Saturday, September 12, 2009

Serena Williams upset in U.S. Open semifinal, in more ways than one

I wrote just a few days ago that we should continue to expect very strange things to happen at this U.S. Open, but I certainly wasn't expecting the events that occurred tonight in the semifinal match defending champion Serena Williams played against Kim Clijsters. And by that, I mean everything that happened.

Williams is fond of saying that she sometimes "goes crazy" at a major, referring to the times that she has been upset. But those upsets (defeats by her sister at Wimbledon notwithstanding) always occur in the first week. Once Williams gets to the second week, she just gets better, and until tonight, that pattern was fully evident.

Tonight's match was originally scheduled to take place yesterday, but a lengthy rain delay caused a postponement. Perhaps because of the long wait, Williams was obviously not herself when she stepped onto the court. Her usually superior second serve was just not there, she missed a lot of first serves, and she had to cope with the rapid and deep returns of her opponent.

Angry with herself for making so many errors, Williams broke her racquet after the first set, and was given a code violation warning. Clijsters won that set 6-4. Williams immediately broke Clijsters when the second set began, but she was then broken back. Though she continued to have trouble with her serve, Williams did begin to look much more like herself, and before long, the match became competitive. I think it's fair to say, in fact, that many spectators expected to see a third set.

At a dramatic point in that set, both women held at love. But Clijsters broke Williams at 5-all, and suddenly, Williams was serving at 15-30. She missed her first serve, and her second serve was called a foot fault. Williams did not think she made the error. Unfortunately, players cannot challenge foot faults--only shots. The call, which was not overruled by the chair umpire, gave Clijsters match point. That's when Williams lost it: She walked over to the lineswoman and, using a word widely considered obscene, threatened to shove the ball down the woman's throat. And then, racquet raised, she walked even closer to the lineswoman's chair.

That was the end of the tantrum, and Williams returned to her rightful place on the court. But by this time, the lineswoman had gotten up and reported the incident to the chair umpire. The tournament referee was called to the court, and since the verbal abuse was Williams' second violation of the match, she had to default a point to her opponent. That was, of course, match point, giving Clijsters a 6-4, 7-5 win. Clijsters looked stunned, and continued to look that way for some time.

There is a lot of doubt over whether Williams actually foot-faulted, which only makes the entire incident more troublesome. There is, of course, no excuse--ever--for threatening an official (or anyone), but when I saw Williams explode, I had to wonder: How close to the surface has this volcano been smoldering? For surely no one has been the victim of more ridiculous line calls and umpire passivity than Serena Williams.

There is no doubt that the use of electronic line calling came a little earlier than expected because of Williams' 2004 U.S. Open quarterfinal against Jennifer Capriati. Then there was the now infamous "hand incident" involving Justine Henin in the semifinal of the 2003 French Open. And in the third round of this year's French Open, there was even an "arm incident" involving Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

At no time, when any of these incidents occurred, has Williams been able to do anything but just shake her head, look exasperated, and--in the case of the 2003 French Open--shed some tears.

Was it, then, just a matter of time before years of holding in her on-court anger caught up with her? Williams was having an "off" night tonight, and her tension was palpable. This entire U.S. Open, on the women's side, reads like some type of strange astrological phenomenon, so I suppose we can hardly be that surprised that Williams finally unleashed her fury during this bizarre fortnight.

Clijsters was the better player tonight, and she earned her victory. Williams will now have to deal not only with the loss, but with the public consequences of her inappropriate behavior.


rcm said...

"For no one has been the victim of more ridiculous line calls and umpire passivity than Serena Williams."

Huh? Is someone keeping track? Does anyone know if there are similar numbers of bad calls for other top players?

Diane said...

Clare, just for you--and anyone else who does a literal reading--I added the word "surely," to denote opinion. It is a better choice, anyway--I agree.

To answer your question, someone probably has done a count, but I don't know about it. Many of us think, though, that in big tournaments--at big moments--Williams has repeatedly been the object of enough really bad line calls and umpire passivity to make her situation stand out.

Todd Spiker said...

It was the shaking of the racket at the lineswoman that did it, I think. Even with what she said, if she hadn't pointed the racket at her for emphasis, a lot of the force behind the words might have sort of evaporated (well, almost) as soon as she said them.

Still, even though I know it's probably wrong, a small part of me feels like balling up my fist and saying, "Yeah, you tell her, Serena!" Haha. :D

It's just funny. I mean, who hasn't wanted to say that sort of thing to somebody at some point? :)

Esha Ness said...

"For no one has been the victim of more ridiculous line calls and umpire passivity than Serena Williams."

Ha, I can only assume this is sarcasm!? (or Serena's own words) ;)

I heard she threatened to kill the poor official. Classy.

Further proof (if needed) that SAFINA, not Serena deserves to be number 1 in the world.

Amen, x

Vicki said...

Diane what's happened in past has no relevance here.

Serena abused an umpire and she going to get what she deserves.

Serena must have some idea of the rules and deserved to get the point penalty and then the default. No linesperson should have to put up with being abused like that.

The only person I feel sorry for in all this is Kim.

Anonymous said...

This was a very beautiful match of great intensity and power tennis. Suggesting that Serena was not herself is just crap. Kim had to wait to start the match as well as Serena had to, so no excuses there for Serena. But it was already obvious in the third game of the first set that Serena was slightly frustrated. Maybe she felt that her game didn't went as she wanted to, but most likely she was surprised of the consistent and stronger play of Kim. Kim showed that she is now already and again the real and only number one. To defeat both sisters on the US Open is not something you steal but something you deserve. Kim played throughout the tournament with a serenity and cool calm in which I read that she is more determined to win than ever before. She made a comeback not only because she missed tennis, but also to show that she is serious and that during her first career she really deserved some more GS titles than the one of 2005. All ladies of the WTA tour will have to go to a higher level to stop this reborn Kim Clijsters. The outburst of Serena was unnecessary and just over the limit of acceptance. Why ? Because she knew she could not win this match and then you have to fight and not blame an official who is merely doing her job.
Best regards from a fan of both Kim and the Williams sisters. Play sports, play fair.

Diane said...

"I heard she threatened to kill the poor official."

That is not true, but the news media is busy spreading it.

"Diane what's happened in past has no relevance here."

Vicki, in terms of following the rules and being a sportswoman and showing respect to Kim and to the game and to the fans--of course it doesn't. I was musing on whether this incident was an accident that has been waiting to happen. That's what I do--I look at background, and at the big picture.

Nowhere in the post did I imply that what Serena did was excusable, but--at least to me--history is always relevant, whether we are talking about the economy, song lyrics, or a tennis player who loses control abuses an official.

bill said...

Much insight in this post. I agree with you, Diane - Serena has gotten more than her fair share of bad calls/non-calls through the years. And (with a few exceptions) she's always been a very good sportswoman - I think she's a lot more gracious on the court than she sounds in her press conferences. I too think that she finally just blew up. That's not an excuse, just an explanation.

Watching the broadcast in real time, I thought she might physically go after the lineswoman. I would not like to be in the way of an angry Serena Williams.

a-tennislover said...

First of all, the tape of the "alleged foot fault" was played 2-3 times, and it was noted that THERE WAS NO FOOT FAULT!!! That should have ended the situation right there. Serena should not have continued to yell at the linesperson and she didn't threaten to kill her. The linesperson was INCORRECT and that call should have been corrected. That is true, Serena has been the victim of some highly questionable calls over the years. I have seen all of them, going back to the USO w/ Capriati. I haven't seen Federer, Nadal or Sharapova, or any other top players that come to mind having these types of situations. Serena can have an attitude some times, but she should not be dragged down like this. Why the big deal over a smashed racket? Gonzo did the same thing that morning. No offense to Gonzo, because I like him. And as all tennis fans know, some made a living of smashed rackets, Haas, Safin, etc. And I don't hate them either. She should tell the USO to "kiss her ass", then move on. If I were her, I would be "ill/injured" and not play there in 2010. Hate her or love her, she's got the trophies and the money to back up her game.

Anonymous said...

Serena Williams will be fine Congrats to kim, job well done.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you, Diane. Yes, Serena behaved badly. However, she really has had way more than her share of bad calls. The 2004 US Open was astonishing.

But to stick to this year's Open. What about all the other racket abuse I witnessed? Zvonareva's behavior was really bad and she also thwacked her racket. She was not cited. Why is Serena always cited even for minor stuff? (I don't think she should have been cited for the racket abuse. I do think she should have been for yelling at the lineswoman.)

And the meme going around that this is the worst behaviour by a tennis player ever? Give me a break. As you say Agassi and McEnroe but there are hundreds of players who've had tants on court.


Diane said...

What I think, Justine, is that if Serena had not raised her racquet and started in the direction of the lineswoman, people would not be calling this the worst behavior of all time. When she did that, her behavior did cross the line into assault. However, striking a ball directly at a linesperson is in the same category. Both are inexcusable acts, but they may be perceived differently, probably because of gender.

On the other hand, I'm hearing a lot of people say that Serena's behavior was not over the line, just as many people said Connors' behavior wasn't over the line. I can't speak for other cultures, but the U.S. has a violent culture, and sports is often considered an arena in which violence or inappropriate aggression should be played out without interference.

aaroncrowe said...

That is terrible, why did she do that? I know it might have been a mistake, but com’on…

Dr John Adams said...

> "I heard she threatened to kill the poor official."

That is not true, but the news media is busy spreading it.

QUOTE: 'If I could, I would take this ******* ball and shove it down your ******* throat'

I think that having a tennis ball shoved down your throat would kill most people.

Plus no apology for 2 days... until her sponsors threaten to drop her & the WTA threaten a ban. Hmmm... what a role model.

Disgrace. Should be banned for life.

p.s. I still love Venus though!

palmbend said...

They showed a video of the foot-fault and Serena clearly made a foot-fault so the linesperson was right to make that call.

Serena is a pridefall, spoiled b____ and needs to be severely punished! She is a very poor representation of a "champion."

Congrats to Kim C. who showed us who a real Champion is!


LoneStarNot said...

Part of the entertainment of sport is the "stress fractures", the exceptions. Sometimes the unprecedented earns unanimous cheers, as Federer's no-look, backward, between-the-legs winner has. Sometimes, the car crashes.

Referees and judges -- and if necessary police and EMTs -- keep the worst at bay. Early, consistent, and occasionally severe restraint helps keep a sport from being overshadowed by negative behavior. I'm sure many Britons wish they could convince their futbol fans to restrain themselves ... but that cat's long out of the bag.

Serena will surely take another deep drink of composure from the family that's long been her source and return a bit stronger. Commentators will be even quicker to highlight flaws, but the champ who's seen American crowds cheer for her foreign opponents will surely take that in stride too.

thanh tung said...