Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka withdrew from Dubai after meeting in the Doha final. (Osama Faisal/AP)
AFP reports Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams are facing fines and penalties for their late withdrawals from the Dubai Championships this week.
Azarenka withdrew from the tournament for the second straight year on Monday, citing a bruised heel and fatigue. As a result, she'll forfeit $100,000 from the WTA's bonus pool (a $4.9 million pool of incentive payments made available to top-10 players who satisfy certain minimum commitments at the end of the year) and receive a "zero pointer" for the tournament, meaning the tournament must be included in the calculation of her ranking.
"I unfortunately have to withdraw from this tournament due to a right foot injury, which happened last week," Azarenka told reporters. "I have been obviously playing on it a lot, a lot of tennis over the last five days, especially, so going to a new tournament is too much to handle right now."
Similarly, Williams' Wednesday withdrawal due to the back injury from the Australian Open means she's forfeited $50,000 from the WTA's bonus pool and will be charged a zero pointer as well. Azarenka's facing a stiffer forfeiture because this is the second straight year she's withdrawn from Dubai after the entry deadline.
"I've just had some back problems the past couple weeks," Serena told reporters. "It didn't get better. I thought it would get better as the week went on, but it didn't. I don't want to keep pushing it and make it worse."
This is the third time Williams went to Dubai and withdrew without playing a point.
"I feel terrible," Williams said, referring to her withdrawal. Addressing the crowd she promised them she'd be back to play next year. "Maybe the next time will be a better time. Just horrible."
Tournament director Salah Tahlak had a conference call with the WTA wherein the tour confirmed it would pursue action against both players.
"The WTA apologised to me. It's unfortunate that it happened, but sometimes it is better that they (the players) are not pushed too hard. It can be better for the sport. When I saw Serena she looked really bad.
"It is very disappointing both for the tournament and for the fans some of whom come from all over the world to be here. But both players have promised to come back here next year, so for me the matter is now closed."
While both players appeared to commit to playing Dubai next year, it's impossible to know. The WTA Roadmap requires top players to commit months in advance to give tournaments more stability and predictability. Azarenka has been critical of the system, arguing that the WTA's commitment obligations forces players to play through injuries and risk long-term damage to avoid fines. This time it seems Azarenka's decided, as many top players have before her, that it's better to take the fine than risk your health.
"I think you have to be really smart," Azarenka said in Dubai, "but because of the scheduling ahead that you have to commit to a lot of tournaments, it makes it a little bit more complicated sometimes to commit. And that's sometimes the reason that, you know, you have to pull out, because sometimes it's too much. Honestly I don't know what's gonna happen in the future. I just try to schedule as best as possible, but sometimes you need to make adjustments, like everything you do in life."
Azarenka, who ceded the No. 1 ranking to Williams on Monday, has committed to four tournaments so far in 2013, making the finals or better at two (Australian Open, Doha) and retiring or withdrawing from the others (Brisbane, Dubai). Still riding a 14-match win streak, her next tournament is Indian Wells in March, where she's the defending champion.
As for Williams Azarenka's withdrawal assured her the No. 1 ranking through Miami (after Indian Wells), which also happens to be her next tournament.