Sunday, September 13, 2009

Serena William's 2009 US Open Foot Fault

This is, so far, the best story I've found on Serena William's US Open foot fault incident. The foot fault call had suspicious timing. I play tennis and we all pretty much do the same thing on every serve. If Serena did have a foot fault it is highly unlikely that the first one came at match point. So why call that foot fault on that particular serve? Serena's anger was justified but there is no way to excuse the way she expressed it. If the tournament officials had let her get away with that tantrum they would have been accused of showing favoritism to a celebrity.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, let me catch you up. Serena Williams was playing Kim Clijsters in the 2009 US Open tournament in New York. Clijsters had won the first set 6-4 and was leading the second set 6-5 but Serena was serving at 15-30. Which means that Clijsters needed 2 ponts to win the match and Serena needed 4 points to stay in and go to a tie break. As Serena was serving, a line judge, a small asian woman, called a foot fault on Serena's second serve. This means that Serena Williams, a woman with 31 aces, more than any woman in the whole tournament, the next being her opponent Clijsters who had 14, had double-faulted due to a foot fault call. Serena lost her temper, walked towards the judge lifting a tennis ball in her fist and reportedly saying "I am going to shove this*** ball down your *** throat." I watched the match on TV and couldn't hear it. But whatever she said, she kept talking and lifted her racket club-like at the woman, using it to make her point.

Afterward Serena turned around to continue serving and the woman got up and walked over to the chair umpire's desk and told the chair umpire her version of what had just happened. The Chair umpire called out the tournament supervisor and the referee and they met with Serena at the side of the court. During that meeting you could hear Serena clearly say "Are you scared because I said I was going to hit you? I'm sorry." And later she said "I did not say I was going to kill her!" She was visibly shocked that the woman had felt threatened by her.

Should Serena apologize? The answer is clearly yes she should for making someone feel threatened. I am worried about Serena. I wonder if the whispers and questions about her size may actually be cause for concern. Does she want it bad enough to use performance enhancing drugs? I don't know. I saw her in an earlier inteview after a different match and I noticed that she was moving her facial muscles erratically. I remember thinking "Wow, that must be all that residual tension releasing. She must have been really holding herself in and controlling herself to now lose control and start making so many faces like that." It was really odd. But to see her come uncoiled on the court, I felt so badly for her because I knew that later when she calmed down she would regret those moments.
If I were Serena I would use this experience consructively to do for foot faults what John McEnroe and shot spot did for bad ball calls. We know they happen. Help implement a system to challenge them. She has the resources to obtain every tape and video camera footage of that moment that she can get her hands on and have it all reviewed. I don't know for sure what it would show but probably something along the lines of numerous foot faults happening on both sides of the court by both players. That could be a driving force to remove a bit more of the human bias out of the judging system. This issue has existed for a long time. It needs to be settled once and for all and Serena is just the woman to do it. Then she can go down in history not as the "angry black woman" stereotype who lost it in a major tournament, but as the woman who took control of a situation that has plagued too many for too long and she finally set it right.
***Originally I had the actual swear words in this post, but have removed them because they offended some people who are very important to me. As humans, we all sometimes say things we wish we hadn't and, if people are kind, they will forget those things and let us be judged by how we treat people the other 99.9% of our lives when we are kind and generous and humane. It's not fair to freeze our worst moments in time.

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