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Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Knee pain negates her promise to play

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Just a few hours before she was supposed to board the U.S. Olympic tennis team's flight to Athens, Serena Williams sent word via e-mail that she wouldn't be going to the Summer Games because of a bad left knee.

Serena Williams
Williams

With Jennifer Capriati staying Stateside, too, the Americans' medal hopes suddenly went from strong to suspect.

"I've never been this disappointed in my career," Williams told The Associated Press by telephone from Florida on Wednesday night. "The good news is I don't need surgery. That's the only good news."

Williams, who earlier this year expressed concern about safety in Athens, withdrew from WTA tournaments in San Diego and Montreal in the past few weeks because of swelling in her knee. The former No. 1-ranked player had surgery to repair a partial tear in her left knee last August and was sidelined for eight months.

She said any concerns about security were the least of her worries.

"My decision was based solely on one, two, three, four, five, six different doctors' opinions ... and what would be the best decision for my career, long-term," she told the AP.

Instead of playing Olympic singles for the first time, the six-time Grand Slam champion said, "I won't even watch."

Williams' withdrawal came a day after 1992 singles gold medalist Capriati announced she wouldn't play because of a hamstring injury. Capriati's spot in the Athens singles event was taken by the 40th-ranked Raymond, Martina Navratilova's doubles partner.

"Serena has been battling injuries all year and we, as a team, are disappointed that she will not be able to join us in Athens," U.S. coach Zina Garrison said. "We understand that Serena has been undergoing extensive physical therapy since San Diego and that her withdrawal has been based on the advice of her doctors."

At Sydney four years ago, Serena teamed with older sister Venus to win the doubles, and Venus won the singles. The United States has dominated women's tennis at the Olympics since it returned as a medal sport at the 1988 Seoul Games, winning seven of the eight golds.

But this time, instead of having three of the world's top players -- three major champions -- playing singles during the Aug. 15-22 tournament, Garrison will have Chanda Rubin and Lisa Raymond joining the sixth-seeded Venus in singles.

And Rubin will replace Serena as Venus' doubles partner. Venus has never played a tournament doubles match with anyone other than her sibling.

"I am sad and disappointed, not only because I am unable to travel to Greece and participate in the Olympics," Serena said, "but also because I gave my word that I would play."

After seeing a doctor Tuesday in New York, Serena notified the USTA of her withdrawal via e-mail three hours before the team's flight was to depart. She'll do extensive rehab work in hopes of being ready for the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 30.

"I'm looking forward to playing in the year's last major," she told the AP. "I've never been so focused in my career on getting healthy."

Because the deadline for teams to replace players on their rosters was last Saturday, Serena will be replaced in Thursday's draw for the singles event by Samantha Stosur, an Australian ranked 96th.

Serena reached the top of the rankings a year ago by winning five of six major tournaments, beating her sister in each final. After winning Wimbledon in 2003, though, she didn't compete again until the WTA event at Key Biscayne, Fla., in March.

During that tournament, which she won, she acknowledged she was concerned about the threat of terrorism during the Olympics.

"My security and my safety and my life are a little bit more important than tennis," she said at the time. "And so if it became a real to concern to where I personally wouldn't feel comfortable, then I wouldn't go to Athens."

The next day, though, Williams said she didn't like the way her remarks were characterized and said: "I'm 100 percent planning on going to Athens."