Serena Williams leaves with little glory

Sep 13, 2009

Serena Blew Up

That has to be the oddest end to a semi-finals match I have seen. My fingers were simply itching to type, it’s killed me having to leave it this long to write about the utter bewildering end to the Serena Williams vs. Kim Cljisters (if anyone is interested, the reason I couldn’t blog immediately was a blown charger and a dead laptop. Honestly, technology).

What on earth happened to the world no. 2 is the question everyone who has heard the news is asking.

No-one is immune from letting their temper get a hold of them from time to time, but you always assume professionalism stops a tennis player from getting in that sort of state on the court.

If anyone hasn’t heard what exactly went on, then here is what I have surmised from reports. It was 15-30 on the last set, Serena being the one flailing and Clijsters about to take a place in the finals. The 15-30 score had come as a conclusion of a foot fault called by the judge. Serena picked herself up and moved on. And promptly was called out for another foot fault.

Serena then turned to – quite rightfully, some would say – argue the point with the line judge. But it was obvious that this wasn’t just any argument over a call. Maybe Serena forgot that she is quite a tall and imposing woman; maybe she forgot to take the tone out of her voice as she tried to argue her case. In my experience, it is those two things that can get you in trouble even when you don’t necessarily intend to act aggressively.

The next minute, the line judge went to talk to the umpire. What followed was a four-way conversation that included Serena crying: “I didn’t say I would kill you. Are you serious?”


Other reports say people clearly heard her threatening to shove a ball down the line judges throat.

If the latter remark was actually said, then it’s not surprising that moments later, Serena was issued with a penalty point. Seeing as she was now on match point, that was it. Game over. Match over. Serena’s run at the US Open over.

I mentioned earlier that we assume professionalism should stop a tennis player from blowing up at an official. But, as we all know, that is a load of bull. As well as being a great tennis player, part of John McEnroe’s legacy is arguing with umpires and throwing his racket around the court.

Everybody has had an argument with an umpire at some point in his or her career. Even Roger Federer has had a barny or too, although of course that is now long behind him. Like Roger, with most players you have to look back to their teenage years to find their most shocking misdemeanours. The passion of youth, I suppose.

And does the punishment fit the crime? Looking at the rules, then yes it does. Williams had already been given a warning after smashing her racket on the floor, so the next course of action, if she were to break the rules again, is a penalty point.

If it wasn’t the match point of a semi-final Serena was on her way to losing, I imagine the answer would be certainly yes. But since double-standards doesn’t really have a place in sport, it doesn’t really matter what point Serena was on. She blew up at a line judge, an official who is doing her job. Under the unsportsmanlike code of conduct, that deserves a penalty point. Surely it shouldn’t matter that it meant the win or loss of a game?

One last question that I think needs to be considered, is the difference between blowing a gasket at the line judge, and doing the same with an umpire. Players often argue a point with a line judge, and have had warnings for swearing whilst doing so.

But it appears to be a horrific faux-pas to yell at a line judge.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the height difference. Sounds silly I know, and feel free to disagree, but think about it. An umpire, perched highly on the chair, has a feeling of being ‘safe’ from anything going on below, bar a player attacking the legs of the chair with a chain saw. A player talks up to you, yells at you from below (even the big guys like del Potro and Cilic). You talk down to them, you have the rule book, you have the authority. You’re less likely to feel threatened, as you are in control.

A line judge, however, stands at eye level, or below. To have a player towering over you must seem quite scary, particularly if they have a tennis racket in their hand and they’ve just spent the last hour or so demonstrating that they know how to use it.

I think it’s probably that simple. If Serena had lost it at the umpire, it may have only come to a stern warning. But she towered over a line judge. We’ve all got the fight or flight instinct, we all want to protect ourselves. The line judge felt threatened, more so than an umpire would have.

You could almost say, Serena’s mistake was choosing the wrong person to yell at.

Still, there are some really damning accounts coming out from what people apparently heard. If she did truly say the things she has been reported to have said, then she would have deserved a penalty point regardless of who she said it to.

Serena claims she is young and has learnt from the experience. I fear it is a flimsy excuse to cover herself in a situation that, even she has to admit, got out of her control. She isn’t gaining any brownie points from her post-match interview, and if anyone sees or reads it you will know why.

I also fear that this will never leave her. Not the sort of career defining moment you’d like, is it?

All credit to Clijsters for a brilliant match. Unfortunately, it has been overshadowed rather.



- SophieG

Written by: SophieG

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