Williams says promoter contacted her on cell phone
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Serena Williams told a jury Wednesday that she felt "harassed" and "violated" when one promoter of a "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match called her personal cell phone and repeatedly urged her to take part in the event.
Serena Williams, testifying in a breach-of-contract lawsuit brought by promoters Keith Rhodes and Carol Clarke, said she thought it was "unprofessional" for Rhodes to contact her directly about the event. And she was surprised that Rhodes had her personal cell number, she said.
"I felt harassed at the time. He kept telling me that I need to do it. I said 'I don't have time to talk about this. This is not something I want to be a part of,'" Serena Williams said. "I didn't like the way he was talking to me. I felt violated."
Serena Williams was also asked by her attorney, F. Malcolm Cunningham Jr., if she ever had any interest in playing a match against men's tennis star John McEnroe, whose name had repeatedly come up in connection with the possible event and who had publicly challenged Serena Williams to a match.
"Playing John McEnroe would not advance my career. It would just be a sideshow," she said. "I never saw an upside to playing John McEnroe or anyone else on the men's tour."
Rhodes and Clarke contend in their lawsuit that Richard Williams, father of both tennis stars, committed them to play in a 2001 "Battle of the Sexes" event that would have earned some $45 million. Richard Williams testified earlier that he put together a draft contract for the exhibition but insisted that he told Clarke and Rhodes they would have to go through the IMG sports management agency to get approval from his daughters.
Rhodes and Clarke are likely to testify later in the trial.
Echoing previous testimony from Venus Williams, Serena Williams told jurors that she never saw any of documents related to the proposed event, that her father did not have authority to obligate her to contracts and that his primary role was that of coach, trainer and mentor.
"My dad has the influence of a great father and a great person. My dad came from nothing and made myself and my sister to be somebody," Serena Williams said. "We're not going to let somebody take that away from us."
Rhodes and Clarke contend that Richard Williams billed himself as a conduit to doing business with his daughters. Their lawyers played parts of a 2002 biography film, "Raising Tennis Aces," in which Serena says of her father: "As a manager he's the best," noting that he had handled two champion players.
"You knew that the public perception was that your father was your manager, correct?" asked Judy Hyman, one of the promoters' lawyers.
"I don't know what the public thought about as to my dad," Serena Williams replied.
Attorneys for Rhodes and Clarke tried repeatedly to show jurors evidence that Serena Williams had some knowledge of the possible "Battle" match, including comments she made at a press conference during the 2000 U.S. Open tournament questioning why McEnroe hadn't challenged higher-ranked female players.
"I think he wants to get a rivalry going," Serena Williams said then.
But Serena Williams said she was unaware of any negotiations. And Peter Johnson, former chief operating officer of IMG, said he told Rhodes in a telephone call that he had no right to work on such an event with the Williams sisters or their father.
Johnson also said Richard Williams had asked IMG to work with Rhodes, but Johnson rejected that and called the proposal to play McEnroe, Jimmy Connors or some other male player "a terrible idea."
"I thought it was a no-win situation for them," Johnson said. "If they won, everybody would say 'well they should have won.' If they lost, I thought it would hurt their reputation. This was two of the greatest players in women's tennis. To play a man at the height of their career would have been foolish," Johnson said.
The Williams sisters have won 59 singles events combined on the WTA Tour, including 12 Grand Slam singles titles. Venus Williams is currently ranked No. 47 and Serena No. 93 by the WTA.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press