After her outbursts at the U.S. Open led to point violations cost her the semifinals against opponent Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams now faces a more daunting punishment: the judgment of the tennis world and the viewing public.
Williams defended her actions at a press conference following the match, stating, "I've never been in a fight in my whole life, so I don't know why [the lineperson] would have felt threatened. I didn't threaten. I didn't say ... I don't remember anymore to be honest. I was in the moment." According to Sports Illustrated, it appears, from the tapes, that Williams said "I swear to God, I'm [bleep] taking this ball and I'm shoving it down your [bleep] throat," to said linesperson, which may account for why she felt a bit threatened.
While Williams hasn't received any further punishments from the United States Tennis Association at this point, Bill Dywre of the LA Times says she should, noting that Williams' behavior "went well beyond the McEnroe tirade stage into body language and direct verbiage that was threatening and ugly." I'm not sure I agree with this particular assessment: McEnroe's tirades were just as "threatening and ugly," and to claim that Williams' behavior went "well beyond" such outbursts is a bit unfair.
Lynn Zinser of the New York Times notes that further punishment for Williams may be decided soon, as she and her sister, Venus, are set to play in the doubles finals of the tournament on Monday. "One of the possible decisions by the U.S.T.A. could be to suspend Serena for the remainder of this tournament," Zinser writes, "costing the Williams sisters their chance at a doubles title. The other options for the U.S.T.A. or W.T.A. would be a fine or a suspension that would not kick in until after this tournament ends."
But perhaps the worst punishment of all will come from tennis fans, who are now faced with the task of separating one of America's top players from the behavior they witnessed on the court late last night. No matter what Williams does following this incident, as George Vecsey writes in the Times, "in this age of instant video, Williams is going to have to live with the image of her waving a ball and profanely threatening to shove it down the line official's throat."
Our commenters are split on the issue, with half of our readers firmly asserting that Williams was properly punished for unsportsmanlike-conduct, and the other half claiming that the entire incident was blown out of proportion, due to Williams' race. Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News, who called the incident "very sad," notes that Williams is already being cast as a villain to Clijsters heroine: "There were fascinating elements to this match, though most of them were lost in the chaos. It might have been constructive to debunk the traditional, sexist perceptions about Clijsters and the Williams sisters. We condemn Serena and Venus for juggling business interests, while applauding Clijsters for quitting the game completely to have a baby."
Though the story will surely unfold over the next few weeks, with Williams, the officials, and the sport of tennis in the spotlight for reasons none of them hoped to be, we can all agree, at least, with Kim Clijsters' assessment of the match and how it ended: "You know, we always got along well, and I think it's just unfortunate that a battle like that has to end like that. Just unfortunate."
Serena Williams Exit From US Open Semifinal Match Is No Cause To Cheer [NYDN]
Tantrum Doesn't Come At Clijsters' Expense [NYTimes]
Possible Repercussions For Serena Williams [NYTimes]
Serena Williams Makes A Fool Of Herself And Deserves Punishment [LATimes]
John McEnroe Goes Ballistic At Umpire [YouTube]
Serena Williams' Meltdown Abruptly Ends U.S. Open Semifinal [SI]