Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Serena Williams still talk of Tennis Town.

Serena Williams sure knows how to be the talk of the tournament at the U.S. Open. She did it last year with her dramatic exit, launching an infamous tirade after getting called for a foot fault and receiving a point penalty on match point in the semifinals against Kim Clijsters.

In the past, she's made dramatic entrances with her eye-catching outfits, playing in a catsuit one year and a denim skirt and boots in another. This time around, she's doing it by not even playing. Although a flood of first-round action has been taking place on the court, the corridor chatter at the U.S. Open has been about the mysterious foot injury that has kept Williams from playing this year's event.

Everyone has a different story.

The initial report was that Williams had cut her foot by stepping on glass at a restaurant in Germany the week after winning Wimbledon. Hosting a pre-ESPYS party a few days after the incident, she was photographed wearing high heels and a small piece of tape above her right foot. Soon after, it was announced that she had undergone a foot operation, forcing her to withdraw from all her pre-U.S. Open events. Since the surgery, she has been out and about wearing a walking boot on her leg.

These events caused mild curiosity for most of the summer until she withdrew from the U.S. Open. Williams missing regular tournaments with injuries is nothing new, but missing a major is something else again. What exactly happened?

In the commentary box Saturday, Mary Carillo said Williams was at a bar in Munich when things got rowdy during Germany's soccer World Cup semifinal match, and a beer bottle fell on her foot. On Monday, she retreated from the details, saying the cut was a one-inch-deep laceration caused by a piece of glass.

In mid-July, Williams' agent, Jill Smoller, had told AOL's FanHouse, "She didn't step on glass ... so I don't know where that came from. Her foot was cut. There was a deep laceration."

A statement from Williams announcing her U.S. Open withdrawal cited only "the surgery I had on my foot earlier this month." When asked about her sister's injury, Venus Williams said, "Serena released as much information that she wanted to about her leg."

Last week, a column in The New York Times called for her to tell fans the full story, but there seems little prospect of that. Why not let the curiosity feed on itself?

With so little communication from the Williams camp, players who have seen Serena since Wimbledon have been pressed for information. Clijsters, who won a lopsided exhibition match over Williams in Belgium a day or so after the incident, said she didn't know what had happened but did witness the damage firsthand.

"I saw the injury," Clijsters said. "It's not something that she's making up or that it's a small cut or anything."

When asked whether the cut was at the top or bottom of Williams' foot, Clijsters said, "Both feet."

Both feet? Sensing the surprise in the room, Clijsters looked uncomfortable. When asked again whether the problem was at the top or the bottom of the (now apparently) feet, she said, "I don't remember. I wasn't paying such close attention."

Other players, officials and entourages are mysteriously reluctant to touch the topic, sometimes insisting that things stay off the record. One reporter was told that a player who saw the injury said Williams' toe was almost cut off.

Toe? What next? A self-pedicure gone wrong.

Some have even decided it's not the foot at all. Williams' nose looked unfamiliarly sculpted when she was photographed at a Hamptons Magazine party last week, prompting tabloid speculation that her hospital visit was for a nose job. The photo evidence is inconclusive.

All things considered, however, the anecdotal evidence suggests Williams did suffer some kind of foot injury. What, where and how? Still good questions, but so, increasingly, is -- so what?

The one thing we do know for certain is that someone will still lift the U.S. Open trophy at the end of next week, and her name won't be Serena Williams.

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