Serena Williams Arrives in Carson

Serena Williams turned up in Carson despite hurting her knee in Stanford last week and Patty Schnyder and Jelena Jankovic put in an appearance too.

Tennis Diary is on a roll. I’m at the WTA event in Carson just south of Los Angeles this week, Mike McIntyre is in Toronto, Nate Cunningham will be at the Cincinnati event next week, I will be at the ATP event in Los Angeles the week after that, and John Keeley, who writes for MVN partner site On Frozen Blog, will be at the Washington Kastles match on Wednesday night.

The Washington Kastles are a World Team Tennis franchise and that match is important because Justin Gimelstob plays for Washington and Anna Kournikova plays for their opponent that night, the St. Louis Aces. This is the same Justin Gimelstob who called Kournikova a “bitch” and “douche” and made a few other equally unpleasant comments on a radio show last month. Personally, I think Gimelstob should be Kournikova’s ballboy and he should have to retrieve balls on all fours for the entire evening.

I talked about Gimelstob with players at the media session in Carson today in light of Ashley Harkleroad’s appearance in this month’s Playboy magazine. Harkleroad appears on the cover and has an eight page celebrity spread inside. She doesn’t appear totally nude in any one image but she does show everything. Harkleroad should be able to freely express herself but I did wonder if her Playboy spread might result in further demeaning statements, such as those that came out of Gimelstob’s mouth, because she’s advertising her body, not her game. That was always the rap on Kournikova: she looked good but when was she going to win a tennis tournament.

The media had already flocked to Serena Williams’s table by the time she arrived. I was very happy to see her for a number of reasons. She retired in her semifinal match against Aleksandra Wozniak last week in Stanford when she hurt her knee and I was afraid she’d pull out this week. Her father and one of her doctors did advise her to take the week off but there is no structural damage in the knee, just inflammation, and she seems really inspired to play a lot of tournaments this year:

I’ve been doing really well all year and I’ve been playing a lot. What I want to do is play tennis and play tournaments for this year and several years. I just feel like that’s all I want to do.

One big motivation is the Olympics. More than once today she said that her Olympics doubles gold medal from the 2000 Olympics is her favorite trophy and that’s the one trophy she’ll pull out and show visitors to her house. To that end, she and her sister Venus have played doubles in three tournaments this year, including Wimbledon where Serena picked herself up after losing a tough final to Venus and went out and won the doubles title with her. By the way, keep in mind that the Olympics are in Beijing and the two doubles matches the sisters lost this year were to doubles teams made up of Chinese players.

I was also happy to see Serena because I wanted to ask her a few questions. When I asked her about Harkleroad’s Playboy appearance, she had the same answer as all three players I spoke with today: it’s Harkleroad’s decision and she should make whatever decision she’s comfortable with. Playboy has also asked Serena to pose but, and Serena collapsed into giggles as she explained this, she was somehow too “busy” just around the time they asked. And that’s another reason I was happy to see Serena: she can very gracious and engaging when dealing with the media.

We know that she wouldn’t pose for Playboy, but she’s also an actress so I asked her if she’d accept a role that required partial nudity. The answer is that it depends on the part. If it were a part in something like Monster’s BallHalle Berry does a nude scene with Billy Bob Thornton in the movie, that’s one thing, but otherwise she didn’t know.

Interestingly, while Serena is familiar with the Gimelstob incident – she knows him well and played doubles with him on the Washington Kastles the week after Wimbledon, Jelena Jankovic and Patty Schnyder didn’t know anything about it when I asked them. Not only that, but they hadn’t heard any talk about it in the locker room.

Jelena has also been asked to pose for the Serbian version of Playboy and turned them down, but fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic agreed to an interview, fully clothed. And he used the opportunity to trash the women’s game. He said that 99% of the male tennis players “can’t stand women’s tennis” and he criticized the women for not being able to think strategically on court as well as the male players.

Jelena had heard about those comments, he’s a friend of hers after all, and she called them “mean.” Unnecessary and incorrect might also be a good description. Hopefully he’ll turn up at the ATP event in Los Angeles and I can throw a few question his way too