Stepping Over The Line: Serena Implodes In Stunning Loss
By Richard Pagliaro of Tennisweek.com
A long, rainy day's journey into night came to a bizarre and controversial conclusion as Serena Williams stepped over the line — and talked her way out of the US Open semifinal in a stormy, stunning sequence of self-destruction from one of the best pressure players in the sport. In a shocking turn of events, the defending US Open champion was hit with a controversial — and questionable — foot fault call serving a second serve at 5-6, 15-30 in the second set. The call gave Kim Clijsters a match point and enraged Williams. Approaching the lineswoman who made the call, a seething Serena screamed profanity at her while while gesturing with her Wilson racquet. Williams paused, then turned and pointed at the lineswoman while again shouting at her.
The lineswoman, who the USTA has not yet identified, reported Williams' words to chair umpire Louise Engzell, who conferred with tournament referee Brian Earley before hitting Williams with an unsportsmanlike conduct point penalty. That point penalty, coming on match point, ended the match giving Clijsters a 6-4, 7-5 victory and leaving many fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium sitting in stunned silence and Clijsters herself staring straight ahead in disbelief as if she did not want the match to end on that sour note. "It's unfortunate that a match I was playing so well had to end that way," said Clijsters. "At this point I'm still a little confused about what happened out there just because I was so focused. Just trying to win that last point for me. So then things ended up ending a little bit different than I expected."
The second-seeded Williams declined to clarify exactly what she said to incur the point penalty (she appeared to use the F-word) and offered no excuse or apology in the post-match press conference. Williams, who was so calm in discussing the match afterward it was as if she had dissasociated herself from her actions, conceded she may have committed the foot fault. "I'm pretty sure I did," Williams said. "If she called a foot fault then 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." It was the second time Williams was hit with a foot fault in the match and though it's absolutely mind-boggling a linesperson would call a foot fault at that critical stage of the match — particularly when replay offered inconclusive evidence on whether Williams' left, lead foot actually touched the baseline — the 11-time Grand Slam champion's angry outburst was so severe, Williams herself appeared to immediately realize she had talked herself right out of the Open.
"I didn't threaten. I don't remember anymore, to be honest. I was in the moment," Williams said when asked exactly what she said. An on-court microphone picked up Williams saying to the lineswoman "I didn't say I would kill you! Are you serious?" "I think she said I would kill you and I was like 'What?' I was like 'What a minute,' " Williams said. "She was like 'No, I didn't say that.' She said something else. I said 'Oh, okay. I get it.' And I was totally fine because at that point I realized I got a point penalty and it was match point. What can I do? I'm not going to complain. It was what it was." The victory vaults Clijsters into Sunday's 9 p.m. US Open final against ninth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, who beat Yanina Wickmayer, 6-3, 6-3, in the other semifinal played before a sparse crowd of less than 500 people in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
It has been a remarkable U.S. Open run for Clijsters, who took a 27-month sabbatical from the sport to get married and give birth to a daughter, Jada Ellie Lynch. Only six players have beaten both Williams sisters at the same tournament and tonight Clijsters, who outdueled Venus Williams, 6-0, 0-6, 6-4 in the fourth round, became the only woman to beat both sisters in a tournament twice. "I never really expected to be beating Venus and beating Serena," Clijsters said. In a highly-anticipated clash of US Open champions, Williams had owned Clijsters in winning seven of their eight matches. But Clijsters, whose lone win over Williams came seven years ago, burst out of the blocks striking the ball with complete conviction. The depth of her drives often pushed Williams behind the baseline and forced her to hit off her back foot.
Seemingly surprised by the depth and pace of Clijsters shots and seeing even some of her best shots come back with interest, Williams pulled the trigger prematurely at times in the first set and impatience cost her. Williams made successive backhand errors to drop serve and fall behind 2-4. The backhand is typically Williams' most reliable groundstroke, that the backhand betrayed her in the opening set as she committed 11 backhand errors compared to one for Clijsters. Father Richard Williams, sitting in the fourth row, held both palms out in a "calm down" gesture directed at his daughter. Williams relaxed her arm and ripped a series of returns to earn triple break point in the seventh game. Clijsters staved off three break points but on the fourth, Williams race up to a net cord shot and reifled a forehand winner down the line to break back for 3-4. A 115 mph serve down the middle followed by a forehand winner evened the set at 4-all.
Clijsters responded with a love hold for 5-4 and when Williams won the opening two points of the 10th game she seemed on course to level the set. But she tightened and Clijsters connected on a forehand winner for 30-all before Williams committed consecutive forehand errors to drop the set. Williams, who cursed at herself in frustration in the opening set, was hit with a code violation warning after banging her racquet to the court when she blew a 30-0 lead and dropped serve to end the opening set. The second-seeded American had not surrendered a set through her first five matches, but was out played by Clijsters, who consistently attacked the Williams second serve, winning 21 of 31 points played on her second serve.
Realizing that first-set code violation set made the point penalty mandatory after her outburst at the end of the second set, Williams put her racquet down, walked around the net post and shook hands with Clijsters before leaving the court without a word. "The timing is unfortunate, you know," Clijsters said. "To get a point penalty at the time, it's unfortunate. But there are rules and like I said, it's just unfortunate that it has to happen on match point." It was a sad, stormy and ugly ending for Williams, who was outplayed in the opening set, but clawed her way back into the match in the latter stages of the second set. "It was not an immediate default. It was a point penalty given on match point," Earley said. "She had an earlier warning for racquet abuse. She was called for a foot fault. A point later she said something to the line umpire and it was reported to the chair and that resulted in a point penalty and it just so happened that was match point. It was a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct."
A calm and composed Williams met with the media about 15 minutes after the match concluded, conceding Clijsters played a high-quality match. "I think Kim played a wonderful match and I think I played good too," Williams said. "I think I could have played better and I actually feel like I can go home and I can actually do better, which I'm really excited about. There's someone out there that makes me want to go home and makes me want to work out and makes me want to run and do better. I can't wait to do that. I think that when I was down, I'm not the beggar like 'Please, please let me have another chance.' Because it was the rules and I play by the rules. If I get hit, I say I got hit, you know. I play by the rules. That's what it was."