Monday, September 14, 2009


I expect that by now even people who don't follow tennis have heard about Serena William's tirade that handed a point -- matchpoint, specifically -- to Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open in their semi-final match over the weekend. This site has a good recap with transcripts (to the extent a transcript can be generated from the available video).

Here's the key portion of tirade, directed at a LINE JUDGE, from an angle where you can read Serena's lips at least in spots:

Serena swears to God she can or will "take this [f***ing or m*f***ing] ball and shove it" somewhere in the linesperson's f***ing anatomy. It's been reported she said "down your throat". The words conveyed a physical threat, and the words were amplified by her pointing a racquet aggressively at the line judge while stomping toward her.

Michael Kimmel, writing at HuffPo, claims that the line judge was intimidated, or the umpire and referee interpretted Serena's behavior as intimidating, because Serena is a large black woman. He blames it on a mix of racism and sexism. He says that McEnroe and Connors displayed similar behavior and got away with it. Uh, no. No they did not, as far as I remember. I wasn't following tennis when they played, but I've seen the clips of their tantrums. They swore. They yelled at the CHAIR UMPIRE (big difference). But I haven't seen a single incidence of them threatening physical harm to anyone, let alone a line judge.

Kimmel would have a point if Serena's behavior had been on par with McEnroe's and if more serious consequences were meted out for her than they were for him. But those aren't the facts here. Serena's behavior was worse than McEnroe's and it was the worst on-court behavior I've ever seen from a tennis player. It was absolutely a rule violation. Since she'd received a warning earlier for breaking a racquet, this second violation carried a mandatory point penalty. It's Serena's fault this happened. Serena is not a victim here. The $10k fine is completely appropriate.

The most unfortunate thing about the incident is that Clijsters was robbed of the opportunity to win the match of her own volition. She had it in hand, had played a beautiful match, and deserved to get that win without the point penalty.

It was, by the way, a foot fault called by the line judge that started the episode and I say that if the line judge clearly saw a foot fault, she ought to call it, no matter where in the match it occurred and no matter the color or gender of the player. It would not, however, be right for a line judge to selectively call foot faults.

Serena has issued two statements about the incident. The first did not contain an apology but the second did. Though she typically gives her god Jehovah credit for her tennis wins, she did not credit her god Jehovah for making the tirade possible.


love johnson said...

I love Johnny Mac, but I have to disagree with a comment he made the day after when they went over and over this incident. He kept saying that in that situation, the lines person should never have called a foot fault. He never elaborated on that statement; I wanted him to clarify whether he meant (1) because it meant it was match point or (2) because it was Serena. In either case, I totally disagree with him. It shouldn't matter who the player is nor at what point in the match it occurs. Now, if you want to argue whether or not it was a foot fault - that I do agree with. I've seen several angles and I can't really tell. I think the lines person judgment can be questioned about that - everything that happened after that was Serena's fault and the rules of tennis, which were followed. The lines person only repeated what was said to her when asked by the chair umpire and then by the match referee.

I don't think this is the worse outburst by a player. Connors, McEnroe and Nastase were all extremely volatile and did and said much worse than Serena.

Stephanie said...

What did they do/say that was comparable?

The foot fault call didn't give away the match point, btw. It was the point penalty (after the lost point on the foot fault which occurred on a second serve) that was matchpoint. But I agree it should be called regardless of player/place in the match, as long as the line judge saw it clearly and was consistent in calling through the match.