Tony Veitch: Serena Williams the real villain

Karl Budge should be applauded for his ambition in securing Serena Williams for the ASB Classic. Photo / Dean Purcell
Karl Budge should be applauded for his ambition in securing Serena Williams for the ASB Classic. Photo / Dean Purcell

A colleague this week expressed frustration at what she called "Auckland's dud summer of tennis".

The words were directed squarely at ASB Classic director Karl Budge. Here's the logic; this is the bloke who signs the big names, parades them out at media conferences, the media lap it up, ticket sales go nuts, and then what we're promised and what we get never seem to match up.

No shows and mysterious injuries capped off by the curious case of Serena Williams led to irate fans and social media awash with accusations of a big star who fronted only for the appearance money and didn't ever really give a stuff about this tournament. Some of you may call that harsh but fair - I don't.

I consider Karl a good mate and I'm proud of the way he's taken these tournaments to the next level. I rate him one of the country's top sporting administrators.

So this week I've read with frustration some media traction that these events have their mission statement completely wrong. They should not be targeting the likes of Serena, who clearly only see this as a warm-up for the Australian Open.

Yes, these are the same scribes who were ga-ga over Serena's every move when she touched down in Auckland. TV One even led their sports news with shots of police in the arrivals hall, in a sure sign of beefed up security for the winner of 22 grand slams. Really? I'm willing to bet my insignificant salary those police were rostered on for a normal day at the airport.

We lapped up Serena. Even when she was a no show at planned events, that was news. We debated: Is she the greatest sports star to grace our shores? Yet sport did what sport does. It delivered the unexpected. Serena lost and lost badly.

After a stunning year of upsets in 2016, why were we surprised? She made 88 unforced errors and gave a sour post-match media conference, where she blamed the conditions. Nothing like the Australian Open, she said. Auckland cops a black eye from the world's greatest female player.

Yet who's at fault here? Budge, for going after a player who will never see Auckland as anything other than a quirky way to start the New Year, or Serena, who quite frankly behaved like a princess?

This text sums up the debacle: "Serena has been disgusting, looking forward to seeing the back of her."

I haven't asked Karl about his future ambitions of luring the biggest tennis names to our shores but I wonder if he shares that sentiment.

The moral to this most disappointing story is this: Auckland will only ever be a warm-up for the first slam of the year. At the smallest sign of an injury, a tweak, a concern over workload for the big party, players run like the wind to Melbourne.

But to suggest Budge should leave the big names is disregarding history. We've seen mega stars front here - Venus for a start. She left New Zealand only on Tuesday after staying to take in the sights. David Ferrer has also been a rock for this tournament.

Keep doing what you're doing, Karl. Sport is unpredictable, you can control only so much. The real villain here is Serena, who simply did not bring her game face, not a tournament director shooting for the stars.

- Herald on Sunday

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