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Missing stars annoy Martina

Los Angeles: Serena and Venus Williams continued to cast long shadows at the WTA Tour championships, when they were conspicuous absentees from a parade of former top-ranked players at a ceremony honouring the 30th anniversary of the WTA Tour.

Both the Williams sisters skipped the $ 3 million season finale, Serena citing her recovery from knee surgery and Venus the lingering effects of an abdominal strain.

Neither has played since they met in the Wimbledon final. “It’s too bad they didn’t make it,” Martina Navratilova said. “Serena was in town. I don’t know where Venus is.”

The former world number ones who were on hand included not only Navratilova but also her longtime rival Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport, Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, current world No. 1 Kim Clijsters and soon-to-be world No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne.

“I think Justine and Kim got a kick out of it,” Navratilova said. “You get the feeling of being part of such a special sport. If players come to things like this, they would understand. But you have to make the effort.”

She pooh-poohed the idea that such a public appearance would put pressure on the sisters. “You just take your bow and ask in the applause,” said Navratilova, who received the loudest ovation of any of the players.

Navratilova said she attributed that in large part to longevity. “Most of these people here grew up watching us play,” she said of herself and Evert. “Because we were out there for so long, that’s why we get the applause.”

Other former number ones who failed to turn up were Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Monica Seles. “From what I understand, there was some miscommunication, because some of the players only found out about it a couple of days ago,” Navratilova said.

On Graf’s missing the occasion, Navratilova said: “If you can’t, you can’t. Steffi could have jumped on her or (husband Andre) Agassi’s private plane. I would hope you have a really good excuse if you didn’t come.”

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