While the world’s best tennis players slug it out at the Madrid Open this week, Serena Williams will be a notable absentee.
Eight of the world’s top-10 female players are in action at the WTA1000 event, with Bianca Andreescu and Williams the only exceptions.
While Andreescu was a forced withdrawal after testing positive for Covid-19, Williams has chosen not to play for very different reasons.
The 23-time grand slam champion hasn’t played in Madrid since 2015 due to an ugly feud with tournament director Ion Tiriac.
The feud exploded earlier this year when Tiriac, a Romanian billionaire and former World No.8, said Williams was overweight and too old to compete at the highest level.
“At this age and the weight she is now, she does not move as easily as she did 15 years ago,” Tiriac said in January.
“Serena was a sensational player. If she had a little decency, she would retire.”
The shocking comments were widely condemned in the tennis world, with fans describing them as “disgusting” and “offensive”.
Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian also took offence, labelling Tiriac a “sexist clown”.
“Safe to say no one gives a damn what Ion Țiriac thinks,” he tweeted at the time.
Ohanian again took aim at Tiriac after one of Williams’ matches at the Australian Open in February.
“Good thing no one listens to that racist sexist (clown emoji) Ion Tiriac,” Ohanian wrote.
But Ohanian’s tweet sparked an angry response from Tiriac’s son Alexandru, who expressed his “disbelief and disgust”.
“I read your tweet with a mix of disbelief and disgust,” Alexandru wrote in an open letter on Twitter.
“The name Țiriac has a 70-year tradition in the world of sports and the gentleman you are referring to has written a few important chapters that have contributed to the book of tennis along these decades.
“From the player, to the coach, to the manager, to the tournament promoter, the respected person you are bad wording in these derogatory terms has and still is, at the age of 82, one of the strongest advocates of this sport.
“The respect he has for Mrs. Williams is tremendous, as it should be.”
Serena Williams set to return at Italian Open
Williams will instead return to the WTA Tour at next month’s Italian Open in Rome, before playing the French Open.
The American star hasn’t played since the Australian Open, where she made a teary exit after losing to Naomi Osaka in the semi-finals.
Amid concerns from fans that Williams is on the brink of retirement, coach Patrick Mouratoglou confirmed she will be back in time to play Roland Garros.
Speaking to L’Equipe recently, Mouratoglou said Williams will play one warm-up event before the clay-court major – most likely in Rome.
Williams will head to the French Open still one grand slam title behind Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.
And Mouratoglou is backing her to return to top form at Roland Garros.
Williams has not been beyond the fourth round at the French Open since returning to the sport in 2018 following the birth of daughter Olympia, but she has twice been forced to withdraw through injury.
“I think she can really play very good on clay,” Mouratoglou said.
“She just has to be really very fit because on clay the serve is not as efficient and you have to work much more. Every rally is a fight.
“But I feel if she’s really, really ready, physically 100 per cent, then she can be very dangerous on clay as well.
“The level is high but I still believe that, when Serena is 100 per cent at the top of her physical form, she can win any slam.”