As with all tennis meltdowns, it was pretty ugly. But it was resolved the right way, according to the rules. Williams, who had already abused a racket during her straight-set loss to Kim Clijsters, was penalized a point for lousy sportsmanship. It turned out to be match point, and that was the end of business for both players.
Afterward, the U.S. Open fined Williams $10,000 for her outburst and tacked on $500 for breaking her racket. It’s not much of a fine for one as well-financed as Williams, but that’s the maximum allowed.
It should be enough. Some may disagree.
There is a call coming from those for whom no penalty short of lifetime banishment followed by dismemberment is ever enough for any misbehaving athlete. Williams didn’t just behave badly, they are saying, she threatened an official and should be suspended — at a minimum. It appears, the call has been heard at the highest levels of tennis.
On Sunday, a day after Serena’s display of ill manners, someone called the Grand Slam Committee Administrator (Who knew such a creature exists?) announced that an investigation has been launched to determine whether Williams’ behavior was heinous enough to qualify as something called a “major offense” and therefore worthy of additional sanctions.
I’ll let the committee administrator do his or her thing, but can we try to be reasonable about this? Yes, Serena did use some coarse adjectives when she told a line judge, “If I could, I would take this ... ball and shove it down your ... throat.” But she’s adamant about not threatening anyone’s life. And she admits she lost it — big time.
Williams suffered the ultimate penalty — the point she lost for her behavior was match point. She was already down a set and had less chance of beating Kim Clijsters than CC Sabathia does of winning the Boston Marathon, but she lost even that tiny chance of staging a comeback for the ages.
As bad as the outburst was, it was mild by the standards established years ago first by Connors and refined by the inimitable McEnroe. Connors was, quite simply, crude and vile to officials. What McEnroe lacked in crudity, he made up for in sheer mania.
It’s interesting that McEnroe, who was doing color on the broadcast, thought the whole affair was the line judge’s fault. The offending woman, he said, should not have called a foot fault on match point.
McEnroe is hardly the person to be lecturing anyone about how to apply the rules. He’s the one who made forfeited points necessary. The least he can do is admit that the game does hold to a remarkably high standard considering the intensity of the matches and the competitive instincts of the athletes. He might also point out that the officials cut the players every inch of slack they can.
Rafael Nadal is currently ranked fourth in the world, but has had a dominant run lately as he has won seven of the last eight French Open titles. Mary Carrillo thinks we’re in store for a Nadal-Djokovic final.
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