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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Venus, Serena to risk suspensions for Indian Wells boycott

NEW YORK (AFP) - Venus and Serena Williams will face WTA Tour suspensions for their continued boycott of the Indian Wells tournament where they were booed in 2001 under new 2009 WTA rules announced Wednesday.
They have told WTA chief executive Larry Scott that they will continue to skip the event anyway, even though it will cost them bonus money and precious ranking points starting next year as long as they remain in the world top 10.
"It's a very unfortunate situation," Scott said. "They've both said they're not planning on playing Indian Wells. I've had several hours of conversation with Venus and Serena. I'm hopeful they'll play. I would like to see them play.
"I don't think they will based on what they told me."
The Williams sisters boycott stems from a 2001 Indian Wells semi-final when Serena was scheduled to meet sister Venus to decide who would play Belgian Kim Clijsters in the final.
Venus backed out at the last minute with a knee injury, causing many to question the motives for the pullout. Serena was booed in the final, which she won 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Fourth seed Serena beat seventh seed Venus 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (9/7) in a US Open quarter-final Wednesday and after the match, Serena made it clear that she will not be at Indian Wells, ban or no ban.
"I don't play that tournament," she said. "I guess there are a lot of tournaments you have to play next year or you get suspended."
Venus was more evasive.
"The WTA is a good place," Venus Williams said. "All of us live in a free country. We're able to make a choice whether we want to play or not.
"Players don't like suspensions. It's tough for the top players. It's a lot of give and not necessarily a ton coming back. If it's best for the sport I guess we all have to contribute."
Both sisters figure to finish in the season-ending WTA top 10 this year and therefore be liable for banishment provisions for missing a mandatory event on the 2009 calendar.
WTA plans for more prize money and a longer off-season for top players in the 2009 season include changes that cut minimum non-Grand Slam appearances from 13 to 10 but make Indian Wells, Miami, Beijing and Madrid mandatory.
The new WTA rule does have an escape clause. Players can appear in the event marketing the week of the tournament or at one of three dates later in the year to promote the following year's edition.
"They will be subject to the rules of the WTA," Scott said. "To avoid suspension, they will have to be available to do in-market promotional activities.
"I respect their decision on what happened and they understand the need to apply rules equally. They will have to take part in these activities to avoid suspension."
But that could produce an ugly scene as well, the Williams sisters being forced to appear in the Southern California desert for an event they detest.
"I'm confident we will figure out a way to utilize their appearance in the market in a way that will be positive for them and positive for the tournament. We will figure out a way that will be good for them and not a negative," said Scott.
Should the Williams sisters skip the event and refuse to appear, they would be suspended in 2010 for two premier events on the calendar following Indian Wells. That would drop them from Miami and Madrid events in 2010.
By taking zero points for Indian Wells, and Miami and Madrid in 2010, it would be hard for the Williams sisters to remain highly ranked, hurting seeds in future events but putting them outside the top 10 and later bans.
Even an in-market appearance would not allow the sisters to escape the lost bonus money or ranking points hit for skipping Indian Wells.
"They cannot mitigate the zero pointer or the loss of the bonus pool," Scott said. "We want the players to play. We don't want them to go on a media tour. There's more of a stick than there has ever been."

by Jim Slater
Thu Sep 4, 1:48 AM

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