GRAND SLAM SAM AND THE WORLD ACCORDING TO WILLIAMS
On the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Australian Samantha Stosur claimed her maiden grand slam title in convincing style but the match will unfortunately be remembered for the antics of her opponent, Serena Williams.
The match was preceded by a moment’s silence, the unfolding and then folding of a court-sized American flag, the waving of a lot of smaller American flags, a parade of military personnel and a performance of the Star-Spangled Banner by Queen Latifa. By the time play was ready to commence, Stosur would have been forgiven for thinking she was an uninvited guest at a 4th of July celebration rather than participating in her second grand slam final.
Before the match the Aussie had announced that she would have to attack her more fancied opponent and she did just that, breaking Williams’s serve twice to take the opening set in 31 minutes.
Whether or not Queen Latifa had stayed to watch the game, by the start of the second set there was little doubt as to the biggest diva in the stadium. Facing a break point in the opening game, Williams hit what looked to be a winner and screamed, “come on”, as the ball sailed over the net.
Although Stosur didn’t make the return – and indeed barely got her racquet to the ball – the chair umpire, Eva Asderaki, ruled that Williams had hindered her opponent and awarded the point to the Australian which gave her the break and the opening game of the second set.
The relevant law, Rule 26, states: “If a player is hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent(s), the player shall win the point”.
As Asderaki explained to Williams, “She touched the ball. The point was not over when you shouted ‘come on’”.
Analysts have since debated whether the ruling was overly harsh on the basis that Stosur was unlikely to have hit the return even if Williams hadn’t shouted, “come on”. There seems little doubt that Williams’s shot would have been a winner regardless of the pre-emptive celebration but the umpire applied the rule correctly.
If umpires were expected to apply Rule 26 only when a player would otherwise have hit the return, it would require a subjective assessment of the circumstances of a particular point and a subjective assessment of the ability of the player involved. It would create a situation whereby a premature “come on” might not be a violation of the rule if the opponent was, for example, John Isner because he was unlikely to cover the ground and make the return but it would be a violation if the opponent was a faster and more mobile player such as Rafael Nadal. And should the umpire also be expected to take into account whether Nadal was carrying an injury and not moving as well as usual on a particular day?
Umpires in grand slam finals should not be expected to provide such subjective judgments on players any more than umpires in the lower levels of tennis should be expected to know the abilities of every player they officiate.
The interests of good sportsmanship should be reason enough for the rule to be applied strictly.
While many will continue to argue that Asderaki ruled incorrectly, what hasn’t been the topic of debate is Williams’s reaction. Rather than accept the umpire’s decision and explanation, the 13-time grand slam winner responded, “Are you the one that screwed me over last time here? Yeah you are. You have it out for me and I promise you that’s not cool.”
After winning the next two games, Williams used the change of ends to continue berating Asderaki and told her, “if you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way ’cause you’re outta control. You’re outta control.”
In what must surely be one of the greatest examples of hypocrisy in sporting history, Williams then told Asderaki, “you’re totally out of control, you’re a hater and you’re unattractive inside.” If evidencing a McEnroe-esque temper and complete disregard for the official wasn’t enough, Williams also proved she also has a very short memory and with a straight face added, “Who would do such a thing? And I never complain”.
Channelling Chaz Reinhold in The Wedding Crashers Williams continued, “Wow! What a loser!”
Having suitably insulted Asderaki, Williams decided it was time to move onto bigger matters and gave the Greek umpire a reminder about her civil rights with a geography tutorial thrown in at no extra charge: “A code violation ’cause I express who I am. We’re in America last I checked.”
If being in America is the reason Williams believes she can “express” herself without censure, one can only assume she’s referring to the rights afforded by the first amendment to the US constitution.
Reconciling the Bill of Rights with the rules of a game might be an appropriate mental sandwich for a first year law class to ponder but this is a game that Williams has been playing for 25 years. Why has she waited until her 17th grand slam final to utilise the US constitution to usurp the rules of tennis?
On the basis of her comment, one can only assume that Williams has given the matter due thought and decided that the rules of tennis are indeed subservient to her freedom of speech; a freedom that so many Americans seem to think they enjoy to the exclusion of other nations. Presumably, therefore, Williams wouldn’t have had any objections if she’d found herself serving for the match and her opponent had chosen to express herself by screaming, “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oye Oye Oye”.
Or does the freedom of expression only apply to Americans? In The World According to Williams, does the rest of the world have to follow the rules of the game while Andy Roddick (not that the rightly-respected Mr Roddick would so such a thing) can scream, “U-S-A, U-S-A”, just as an opponent is about to hit an overhead smash? If so, surely the likes of Sampras, Agassi and Chang would be riddled with regret to learn that they could have spent their careers yelling, “yo dude, good luck with that one”, after hitting a forehand winner down the line.
And let us not forget the other rights bestowed by the first amendment which in The World According to Williams would surely also be used to their full extent and in other tournaments on US soil. Who wouldn’t have tuned in to the 2005 Indian Wells Masters final if they thought there was a chance that Lindsay Davenport would be exercising her first amendment right to free assembly and staging a sit-in on her opponent’s baseline.
Not since Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski cited the Supreme Court in defence of shouting expletives in a restaurant has America’s much-vaunted right to free speech been so trivialised and personalised as it was by Williams in Sunday’s US Open final.
The rights afforded to individuals by the US constitution are extensive and the possibilities for applying them to the tennis court are endless. It’s an exciting time for those living in The World According to Williams.
Back on the court, a composed and dignified Stosur was able to ignore her opponent’s antics, held serve and broke twice to win the match in 1 hour 13 minutes. In doing so Samantha Stosur became the first Australian woman to win the US Open since Margaret Court in 1973 and her victory will have been celebrated by all but the most fervent American supporters.
Williams is currently on probation at all grand slam events following a suspended ban from the US Open for her outburst two years ago and it remains to be seen whether she will face further punishment for her latest violation. Regardless of official sanctions, she continues to do everything in her power to ensure she is remembered for her unsportsmanlike behaviour rather than her unquestionable talents.