Composure. Joe Wilson lost it Wednesday night. And now Defending U.S. Open Champion Serena Williams lost it Saturday night en route to her highly favored fourth U.S. Open Championship.
I'm a longtime fan of both Williams' sisters. I've covered tennis tournaments in the past and have seen them up close and personal. Venus (29) and Serena (27) are dominant legends in women's tennis. This year's U.S. Open was unusual with all the media hype surrounding other unseeded women in the draw: the Georgian Peach Melanie Oudin and the Comeback Mom Kim Clijsters.
Serena and Venus weren't featured narratives of the women's draw, though always a threat to win. And after sister Venus was taken out by Kim, it was Serena's tournament to win. All she had was a determined mom with a mission in her way to the final.
Any tennis fan who patiently waited through Saturday rain delays saw a bizarre and abrupt ending to a competitive second set between Williams and Belgian Kim Clijsters.
Williams had not dropped a set all tournament. She was on cruise control and seemingly unbeatable. A T-Shirt she wore earlier this week said it all: "Can't Spell Dynasty Without Nasty." But that shirt cast its own spell. In this semifinal Serena's second serve win percentage was neither nasty nor nice. She was winning just 32% of her second serves to Kim's 72%. That was the match difference in a nutshell, or at least we thought so.
Clijsters won the first set 6-4 and was on the brink of reaching the U.S. Open finals when Serena was called for a foot fault that put her down 15-40. Initial replays did not show a clear violation. [Update: A closer examination showed it was.] The timing of what seemed a questionable call, combined with Serena's inconsistent play, put her over the edge.
Serena walked over to the lineswoman and cursed her out along with pointing and raising her racket. Serena had already been penalized for smashing her racket after losing the first set. A second code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct would award another point to Kim and end the match.
Serena's shouting down continued for a second go-round until the lineswoman was asked by the chair umpire to come over and report what Serena said. Tournament referee Brian Earley soon appeared and called a match win by default.
Clijsters won 6-4, 7-5, but she appeared shocked by the stop in play.
Serena came over to Kim's side of the court and shook her hand, explaining that she was sorry and it wasn't Kim's fault. In a post-match press conference, Serena said she wished to put the whole incident behind her. When asked, she wisely did not repeat the words used against the lineswoman.
It didn't matter if she repeated the words or not. The microphones placed around the court recorded them clearly. CBS Sports replayed the incident and replaced her profanity with beeps in the second showing.
Serena Williams just released her Simon and Schuster autobiography, Queen of the Court. Her behavior at Arthur Ashe Stadium was not befitting of tennis royalty.
Dr. Nancy Snow teaches communications in the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
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