Did Serena lose in Dubai for Venus? More mailbag

Wednesday February 26th, 2014

Some readers questioned whether Serena Williams lost in the Dubai semis to avoid a final with Venus.
Warren Little/Getty Images

All right, I'll bring it up: Do you think Serena Williams purposely lost that semifinal in Dubai in order to avoid having to play her sister Venus in the final? Not accusing, just asking.
-- Nick W., Lexington, Ky.

• You're not alone. In fact, I must have gotten a half-dozen variations of this question. We all love a good conspiracy theory and this one came in two ways. 1. Serena lost to Alize Cornet to avoid having to play Venus in the final, or 2. Serena lost to Alize Cornet because she knew that Venus was in form and wanted to give her sister a shot at the title.

Short answer: Come on. Serena -- ranked No. 1, fresh off a fourth-round loss to Ana Ivanovic in the Australian Open -- is going to travel halfway across the world ... and tank a match? After 15 years of Serena and Venus playing simultaneously, we should be accustomed to Williams-Williams results without questioning the legitimacy.

I do think these questions tap into something interesting. A lot of them referenced terms like "subconsciously" and "emotionally torn." There is an acknowledgment -- implied, anyway -- that, yes, there's something really strange and confusing and complicated about competing alongside a sibling at the highest level of an individual sport. It's always been amusing when people have said, "The Williams-Williams matches lack a certain something." You think?

Tennis is brutal. Short of inflicting physical harm, you are trying to break down the opponent. You exploit their weakness. You attempt to outwit them, to take up tenancy in their head. You really think when the person on the other side of the net is not merely family but the one person on the planet to whom you are closest, the emotional dynamic won't be different? In boxing, the Klitschko brothers can state, categorically, that they will never fight each other.

Venus and Serena were never given that luxury.

I assume we need to put a big asterisk by Marin Cilic's results this year as such results are the product of using performance-enhancing drugs. How are the boys in the locker room reacting to Cilic and his miracle results?
-- Juan, Poway, Calif.

• This is one of the great ironies. Athletes want more stringent testing and, rightly, hate the notion that a colleague has an unfair advantage and that the legitimacy of the competition has been undermined. Especially in an individual sport with no guaranteed contracts, a cheater is, literally, stealing from the rest of the field. When a drug test yields a positive result, however, often athletes close ranks, rally behind their colleague and blame the system.

In the case of Cilic -- who served a four-month doping ban last year for testing positive for a banned stimulant -- I detect very little backlash, much less ostracism. And I certainly don't think anyone is trafficking in asterisks, particularly because the independent tribunal found that Cilic "ingested the nikethamide inadvertently as a result of taking the Coramine glucose tablets, and did not intend to enhance his performance in doing so."

To say that "It wasn't a cut-and-dried positive test" is, I realize, trafficking in redundancy. It's always complicated. There's always a mitigating factor. We can count on one hand the number of athletes who have failed a doping test and said, "Yup. You got me. My bad. When do I start serving?" Still, the circumstances of Cilic's test did seem particularly unfortunate. Read the tribunal's decision on the case.

And while we're here, let's acknowledge that Cilic has certainly bounced back strongly from a calamitous 2013. He has already won two titles and 18 matches, beaten the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray and almost halved his ranking (from No. 47 to No. 25) since his return from suspension. Inasmuch as some good comes of this, Cilic deserves credit for his rebound.

If Li Na and Svetlana Kuznetsova both quit tennis tomorrow, who would get your vote for the Hall of Fame five years from now?
-- Allan Cruz, Exton, Penn.

• Hypothetical questions, I can't quit you. If I had to choose one? I go with Li. This brings us back to our old Hall of Fame conundrum -- Todd Martin, you inherit this! -- about precedent. If performance at Grand Slams is the accepted benchmark, how do you deny either two-time major champion?

Can someone please barter a peace accord between Serena and Jelena Jankovic, then give them a reality show or a Tennis Channel spot? They would be a hoot together if they got along. Serena could do Jelena's nails. Jelena might be the only person in Serena's life who would tell it like it is.
-- Megan, Indianapolis

• For those who missed it, here's a summary of the "desert dust-up" between Jankovic and Serena in the Dubai quarterfinals.

And, yes, I love the reality-show idea. Especially if chair umpire Kader Nouni is involved. And the television commentator here has already provided us with the title, "Oh, do shut up, Jelena." (See: 1:30 mark.)

Quite apart from winning the match, it sure seems like Serena gets the better of the exchange. Any breach of sportsmanship was of the de minimis variety. That Jankovic chose to make a fuss down 2-6, 2-5 militates against credibility. And note that it was Serena who tried to defuse this at the net and make amends. Perhaps you remember this exchange from the Family Circle Cup last year.

The "right" response here is to scold Jankovic -- I am guilty in the preceding paragraph -- but I have to admit that there's something compelling here. Sports, individual sports especially, benefit from rivalries and tension. No one is throwing punches. No one is endangering anyone's welfare. If there happens to be some static between two players, that makes fans more likely to take interest, not less.

Under the heading Minor Miracle: I thought I would be dead and buried (I am 76) before Alexandr Dolgopolov made it to a final against one of the top four, and lo and behold, I just got to watch him play Rafael Nadal for the championship at the Rio Open! Some amazing tennis on both their parts and I could only wish for more. I hope AD takes enough encouragement from this to really put in the effort to show the tennis world that he's for real. Having been a Nadal fan since his first French Open win, I was delighted to see the matchup. I've also been a Dogolpolov fan as well and can only hope for more!
-- Margaret, Philadelphia

• Quite a bucket list you have there. But, yes, nice see to Dolgopolov -- who also faced then-No. 4 Andy Murray in the 2012 Brisbane final -- in form. A little body, but a lot of talent.

Bradley Klahn is now the third-ranked American, at No. 65. Klahn has three career wins at the ATP level (his ranking comes from winning a few Challengers). Is it possible that we are on the way to becoming a completely irrelevant tennis nation the minute the Williams sisters retire, but just don't realize it yet?
-- Andrew, San Antonio

• You can apply Nadal-like rations of spin, and there's still no getting around the reality that the American presence in tennis pales in comparison to what it was a generation ago. But I would say the U.S. is still a ways from irrelevance -- wishful thinking perhaps. You have to think that in a country of abundant land, abundant resources and 325 million people, there are a few exceptional athletes who will gravitate to tennis at the expense of other sports.

Some tennis virtues:

1. You can enjoy the sport regardless of country codes. American tennis has few stars? So what. Root for Roger Federer (like this guy) or Nadal or Novak Djokovic or Victoria Azarenka.

2. No country does hype like the U.S. There may or may not be a champion in the bunch, but there are enough promising players (Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Jack Sock) that you'll still have your fill of prospects.

3. We're not talking about reviving General Motors here. It takes only a few players to become a powerhouse. Switzerland is riding high because two players are in the ATP top 10. If, say, Tornado Black (who made her WTA debut Monday) and her sister Hurricane are as good as forecast (sorry), the problem is solved. Almost.

Shots, miscellany

Jovana Jaksic saved 14 (!!) match points and won the final of an ITF Women's Circuit tournament in Arizona last weekend.

• From famed coach Nick Bollettieri: "Wow! It's over! My autobiography is finally complete. It is the story of my life, from growing up in the small town of North Pelham, New York, to my unlikely journey to coach some of the most gifted players at the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world and training them at the IMG Academy. It illuminates the peaks and valleys of my life in a way that I didn't know was possible. Writing this autobiography has uncovered memories long forgotten, and resurrected many of the most painful experiences of my life. But, if nothing else, it shows that persistence, against all odds, will prevail. Only persistence and the aligning of the stars can explain my career."

• Is there a cheaper traffic play than the groin shot? Mark Philippoussis nailed Andy Roddick right where it hurts during a PowerShares Series match.

• The BNP Paribas Open named premier sponsors for next week's tournament.

Sam Querrey and Gael Monfils have confirmed that they will play the Atlanta Open, which runs July 19-27.

• ATP players voted the Aegon Championships as the 2013 ATP 250 Tournament of the Year.

• Robert Webb of Dalton, Ga. noted: "The curiosity files via Dubai: In singles, Venus Williams topped Elena Vesnina 6-3, 6-2; Serena Williams defeated Ekaterina Makarova 7-6 (8), 6-0. In doubles, the Williams sisters lost to -- you guessed it -- Vesnina and Makarova 6-4, 4-6, 10-4. Something to be said for strength in numbers."

• Finally, the family of Rafael Osuna sends the following: "Rafael Osuna left his mark as the most successful Mexican tennis player. The Mexico City native reached the No. 1 ranking in 1963, the same year in which he won the U.S. Open title, and still remains the only Mexican to ever reach the top ranking and win a Grand Slam. Osuna led Mexico's Davis Cup team to its only final, in 1962, and he won singles and doubles at the 1968 Olympics, when tennis was just an exhibition event.

"In 1969, Osuna's career came to a tragic end when he was killed in an airplane accident at age 30. For his achievements on the court, he was posthumously inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979. Last year, the USTA celebrated the 50th anniversary of Osuna's becoming the first Latin American man to win the U.S. Open. Now, it seems appropriate to further honor him by inducting him into the U.S. Open Court of Champions."

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