Let’s get right to the point. Serena Williams should be fined heavily and suspended for a while from the pro tennis tour.
Let’s see what kind of guts the normally soft-on-discipline sport of tennis has this time. If she were an Oregon football player, she’d be out for the season.
If you saw it on television, you know what happened, you know that she made a fool out of herself Saturday night in an ugly incident at the U.S. Open. If you didn’t see it, we’ll confirm it:
Serena Williams made a fool out of herself Saturday night in an ugly incident at the U.S. Open.
The quick details are:
* She was given a point penalty on match point, which meant she lost her semifinal to Kim Clijsters, 6-4, 7-5.
* She was given the point penalty because, after a linesperson called a foot fault on her first serve at 15-40, she went over to the linesperson, shook her fist at her, and from just several feet away, said, according to several witnesses courtside, “You don’t know me. You better be right. I could shove this ball down your throat.” Interspersed with this were several F-bombs.
* The lineswoman was called to the chair umpire to report what had been said. The chair umpire had given Williams a warning/code violation at the end of the first set, when Williams smashed her racket to the court and broke it. That is a routine call for chair umpires. A second violation called from the chair is loss of a point, a third loss of the match. Williams’ second violation was on match point.
* The point violation was assessed after a conference around the umpire’s chair that included chair umpire Louise Engzell, tournament referee Brian Earley, the unidentified lineswoman and Williams. During that confab, Williams was overheard on TV microphones as denying she had threatened to kill the lineswoman.
Quickly, Williams was tossing her racket on her bag and walking to the back of the court, where a confused Clijsters spread her palms open as if to say, “What’s going on?” and then accepted Williams’ handshake and short hug.
Since the days of John McEnroe and maybe Ilie Nastase, there hasn’t been much of this in tennis. This might have gone well beyond those days in severity.
It was on network television, in one of the most-anticipated matches of the entire tournament. Millions watched.
It went well beyond the McEnroe tirade stage into body language and direct verbiage that was threatening and ugly.
It was an embarrassment to a sport that has made good strides recently in expanding its niche. The U.S Tennis Assn. loves to talk about its “grass-roots” programs, geared to getting rackets into young players’ hands. Now those young hands have a role model for racket-smashing and bad language.
As bad as this incident was, leaving a three-quarters-filled Arthur Ashe Stadium in near stunned silence, worse was Williams’ handling of the aftermath in a news conference. There, she had a chance to apologize, or maybe even fake some remorse. She did neither.
Instead, we got the usual, phony, sing-songy deflections and silly answers -- all done with a big smile, as if she had just won, 6-0, 6-0.
Question: What did you say?
Answer: What did I say? You didn’t hear? Oh.
Q. Do you think the lineswoman had any reason to feel threatened. Apparently she says she felt threatened?
A. She says she felt threatened. She said this to you?
Q. I’m just repeating what has been said that she told the chair umpire.
A. Well, I’ve never been in a fight in my whole life, so I don’t know why she would be threatened.
Q. Do you regret losing your temper both after the first set and after the foot fault?
A. I haven’t really thought about it to have any regrets. I try to -- I’ve done -- you know, I try to not live my life saying, I wish, I wish. But, you know, I was out there and fought and I tried and I did my best.
Q. You’ve always prided yourself on being an extremely forthright player, and with us here in the press room. Could you tell us what you said on the court, please?
A. I don’t think that’s necessary for me to speak about that. I’ve let it go, and I’m trying to better -- to, you know, to get -- to move on.
Q. Do you think the lineswoman deserves an apology?
A. An apology for?
Q. From you.
A. From me?
Q. Would you be interested to see if you actually foot faulted?
A. I’m pretty sure I did. If she called a foot fault, she must have seen a foot fault. I mean, she was doing her job. I’m not going to knock her for not doing her job.
The public that watched this ugly farce will be watching closely now. It will see if tennis pretends that this somehow wasn’t as outrageous as it clearly was, and that it didn’t wipe out years of image-building in the sport.
If it goes without being addressed, then tennis is just telling us it cares only about our ticket money and us in front of the television set, but not our respect, loyalty or admiration.
Best guess? Tennis will pretend this was all a Las Vegas card game and let it ride.