Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 5:26 AM

Serena snaps; Kim Clijsters triumphs at US Open

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Saturday’s semifinal match between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters of Belgium was billed as little more than a tune-up for Serena’s berth into the championship final.  Because everyone thought that the clock was about to strike midnight on Kim’s fairytale comeback – after taking two years off to have a baby.

But after the first few games, it became clear that un-ranked Kim would prove far more formidable than anybody anticipated.  Because she was not only matching top-ranked Serena’s much vaunted power, but Kim was also executing plays with intelligence and finesse that simply bedeviled her.

In fact, Kim won the first set 6-4 and was continuing to dominate her in the second set when Serena snapped.

Specifically, Serena was trailing 5-6 and serving down 15-30 (with Kim just two points away from the upset of the tournament) when a line judge called a foot fault on her second serve. This gave Kim a 15-40 lead with two break opportunities to win the game, set and match.

However, instead of channeling her grit and passion on fighting Kim to save serve, Serena took out her frustrations on the judge – complete with a profanity-lace verbal assault that included this qualified threat:

I swear to God, if I could, I would take this f***king ball and shove it down your f***king throat… Do you hear me!

Frankly, after overcoming the shock and dismay of watching her go gangsta in front of a worldwide audience, I couldn’t help thinking that “the lady doth protest too much…”. And, ironically, her reaction made the inaccuracy (and poor timing) of the judge’s call totally irrelevant.

I should note here that I have commented with unbridled (racial) pride on the class and sportsmanship Serena and her sister Venus usually display – whether reveling in the thrill of victory or wallowing in the agony of defeat. And I can certainly appreciate that Serena’s emotional intensity fuels much of her success on the court.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying that her outburst reeked of the kind of menacing thuggery that I thought these sisters left behind decades ago in Compton, California, where they grew up. (You can take the girl out of the hood, but you can’t take the hood out of the girl, eh?)

Then, when asked at the post-match conference if she felt she owed the judge an apology, Serena hardly redeemed herself by giving this clueless and indignant response:

An apology for?  From me? How many people yell at linespeople? Players, athletes get frustrated….

She’s right of course. But not even the notorious John McEnroe ever hurled profanities like a drunken sailor and threatened a judge with bodily harm.  This is why I think it was the looming spectacle of losing to Kim – who was just one month out of retirement – that simply caused her to snap. 

Meanwhile, it smacks of a craven attempt to preserve her commercial endorsements that Serena and her PR team are now embarked on an curious attempt to defend her outburst (as heat-of-the-moment passion) while at the same time apologizing for it. Unfortunately, the damage to her reputation has already been done. 

Moreover, the USTA is reportedly considering additional penalties, including suspension, on top of the relatively paltry $10,500 she’s been fined so far; and rightly so.  This despite the fact that Serena’s tirade has generated millions in free publicity for this erstwhile genteel sport….

Incidentally, am I the only one who thinks that, if that line judge had been a man or a black woman instead of a diminutive, docile-looking Asian woman, Serena would not have perpetrated that obscene and threatening assault…?  This just exacerbates my contempt for her behavior.

At any rate, such was the media’s interest in Serena’s histrionics that Kim’s dramatic victory went virtually unreported. 

But Kim proved that she was the more deserving putative champion by going on to win a straight-set victory 7-5, 6-3 over Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark on Sunday.  And in doing so, she became the first unranked player to win the US Open and the first mother to win a Grand Slam championship in almost 30 years.

NOTE:  Yesterday, in a feat that actually exceeded Kim’s, relatively unknown, 20-year-old Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina upset prohibitive favorite Roger Federer, the defending five-time champion, to win the men’s final 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.

But with all of the drama still swirling around the women’s event, I doubt there’ll be much media interest in featuring Del Potro as the new face of men’s tennis … just yet.

Related commentary:
Serena and Federer triumph at Wimbledon

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