Maybe people who attend tennis events don’t care about being suckered. Maybe their statistically measured affluence — the average annual income of a tennis fan is $150,000, says the U.S. Tennis Association — quells any angst that Serena Williams isn’t playing in Palo Alto this week.
But I care.
So I will ask the question: Isn’t it more than a little suspicious why the sport’s queen bee didn’t keep her so-called commitment — announced in late May and reconfirmed as recently as late July — to the Bank of the West Classic? And why aren’t ticket-buyers, well-heeled or otherwise, receiving refunds as dissatisfied, underserved consumers? Haven’t tournament officials aggressively marketed Williams as the star of the draw for months, and didn’t they announce the date and time of her opening match just days ago?
Here’s what she wants you to believe: As Williams pursues the final jewel in her Grand Slam crown, beginning Aug. 31 at the U.S. Open, she is dealing with what she’s calling a right elbow injury. “I’m disappointed to have to withdraw from the Bank of the West Classic, but I need to get my elbow back to 100 percent,” Williams said Friday in pulling out of the event. “The tournament is one of my favorites, and the fans have always been so generous and supportive of me. I wish all of the players much success, and I hope to return next year.”
Here’s what I believe: She woke up one day last week and decided she didn’t want to be here, which hardly is new territory for Williams, who is notorious for committing to tournaments and then checking out after all the tickets have been purchased. In this case, she rejected the Stanford event late last week after two rather amazing developments in the same 24-hour period.
First, the day before saying no to Palo Alto, she said yes to Toronto next week, confirming in a media conference call last Thursday that she’ll play in the Rogers Cup, which begins Monday and runs through Aug. 16. Asked about her general well-being, she made no mention of her elbow issue during the interview session, saying, “I feel OK. I always have a little nerves and a little trepidation, but right now I feel I don’t have anything to lose. I’m just going to have to go there and maintain. I think that’s a unique position to be in. I’m really happy to be in that position.”
Then, same day, Williams used her Instagram account to post a photo of her in a gymnastics workout room, her legs spread-eagle in the air and her arms — right elbow included — clutching two ropes suspended from the ceiling. “Fearless #strong is beautiful,” she wrote beside the photo, which, I suppose, could have been taken before Thursday but likely was recent enough to make one wonder: Why is someone with a bum elbow performing a borderline trapeze act mere weeks before seeking sports history?
Serena was supposed to begin defense of her Bank of the West title at 7 tonight. But if you show up at Taube Family Tennis Center, she won’t be there, though you might be holding a ticket worth as much as $140 and no less than $55, or $44 if you’re a junior. The tournament still has starpower — world No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki, aka Rory McIlroy’s ex; No. 7 Agnieszka Radwanska, the sport’s new sex symbol; No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro; No. 12 Karolina Pliskova; No. 13 Angelique Kerber; and, perhaps most compelling, No. 18 Madison Keys, a possible heiress after Williams retires.
It is Wozniacki’s first time at Stanford. “I feel like a rookie,” she said. “Every time I go to a tournament, I know exactly where everything is. I know my favorite restaurants. I know which hotel to check in to. I know my favorite courts, my practice courts, everything. All of a sudden I am here, and I am like, ‘Where is the hotel? Where is the court? Where is the nearest restaurant?’”
I’m sure many a Silicon Valley techie would love to squire her. That aside, the dubious circumstances of Serena’s sudden blow-off should not be dismissed with a shrug. The timeline is exceedingly important. It shows why the Stanford event and others should place a disclaimer on all marketing efforts — or leave her out of their lead-up campaigns altogether — until everyone is absolutely certain she is participating.
On May 26, Bank of the West Classic officials announced Williams will return to defend her title. Said the release: “Individual session tickets are now on sale.”
On July 11, Williams won her 21st Grand Slam title, sixth at Wimbledon. With four straight wins in majors, she has a Serena Slam and said she feels healthy, more energized than usual. “Right now, I’m dancing a lot,” she said.
On July 15, Williams breezed through her opening match at the Swedish Open, winning 6-2, 6-1 over a qualifier.
On July 16, Williams pulled out of the Swedish, citing a right elbow injury in a practice session. “I was having some pain in my elbow, and I felt a little bit in my match,” she said, according to tournament organizers quoting her. “But it really exploded [in practice] … I really couldn’t hit serves.”
On July 18, she turned to her Facebook feed and wrote, “As much fun as we have been having the past 8 or so weeks I have to take some time to let my elbow heal. I am confident it will be ready for the rest of the summer. I need some time to recover and rehab it, but as of now I am being forced to take the next week off. Love you all #renasarmy #teamrena.”
On July 21, Bank of the West Classic officials announced Williams’ first match will be Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. Said the release, “Individual tickets to the tournament’s opening round start at just $33 while ticket packages start at $205.”
On July 30, Williams told Canadian media that she’ll play in the Rogers Cup.
On July 31, five days before her scheduled first match. Williams announced she will not play in Palo Alto.
I’ve heard from fans who are disappointed. One asked me what to do about a refund. So I contacted Sam Henderson, director of media and public relations for IMG Tennis and the media contact person for the Stanford event, and asked if a refund is possible for a fan who bought a ticket only to see Williams.
He hasn’t responded.