Williams message: absence with malice
Published March 10, 2002
This is the face of vindictiveness: Venus and Serena Williams at home in Palm Beach Gardens this week, boycotting the $2 million Indian Wells tournament because of the alleged racial incident that took place at the tournament a year ago.
Ask father Richard Williams about it, and he holds nothing back. He was the one who claimed someone called out to him from the audience with a racial slur as he and Venus walked down the steps to their seats before Serena's match.
Not one person in the vast audience that day came forward to corroborate Williams' story, and former tour CEO Bart McGuire's subsequent investigation turned up no evidence that the incident took place.
Despite all the publicity, no one came forward to support Williams' claim, and no one wrote a letter to a newspaper saying they, too, were appalled by some racial remark.
Nevertheless, the Williams family is determined to make the tournament pay, though Venus seems reluctant to discuss the issue.
``Well, all in all, it was just basically an incredible scene last year in Indian Wells,'' she said. ``But that's part of sports, playing with the good and bad.''
She added, wistfully: ``I've always liked that tournament, and basically I had my first big break there in the desert. So some of my best memories are there. Actually, the first time I got in the quarterfinals, I was like 200 in the world. I have a lot of great memories there.''
Neither she nor Serena, who is the defending champion, have issued any direct explanation of why they're not playing.
They don't have to, though. Everyone knows and this doesn't help their reputations.
Behind the split
Tom Gullikson was sniffling on the telephone from his home just north of Daytona Beach, but it was a late winter cold. He wasn't crying over his astonishing dismissal as Pete Sampras' coach, just two months after the two linked up.
``We're too good friends. That was what he said,'' Gullikson explained. ``From my point of view, two months isn't enough time to test a relationship.''
Gullikson's twin brother, Tim, had coached Sampras for years before being diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1995 and dying a year later. Sampras and the Gulliksons were extremely close.
But at age 30 and with the quality of his game declining (he didn't win a title in 2001), Sampras has decided to give it one final push and says he's looking for a coach who will push him hard. He has hired Jose Higueras, the USTA coach who was a strong influence on Jim Courier's drive to reach No. 1 in the mid-1990s.
There has been speculation that Sampras wanted a clay-court expert as a coach so that he could better prepare for the French Open -- the only major he hasn't won. Higueras certainly is a clay expert. But this sudden change of coaches has nothing to do with surface.
It's only March, but already it has been a strange year for Sampras, who has railed against his agent and against Nike for not re-upping his deal with more money. He has slipped from the top, and it's eating at him.
It has revealed a Sampras ego that few people thought existed, and it hasn't done good things for his reputation.
Meanwhile, Sampras' loss last week in Scottsdale was the fifth time he has failed to get past the second round there, to the chagrin of the tournament director, who happens to be his brother, Gus Sampras. ...
Patrick Rafter is officially in retirement in Australia and awaiting the birth of his first child, but there is a growing feeling that by May he'll be back in training with an eye to winning one tournament: Wimbledon. His former coach, Tony Roche, says, for public consumption, that he has no idea what Rafter's plans are. But Roche has turned down at least a half-dozen offers from other players -- as if he's keeping himself available for Rafter. ...
How many times have you caught yourself saying ``Ericsson'' when talking about the annual Key Biscayne tournament, which begins March 20? The name changes, from Lipton to Ericsson to Nasdaq 100, don't help the tournament's stature, and I think you're going to find increasing numbers of people who refer to the event simply as ``Key Biscayne.'' ...
The report that Mark Philippoussis' surgically repaired left knee wasn't quite ready for the International Tennis Championships (he pulled out) is only partly correct. In fact, he turned his Delray Beach wild card back in because of a new injury.
He was in Los Angeles training with Sampras and sustained a slight tear to the quad muscle in his left knee doing sprints.
It's not a major setback. He won't play Indian Wells this week but will be ready for Key Biscayne. But don't expect him to be on top of his game there.
Charles Bricker's tennis column appears Sundays. He can be reached at email@example.com
Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun
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