NEW YORK (Reuters) - It is unlikely Serena Williams will ever forget the night she snapped and surrendered her U.S. Open crown over a foot-fault storm.
No matter what the talented American goes on to achieve or how many more grand slam titles she amasses, there will always be a footnote to her career about how she suffered one of the most inglorious exits from a grand slam stage — penalized on match point down for her expletive-laced tirade directed at a lineswoman who had dared to call her for a foot-fault.
“I used to have a real temper, and I’ve gotten a lot better,” the 11-times grand slam champion said to a newsroom packed with stunned reporters.
“So I know you don’t believe me but I used to be worse. Yes, yes, indeed.”
It is hard to believe that after watching her rant that was played out on Saturday to a global audience of millions during her hotly anticipated semi-final against Kim Clijsters.
Trailing 4-6 5-6 15-30, Williams launched into a second serve but the bespectacled lineswoman sitting at the baseline held up her finger to call her on a foot-fault — meaning the American had served a double-fault to go match point down.
Astounded by the verdict, Williams flipped out and marched to the official shouting. She waved her racket ominously in the lineswoman’s direction and then shook a ball in her clenched fist as she threatened “to shove it down” her throat.
“I swear to God I’m... going to take this... ball and shove it down your... throat, you hear that? I swear to God. You better be glad — you better be glad that I’m not, I swear.” Williams told the line-judge in her expletive-laden rant.
Having already received a warning earlier in the match for smashing a racket, Williams was handed an automatic point penalty for a second violation which gave Clijsters the match 6-4 7-5 and a date in the final with Danish ninth seed Caroline Wozniacki.
“This is the weirdest end to a match I have ever seen,” nine-times Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova observed in her role as a commentator for the match.
On a day when women’s finalists Clijsters and Wozniacki should have been taking center stage, Williams again stole the spotlight in the States as her meltdown was repeatedly shown on several networks, and will no doubt turn into a You Tube hit.
Although television replays failed to determine whether she had foot-faulted, the 27-year-old’s outburst instantly earned her a place in tennis’s hall of shame, which already boasts her idol John McEnroe as a member.
In fact, not since McEnroe was defaulted from a fourth-round match against Mikael Pernfors at the 1990 Australian Open — when he swore at the umpire, supervisor, and referee — has a singles player suffered such an ignominious exit from such a high profile match.
McEnroe was slapped with a $6,500 fine for his behavior and Williams’s $350,000 pay-cheque she earned for her semi-final run will also take a hit.
While fines are usually posted the following morning after an incident, by Sunday afternoon no ruling had been made on Williams’s misdemeanour.
So seriously have officials deemed her offence, they were locked into a meeting for several hours as they tried to unravel the incidents that took place.
The Los Angeles Times was in no doubt about exactly what punishment should be meted out.
“Let’s get right to the point. Serena Williams should be fined heavily and suspended for a while from the pro tennis tour. Let’s see what kind of guts tennis, a sport normally soft on discipline, has this time. If she were a football player, she’d be out for the season.”
Editing by Steve Ginsburg