The Players: Serena Williams, 13-time women's singles grand slam champion; Eva Asderaki, umpire for the championship match at the 2011 U.S. Open Women's Singles Final
The Opening Serve: After losing the first set in the U.S. Open in the final match against Samantha Stosur, Serena Williams hit the best shot of her losing day--a thumping forehand which her opponent barely laid a racket on. Unfortunately for Williams, she also yelled "Come on!" after she struck the ball--a no-no in tennis and a violation of distraction rules in tennis. Asderaki awarded Samantha Stosur the point, which gave her the game, and reprimanded Williams. "This is not a replay," Asderaki said. "This is hindrance and it is her point. Because when you shouted, she ran to the ball and she touched the ball." Williams responded, "Are you the one who screwed me over last time?" Williams wasn't finished and extended her rant to the changeover.
You ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way. Because you're out of control--totally out of control. You're a hater and you're unattractive inside. Who would do such a thing? And I never complain. Wow. What a loser. You give a code violation because I expressed who I am? We're in America last I checked...don't look at me, I promise you don't look at me cause I am not the one. Don't look my way.
The Return Volley: While Asderaki remained mum in the face of Williams's outburst, analysts and sports writers were quick to jump on Asderaki's side. "That's bad form. That is bad form," said Mary Carillo who called the match for CBS. "That's totally not cool." "That is a classic violation of tennis' intentional hindrance rule, the equivalent of unsportsmanlike conduct in this genteel sport," wrote Greg Garber, ESPN's tennis analyst. "Chair umpire Eva Asderaki correctly awarded the point to Stosur, who merely got a racket on the ball." ESPN's headline for a video recap of the final reads, "Serena Disrespectful." Bloomberg reports that U.S. Open officials stand by the call and are reviewing if any other punishments will be doled out. Asked at the press conference after the match if she regretted anything she said, Williams responded, "I don’t even remember what I said." Williams, who opted out of the post-match handshake with the umpire, continued, "It was just so intense out there. It’s the final for me, and I was just … I guess I’ll see it on YouTube."
What They Say They're Fighting About: Whether or not Williams "hindered" Stosur's play. Williams argues that Stosur had no play on the ball and didn't want to relinquish the point. There was an incident similar to this in a Williams match in 2009, which Asderaki also officiated, though that point ended in laughs instead of a penalty.
What They're Really Fighting About: If the U.S. Open is out to get Serena Williams. Serena asked, "Are you the one who screwed me over last time?" But it's hard to tell exactly which time Williams is referencing. Just two years ago, Serena's tirade and threats against a line-judge lost her a match that would've put her into the final. The violation was minor--a foot-fault--and opinion is still split on whether or not it should have been called. But Williams's beef with the U.S. Open can be traced to a match in 2004 when several calls went against her. The umpire for that round was suspended for the rest of the tournament. Some say that the calls were so awful during that match that it convinced officials to incorporate the replay/hawk-eye technology that was implemented the next year.
Who's Winning Now: Neither. Though Williams's rant has gone viral, the match itself was a drubbing and isn't going to go into the "instant classic" pile anytime soon. Questions about Williams's image and the tirade, along with the 2009 incident are marring her reputation. But tennis officials aren't looking any better. What exactly is the difference between a grunt and Williams's shout? Audible words? Making Williams an example looks silly if you're not going to regulate the screaming shouting shrieking grunting that punctuates women's tennis at the moment. Perhaps the only winners of this spat may be the fans of low-decibel tennis (like Chris Evert), if Williams's punishment provides the impetus to get grunting under control.