient time and said no.
But the Williamses had time to take in a Laker game last Sunday and put on a fashion show last Monday.
"The absence of the Williams sisters is very disappointing," Navratilova said. I wish they would play more. The tour needs them."
The last time we saw Seles in September, she was happy and relaxed with little on her plate. Graf is around the sport constantly and does nothing to help promote it.
Sure, she's a little shy and wants to have a private family life that has nothing to do with tennis. Everyone respects that. But after being retired for more than four years and not having to work due to her on-court success, can't she give a little bit back to the sport once in a while?
The "I have two kids" excuse simply won't cut it. There are millions of parents who do and assuredly a few of them were at the Staples Center on Sunday. Many of those parents, if not most of them, have traveled with young children and have hired babysitters – especially when it came time to pay homage to the company that paid their bills.
But no Steffi on Sunday.
"Steffi doesn't talk much," Navratilova. "She keeps to herself. I never really had a conversation with her. I think she's asked me about four questions in my life, so how can you have a conversation? She never really gave much of herself to anyone on the tour. She's not going to start now. She supports Andre, but even there she is in the background, in the corner and not on camera. That's how she is and that's okay."
Yes, the tour is relatively successful compared to other women's sports, but despite increased attendance this week, the Staples Center has not been sold out. In fact, it has yet to be filled to its capacity of 20,000 fans. Maybe no non-Slam tournament can pull in that many fans, but Sunday's semis featured four great players and should have brought in more than 8,828 fans and couldn't. That's not a fact that any No. 1 can ignore.
If the tour had been able to promote the absent five's appearance on Sunday afternoon, it's probable that the tournament could have sold another couple thousand tickets. Steffi, Monica and Arantxa would have pulled in the 30-year-old to 45-year-old crowds and Serena and Venus would have attracted the kids and the twenty-somethings.
As Navratiliova said, "The biggest progress was made in the first 10 years. The last 15 years or so has been pretty much the same. It's been stagnating. That's the problem. The evolution of the product has stopped. The play hasn't stopped. It's never been better, but the structure needs to be revamped."
So do some people's sense of commitment.