After winning her fourth Wimbledon title which earned her the “GOAT” title by many tennis fans and journalists, world No.1 Serena Williams has once again found her feet in hot water with the sports world. Williams recently announced that she would not play any events before the U.S. Open as she required surgery to heal a cut on her right foot suffered at a Belgian restaurant prior to her exhibition match against Kim Clijsters. And although Williams displayed two bandages on her foot in photos taken at a pre-ESPY’s party and at the wedding of NBA player Carmelo Anthony, many are not convinced that the injury is that serious or even legitimate.
Williams, who was scheduled to play World Team Tennis for the Washington Kastles, as well as appear at events in Istanbul, Cincinnati and Montreal issued the following statement on the WTA Tour’s website –“I’m so upset I won’t be able to play in the upcoming events because of this foot surgery. Thank you for all of your support. I can’t wait to get back on the courts.” Williams’s withdrawal from playing this summer, including the Istanbul event in which tournament organizers confirmed they had paid Williams a $150,000 appearance fee to show up, immediately caused a backlash by many in the media who disputed the exact cause of the injury and went on to say that Williams is not injured at all but is using it as a smokescreen so she won’t have to play in non-Slam events.
Williams, who was defaulted from the semifinals at last year’s U.S. Open and later fined $92,000 by the International Tennis Federation for verbally abusing a lineswomen who called a foot fault on Williams, caused a similar backlash this spring when she withdrew from playing at the Sony Ericsson Open due to a knee injury although she was later seen enjoying herself on a Miami beach in a two-piece bikini. Williams’s “footgate” is even sparking fierce debate on the U.S. Open and Australian Open’s official Facebook pages. Soon after each site posted the news about Williams, some fans of those pages “liked” the news that Williams would not be playing which set off heated comments on both sides.
Whether you believe, don’t believe or could care less about Williams’s injury, this current brouhaha continues to underscore the still uneasy relationship Williams shares with both the tennis world and the sports media. In the span of almost 12 months, Williams has been on a see-saw of public opinion, from hearing calls she be suspended from playing because of the U.S. Open “incident” to being lauded as the “GOAT”. Now with her absence this summer, the debate will continue over how important Willliams’s presence, or lack thereof, is for the rest of the sport, especially on the women’s side. Public opinion aside for a moment, television ratings, including for this year’s Wimbledon final, prove that Williams draws viewers in, whether they root for or against her. And with a lack of any real rivalries or other names that generate interest among casual sports fans, the WTA Tour will continue to rely on Williams not only to play, but to create buzz for the sport even if at times it’s viewed in a negative light by many.
It’s very likely that Williams’s injury and the debate surrounding it will lose interest once the U.S. Open starts and last year’s “incident” gets replayed over and over prior to the start of play. Williams will still go in as the favorite to win in New York and if she does, then for a brief moment, all will be forgiven. But I would expect a few more see-saw moments between Williams and the media before Williams hangs up her racquets for good.