Thanks to some heroics by Melanie Oudin and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the United States defeated Russia this weekend to advance to November's Fed Cup finals against Italy. But even in victory, all anybody could talk about was the Williams sisters who, once again, declined to play in the tie.
There were some not-so-subtle digs lobbed at Venus and Serena by members of the Fed Cup team but also some hope that the sisters might play in the final. It's all a bit petty. But since this is a very complicated case, you know, a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous, here's our take on it. Try to follow this maze of circular logic:
• The Fed Cup team (henceforth known as "the team") is right to be proud of the fact that it beat Russia without the aid of the Williams sisters.
• Venus and Serena are perfectly within their right to decline the Fed Cup invitation. It's not a sleight or an insult or anything else. They've earned the right to take breaks, having played before and winning the cup in 2000.
• Melanie Oudin, who scored a key win over Elena Dementieva in the tie, says she wants to go into the finals with "the people who have gotten us there."
• Oudin and other teammates have questioned the Williams' patriotism in not playing. Defenders of the Williams' sisters say they have played in past Fed Cups and also play in the Olympics, so the argument is moot.
• The Williams' sister may only play in the Fed Cup every four years to play in the Olympics. (It's part of the qualifying requirements).
• After winning Olympic gold in 2000, Venus said, "This is the one moment for me, for my country, for my family, for the team."
• What does playing in the Fed Cup have to do with patriotism anyway?
• Team captain Mary Joe Fernandez on neither Venus nor Serena playing in the semifinals (April 21, 2010): "We're disappointed but we understand, and we're kind of used to not having either Venus or Serena around, so it's not like a shock to the team that really disrupts them. This is really the core group of the team."
• Team captain Mary Joe Fernandez on whether Venus or Serena will play in the finals (April 26, 2010): "We have time before the next final. Our main goal is to win, so we will put together the best team possible to win the final. That's what we always do with every single tie." So we go from badmouthing the Williams sisters to dropping the hint that there's a spot open for them in the finals?
Busted Racquet's final verdict: Venus and Serena should do what they want to do. We criticize Serena's playing schedule (or lack thereof) a lot on this site, but not in this circumstance. To play in the Fed Cup and not care is far worse than not caring at all. As such, Fernandez and the rest of the team should stop worrying about the Williamses and focus on Flavia Pennetta and Italy instead. And if Serena and/or Venus want to play in November, then it's a no-brainer: let them play.