Serena Williams tipped for warm welcome despite cartoon row

Serena Williams after winning the 2017 Australian Open. Picture: Paul Crock/AFP/Getty Images
Serena Williams after winning the 2017 Australian Open. Picture: Paul Crock/AFP/Getty Images
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Tournament director Craig Tiley expects Serena Williams to be given a warm welcome back to the Australian Open in January.

The 37-year-old is set to compete in Melbourne for the first time since winning her 23rd grand slam singles title in 2017 while in the early stages of pregnancy with daughter Olympia.

The Australian Open will be Williams’ first competitive action – she will play the exhibition Hopman Cup earlier in January – since her controversial US Open final defeat to Naomi Osaka in September, which was overshadowed by her explosive row with umpire Carlos Ramos and subsequent complaints of sexism.

A cartoon about the match in New York was published by Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper was branded racist in some quarters but strongly defended by the newspaper.

Tiley told the 3AW radio station at the launch for the 2019 tournament: “We hope the Australian fans have a great approach to welcoming this great champion.

“This is a new start. She’s going to come in as the player trying to break the all-time grand slam record. I think the fans will appreciate the success she’s had as an athlete.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Open will follow the US Open in using an on-court shot clock.

After experimenting in the junior tournament and qualifying, the US Open for the first time used a clock to count down the 25 seconds allowed between points in the main draw.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have been the two big opponents of the initiative but, at a news-filled tournament, it provoked very little comment, with umpires having the discretion to decide when to start the clock, or to pause it, to take into account crowd noise or other disruptions.

Overall prize money for the tournament will increase from Aus$55 million (approximately £30m) to Aus$60.5m (approximately £33m), while the women’s qualifying draw will be increased from 96 to 128 players to bring it in line with the men’s, addressing an historical anomaly.

On-court coaching will again be permitted during qualifying and junior matches.

There could yet be changes to the rules during main-draw matches following the row over the warning given to Williams during the US Open final, which was the catalyst for the American’s meltdown that eventually saw her given three code violations and penalised a game.

Tennis’ governing bodies, including the grand slams, are set to discuss the issue and Tiley echoed Wimbledon chairman Philip Brook in calling for a common consensus.

Tiley said: “Coaching is an issue we’ve all spoken a lot about over the past couple of months, which is good. As a sport, tennis needs to decide the best way forward.

“We’ll continue the on-court coaching trial during qualifying as we progress discussions with the many stakeholders involved. The sport needs to have a consistent approach.”

Tennis’ approach to heat has also been a hot topic after stifling conditions in New York caused a number of retirements and the Australian Open, the only tournament with a consistent policy, will make changes next year.

Tiley said: “The Extreme Heat Policy has also been reviewed and will change to a Heat Stress Index.

“We’ve spent many months conducting some very intense research under the supervision of our medical team.”