September 15, 2009


Double Standard for Serena Williams (Dave Zirin, September 15, 2009, The Nation)

A top-ranked tennis player in a moment of rage cursed out a judge and shocked the world, headlining every sports and news program from ESPN to MSNBC. Meanwhile, another champion tennis player hurled expletives at a judge and the media barely yawned. While the tennis world still reels from Serena Williams's f-bomb-laced tirade against a line judge on September 12, the "classy" Roger Federer pulled a similar tantrum two days later and didn't get half as much coverage.

In US Open finals on September 14, Federer lost in five sets to the previously unheralded Juan Martín del Potro. In a tense third set, after a challenge by del Potro, Federer became infuriated with the line judge. After the judge told Federer to settle down, he said, "Don't tell me to be quiet, OK? I don't give a [expletive] what [del Potro] said, OK?" The 6-foot-6 power-serving Argentinean frustrated Federer throughout, and the favored player lost his famous cool. But after the match, there were no press conference apologies from Federer. And there were no calls for him to be suspended, fined or sanctioned. This despite the fact that his profanity was directed toward del Potro, a serious breach in tennis etiquette.

Williams without question lost control as well. After being called for a critical foot fault in her semifinal match against Kim Clijsters, she said to the line judge, "If I could, I would take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat." The foot fault was a terrible call, and it cost Williams the match. After her rant, she was given a point penalty, and the match was effectively over as Clijsters looked on in a state of bewilderment. It's worth mentioning that the call by the line judge was the equivalent of calling a technical foul in Game 7 of the NBA finals with the score tied in the closing seconds.

Saturday Night Fever: A Tense Scene on Ashe (Tom Perrotta, 9/13/09,
Let's start with something every tennis player can agree on: Foot faults are pathetic calls.

The point of the foot fault rule, of course, is to prevent the server from gaining an unfair advantage by striking the ball closer to the net. For recreational players, it can be an important rule, but it's difficult to enforce since there are no line judges. In the pro game, the foot fault is a harmless sin. When pros foot fault, they do it by fractions of inches, distances so small that no unfair advantage is gained. And they do it by accident. No pro polishes a service motion over two dozen years and then decides, in a moment of duress, "I'm going to sneak in for this ace and hope no one catches me!" Marat Safin put it best at last year's U.S. Open, when a foot fault sent him into a tizzy.

[It] doesn't help me to serve better," Safin said. "It's stupid rules that somebody made in, I don't know, 1850, and now they give me the problems with these things." [...]

Williams had every right to be angry, because this was an awful, foolish, atrocious, silly call. Clijsters had played so well, so intelligently, and she didn't need any help earning a match point. The small crowd assembled inside Arthur Ashe Stadium endured a day of rain, as did fans watching on television at home. Lots of money—and a lot more pride—was on the line, and as replays showed, this was hardly an egregious foot fault, if it was even a foot fault at all. There's a difference between being a conscientious official and being officious, and this lineswoman certainly crossed that line. She inserted herself into a match that should have been decided—frankly, that was moments away from being decided—by two first-rate athletes. People pay to see athletes, not a lineswoman. [...]

Of course, other players have said worse, or at least equally nasty, words and not received even a warning. Just yesterday afternoon we were treated, for what must be the millionth time, to Jimmy Connors versus Aaron Krickstein in 1991. These were among Connors' choice words for umpire David Littlefield on that day. "Kiss me before you do that to me." "You're a bum." "You're an abortion." Connors got away with it. By that standard, one might reasonably conclude, Williams was robbed.

Only a [what Van Jones calls Republicans] calls a foot fault. Serena should have shoved the ball down the linesman's throat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 15, 2009 4:32 PM
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