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Serena's obfuscation gives fans reason to question her sincerity

I keep looking for the real story. Between Serena Williams's website, the WTA Tour site and wire service reports, there is nothing but mystery surrounding an injury that now requires surgery. Collectively, they've left everyone in the dark, which leads to a grim and familiar conclusion: Serena has the entire sport buffaloed.

Once you hear the word "surgery" regarding the best player in the world, you get this odd craving for details. Surgery for what, exactly? We know it's a foot injury, and that the WTA has declared her "questionable" for the U.S. Open, but that's it. We're not allowed to know anything more.

Having spent a veritable lifetime in clubhouses and locker rooms, I'm among the last observers to question someone's injury. I'm generally inclined to believe athletes are more hurt than they let on. And I've never been one to assume that Serena has faked a number of injuries over the years, for the purpose of avoiding fines or suspensions as she skips out on lesser events.

But for crying out loud, you can't just say "I'm having surgery" and then order the quiche. Maybe Serena can try to pull a fast one, but there's no excuse for the information provided by the WTA, announcing that Serena has withdrawn from the Istanbul, Cincinnati and Montreal tournaments this summer "as a result of a necessary procedure on her right foot."

Here's what we know: The injury occurred after Wimbledon but before the July 8 exhibition between Serena and Kim Clijsters in Belgium. Williams played in the event (losing 6-3, 6-2) and collected an appearance fee reportedly approaching seven figures.

When Serena hosted an ESPY Awards party at her Bel Air home last week, published photographs showed her wearing high heels with a bandage on the top of her right foot. Although Serena hadn't mentioned a word of the injury (and still hasn't) on her website, we learned that she cut her foot on some broken glass on a restaurant.

It wasn't until Monday, in an Associated Press story, that according to Serena's "team," she cut the bottom of her right foot, leaving one to wonder: She doesn't wear shoes in a restaurant?

It's remarkable, really. Serena undoubtedly gets offended when people question her sincerity, as it regards her approach to the tour in general, and yet she gives us every reason to question her latest injury. I'm guessing we'll be left without a single additional detail until the U.S. Open, when she saunters in for her first interview. Such is the life of royalty, without rules or obligations.

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The ever-comical scheduling of the Davis Cup, easily the most confusing major event in the history of sports, cost a lot of players some well-deserved headlines last week.

Try to imagine even considering a schedule in which players flee Wimbledon to get ready for Davis Cup on a radically different surface the following weekend. Rafael Nadal wasn't hearing of it. His knees were aching, and with his beloved Spain making a run for the World Cup title, Nadal headed to South Africa, where he watched the championship game in full regalia -- Spanish flag, bright red jersey, face paint -- and was reduced to tears afterward as he celebrated with the team.

Not that the casual fan had the slightest idea, but the depleted Spaniards took a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of France, and thus were blown out of the Davis Cup (I think; given the counter-intuitive way this thing plays out, perhaps you qualify for the finals if you lose). That wasn't the biggest story, though, by any means.

In a scene that demanded a special time frame and coverage, the Serbian team went into the Croatian town of Split for a quarterfinal carrying intense political implications. The Serbians were booed and heckled during the playing of their anthem. There were chants of "Kill the Serb!" as Novak Djovakic boldly took out Ivan Ljubicic in his first singles match.

"I would like people to see this as a normal tennis match, nothing more," Ljubicic said beforehand, "but the truth is that it will never be." Afterward, he said, "It was strange. You could feel the tension, the emotion, so it was very difficult to play."

And he was on the home side. Then it was up to Djokovic, the allegedly fragile one, to defeat the talented Marin Cilic and clinch the quarterfinal for Serbia -- and Djokovic did exactly that, in straight sets, for an unassailable 3-1 lead. That was easily one of the biggest wins of Djokovic's career, doing wonders for his reputation, but you had to search for the results in your local newspaper. Most likely they were back on page 18, alongside the headline, "Hectic Weekend for Area Bowlers."

* * * * *

Good to hear Lleyton Hewitt lost that legal case in Australia, preventing him from securing "Come On!" as his personal trademark. The way he uses that motivational cry -- shouting it loudly upon an opponent's unforced error -- he should be banned from using it altogether.

It seems that in Australia, "Come On!" is owned by a Brisbane man, Josh Sheils, consisting of those two words and a fist-pumping gesture. He designed it with his two daughters and registered it in 2004 with the intention of creating a mark "representative of all Australian sports people," according to court records.

Hewitt's team argued, in vain, that in the eyes of Australians, the words and fist pump belong to him. Doubtful. In general, the Aussies are a fair-minded bunch. I'd imagine more than a few are disgusted when Hewitt yells "Come on!" to celebrate someone's double fault.

* * * * *

So we won't be seeing Serena this summer, or the injured Justine Henin, making it somewhat difficult to imagine dream matchups over the hardcourt summer season. Here's one a bit off the radar: Aravene Rezai vs. Marion Bartoli.

These are two women on the outer fringe of French tennis, each having forged a measure of distrust over the years, and they clearly don't like each other. "Marion is a difficult girl," Rezai said during the French Open. "She attacked me two years ago when I reached the final in Istanbul. That's a bit of a shame, but that's her education. She has attacked me many times in the press. But Marion has difficulties getting included with the other girls."

When asked about the recent focus on Rezai, despite Bartoli's higher ranking, Bartoli said, "I don't give a damn," and while making derisive reference to a certain player's "ambition," she clearly was talking about Rezai.

It's understandable that each would be crying out for attention. The French have never fully embraced Bartoli, whom they feel is essentially Italian (her father is from Corsica, the French-governed island west of Italy), and the French federation has long belittled her training methods. After Bartoli won the U.S. Open junior title in 2001, the federation asked her to choose an established coach instead of her father, whose unconventional methods included tying tennis balls to her feet (so she'd constantly stay on her toes) and forcing her to practice on a court with only a few feet behind the baseline, the better to hammer away with her two-handed strokes from both wings. Marion stuck with her dad, and gained a measure of redemption when she reached the 2007 Wimbledon final (losing to Venus Williams), but she has never felt appreciated by either French fans or officials.

Life has been even more difficult over the years for Rezai, a French-born daughter of Iranian immigrants. As she moved up through the junior ranks, the federation was in constant conflict with her father, Arsalan. During the 2006 French Open, reports surfaced of an altercation at a practice court involving Mr. Rezai, apparently a conflict over practice times between Aravene and Russian teenage players Anna Chakvetadze and Elena Vesnina. Chakvetadze told Russian reporters that Mr. Rezai head-butted Sergey Vesnina, the father of Elena, and that in an attempt to strike Chakvetadze's father with a racket, he inadvertently struck Aravene in the face.

"He's crazy," Anna told reporters later. "We have nothing against his daughter; she's OK."

As a result, the federation cut off all funds to the Rezai family, forcing Aravene to either sleep in the family van or stay with friends to save money during tournaments. "I don't need them," she said in the summer of '06. "I will do my thing on my own and remember that when I needed help, they didn't give it to me. For now, I play for my country, Iran, not for my federation."

She proceeded to compete for Iran, where both of her parents were born and raised, in several events, and when she got to New York for the '06 U.S. Open, ranked 96th in the world, she stayed with Iranian friends on Long Island instead of the midtown hotels where most players stay. Lacking a clothing sponsor, she bought clothes off the rack and cut off the logos.

All the while, she developed into a steely competitor with a knack for incendiary comments but also glowing respect for the players she most admired. We find her now as the 20th-ranked player in the world (Bartoli is 14th), and she drew everyone's attention in May by defeating Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic and finally Venus to win the Madrid event.

Somewhere along the line, Rezai will meet up with Bartoli, whom she has played just three times, most recently at the '09 Bali event. Whenever that happens, one would be wise to know the backstories.

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