A former women’s tennis star-turned TV pundit has taken fresh aim at Serena Williams over an issue completely unrelated to her infamous US Open meltdown.
The American’s dramatic capitulation against Naomi Osaka in the Flushing Meadows decider signalled an unfortunate end to the season for the 23-time grand slam champion.
Just like previous years, Williams has decided to call a premature end to her season, rather than playing in any of the events before the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore.
Williams hasn’t played in the women’s finale since 2014, with ESPN expert Pam Shriver criticising the American for continuing to snub events on the women’s tour.
“A casual viewer might be disappointed if Serena isn’t in one of these tournaments, but to dedicated tennis fans, this abundance of contenders vying for the top ranking right up to the end of the year is really exciting,” Shriver conceded.
“It is a shame that Serena hasn’t been playing in the tour championships. I understand why, but it still doesn’t look that good for the tour.”
In contrast to Williams, the American’s US Open conqueror has maintained a busy schedule – reaching the Tokyo final and the semi-finals of the China Open.
“Naomi (Osaka) has been a streaky player, as her results after the first big win of her career [at Indian Wells] demonstrated,” Shriver added.
“Now she seems to have set a higher bar for herself, and so far she’s clearing it.
“Naomi lost just three games to Dominika Cibulkova in her first match in Tokyo. That told me a lot.”
Shriver said despite Williams’ absence in the year’s final tournaments, the race for the number one ranking makes it an enticing way to cap off the year.
“It’s great that the race for No. 1 will go down to the wire, especially because a strong move by Osaka as the year ends could take her to the top of the game almost overnight.
“But take a good look at Kerber. She learned a lot in the year she struggled after becoming No. 1. Now she’s back in the mix. She has the experience, and she’s now teamed up with one of the best coaches [Wim Fissette] in the game.”
Australian Open considering rule change after Williams saga
Williams’ US Open meltdown could spark a massive change at January’s Australian Open.
Organisers are working to determine whether coaching will be allowed at the Australian Open in an effort to end the controversy that led to Serena’s rage.
Williams was given the violation when chair umpire Carlos Ramos saw her coach Patrick Mouratoglou make a hand gesture to tell her to play closer to the net against Osaka.
She was then docked a point after she later smashed her racquet and then penalised a game for calling Ramos a “thief”.
Coaching while the players are on court is not permitted in Grand Slam tournaments, although the WTA Tour allows it in other events at specified times. It is prohibited in all men’s matches.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said at the time that he would urge tennis officials to affirm its position on coaching during matches and said on Tuesday that they were working with the governing bodies to clarify the rules.
“We’re getting the global governing bodies – the ATP, WTA and ITF – and the grand slams together to talk about our approach to coaching,” Tiley told reporters at an event for next year’s opening Grand Slam at Melbourne Park.
“I think it’s really important that it’s consistent so fans and players don’t get confused on it so hopefully in the coming weeks we are able to make an announcement on our position.”
Tiley added that Australian Open organisers had asked the now retired Casey Dellacqua and John Millman to lead a players’ review of the rules. More than 100 players were interviewed as part of the review.
“We’ve had a team out there interviewing them and the players too want some consistency on coaching and we’d like to be able to lead the way on that,” he said.
Serena’s involvement confirmed
Tiley also confirmed the seven-time champion will be back at the Australian Open in 2019 having missed her title defence this year after giving birth.
The 23-time Grand Slam winner, who won on her last appearance in 2017 while pregnant, will be joined in January’s tournament by double Melbourne Park champion Victoria Azarenka who was forced to withdraw from the 2018 event because of a custody battle with her baby’s father.
Tiley said Tuesday he was expecting a full contingent of the top 100 men and women players in Melbourne next year.
“I’m delighted to announce that Serena Williams will return to the Australian Open in January,” Tiley said while launching the 2019 event at Rod Laver Arena.
“We last saw Serena here in Melbourne as our champion, holding the Daphne Ackhurst Memorial Cup in 2017. Of course what we didn’t know at the time was that she was already eight weeks pregnant with baby Olympia,” said Tiley.
Williams needs one more Grand Slam singles victory to equal Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.
“Serena loves coming to Melbourne and I know she’s excited about returning in January with her family, it’s definitely a very special place for her,” said Tiley.
“She’ll also be super-focused on winning here, and equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.”
Tiley said the tournament was gearing up to welcome back Azarenka and Williams — and their children.
“Vika (Azarenka) is also a new mum to toddler Leo and I’m looking forward to showing her, and Serena, our new creche facilities,” said Tiley. “I’m sure they’ll be appreciated.”
Prize money boost
Tiley added that total prize money for the 2019 tournament would be increased by 10 percent, taking the total pool to $60.5 million. It was A$55 million for the last edition.
The tournament’s heat policy, which involves a calculation based on humidity and temperature and can be confusing to understand, was also being reviewed.
The US Open was blighted by heat issues this year, although the design of the court might also have contributed to the stifling conditions on the main Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“We have an extreme heat policy and we’re working toward an extreme heat index which will be a little different,” Tiley said.
“The research we’ve had has been sport in general and we’ve just completed some research specifically for tennis so that’s going to be concluded in the coming weeks and it will be easier to understand.”