the controversy train


If Serena Williams‘ outburst on Saturday night caused anyone surprise, hopefully it was only for the way she acted out, and not for the controversial act itself. For as long as she has been a professional, bizarre controversy has followed Serena (and Venus) onto the court.

It started way back in 1997, when Venus and Irina Spirlea had their famous bump at the U.S. Open in the semifinals. But over the last six years, Serena has had four major controversies happen on court, all during late-round grand slam matches. One of them, the 2004 U.S. Open quarterfinal against Jennifer Capriati spurred what you and me know today as Hawk-Eye.

What next? Hawk-Eye for foot faults? It’s not that far fetched…

2003 French Open Semifinals versus Justin Henin – The Hand
With the French crowd wildly behind Justine and sometimes rooting against the American Williams (George W. had just sent us to war…), Serena served at 4-2, 30-0 in the third set when JH clearly put her hand up to wait for crowd noise to die down. When Serena’s serve was long and the umpire didn’t award Serena two deliveries, the American looked to her opponent for recognition that she had, indeed, put her hand up. There was no such acknowledgement, and the moment is widely credited to Serena’s implosion in the match, which she lost 7-5 in the third. 

2004 U.S. Open Quarterfinals versus Jennifer Capriati – The Call(s)
At deuce in opening game of the third set, Serena hit a backhand down the line that was clearly (and called) in. Mariana Alves in the chair, however, overruled the call, spurring Serena to (rightfully) argue her case to no avail. Later in the set, Serena would receive three more 
horrific calls (by linespeople) and lose to Capriati in a charged affair.

2009 French Open 3rd Round versus Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez – “I’m Gunna Get You”
At 2-2 in the first set, Serena faced break point and approached the net after her opponent hit a drop shot. Firing the ball at Martinez Sanchez, Serena hit her in the arm, the ball bouncing back on Williams’ side. Instead of the chair awarding Serena the point and the game going to deuce, the game went to MJMS and on-court mics caught Serena saying “I’m gunna get you in the lockerroom. 
Serena won 6-4 in the third.

2009 U.S. Open Semifinals versus Kim Clijsters – Foot Fault
While it may never be clear whether the call was correct or not (Serena has said she believes the lineswoman was correct), Serena was called for a footfault at 5-6, 15-30 in the second set, on her second serve. Down two match points, Serena berated the lineswoman not once, but twice, towering over the seated, petite woman, waving her finger and cursing her. Serena would be defaulted because of the warning rule, and the drama continues to play out over what’s next for tennis’ former queen, and current diva.


11 Responses to “the controversy train”

  1. Tennis This Says:

    Alright, I think she should have just kept her mouth shut. All I hear from Serena is a lot of complaining. Either play the game by the rules or don’t play at all.

  2. jacob Says:

    by your logic, mcenroe, nastasie, capriati, and basically just about every other tennis players should not play the game at all because they are all guilty of “a lot of complaining.”

    serena went overboard, sure. but i don’t understand the extent of serena’s public punishment. i understand that the williams sister have historically endured greater scrutiny and this case is no exception. however, i also see a sexist connotation involved with this instance.

    here is an interesting article i came across:

  3. jacob Says:

    ps serena has apologized:

  4. jacob Says:

    i’m sorry.. i meant to say sexist UNDERTONE.. anyways.. i love this blog!

  5. cemmcs Says:

    There was also the incident at Indian Wells in 2001 when Serena beat Kim in the finals. Serena was booed throughout in an incident that was tinged with racism.

  6. Carolee Says:

    She has NOT apologized… she has said that she wants to give the linewoman a big old hug. She said that she behaved inappropriately and has “moved on”.which implies that other people were wrong, not Serena. Well, maybe the very petite lineswoman has not moved on. She deserves a personal apology. As in I am sorry, I was wrong.

  7. jacob Says:


    “I want to amend my press statement of yesterday, and want to make it clear as possible – I want to sincerely apologize FIRST to the lines woman, Kim Clijsters, the USTA, and tennis fans everywhere for my inappropriate outburst. I’m a woman of great pride, faith and integrity, and I admit when I’m wrong.”

    – from serena’s blog (the link of which i provided)

  8. Joshua Says:

    I think it’s important to keep this in the context of Serena’s career. Even these examples above, some of which Serena was clearly out of line and others of which she had every right to be angry, don’t really tell the story. In fact, if you selected virtually any other player, especially any male player, and searched through their entire career for bizarre and outrageous behavior, they’d all have Serena beat. One of the things that even those of us who sometimes have problems with her have to admit is that she (like her sister) is almost always the best behaved player on the tour, at least on the court. They don’t even challenge calls, much less swear at the umpire for allowing their opponent to challenge or continue to argue the call after the challenge has been completed (both of which Roger Federer did against Del Potro). So, these incidents are more aberration, I think, than definition of Serena’s character. Which isn’t to say she should get off lightly for this incident. She threatened that poor woman, and who wouldn’t be scared of a professional athlete twice your size wielding a racket and threatening to shove a ball down your throat? Is their an undercurrent of sexism in her treatment? Probably. But I still don’t think that if a man had reacted in exactly this way he’d have gotten off easily — indeed, if Marat Safin had done exactly this to this same petite lineswoman he’d likely have been treated even WORSE by the press.

    The real problem is that there doesn’t seem, to me, a particularly fitting punishment. She almost certainly should’ve been defaulted from the tournament and that, I suspect, would’ve been the end of it. But tennis doesn’t have, need or want a Roger Goodell. Was this action so severe as to warrant her exclusion from even one future major? I doubt it. Should the WTA, which has no authority over the majors, step in? Probably not. So beyond a bigger fine (possibly up to the full amount of her winnings for the tournament) I just don’t see what’s reasonable in this case.

    As for the commenters above arguing about her apology — I think you’re both right. Serena had an opportunity in her press conference to apologize. Considering that she was overall very gracious in that presser, even saying that she was “sure [she] did” foot fault and that the lineswoman was “just doing her job” and despite actually saying nice things about her opponent, something she doesn’t even do when Venus beats her, it did annoy me that she responded to the question of an apology with “how many players yell at linsepeople?” implying that linespeople are just there to be yelled at. I understand it’s common in tennis, but the line has to be drawn somewhere and she realized she’d crossed it. She didn’t throw a fit on court when she lost, she realized she’d crossed it during the press conference, and yet the apology comes 48 hours later? As an AMENDMENT to her previous statement? All while walking back her previous assertion, which was very Williams-like, that she was “sure” she foot faulted, now calling it the call “wrong” even though any of us who watch the tape really have no idea if she faulted or not? She apologized, and I think it was as sincere apology, and I think she means it when she says she’d like to give the lineswoman a hug and move past this. But she could’ve taken those steps earlier.

  9. Golf Says:

    It’s good that Serena has apoligized.. But she could’ve done this earlier..

  10. Khethu Says:

    I think everyone, regarding Serena’s Outburst, is doing what society does best- get up on their high horse and pass harsh judgement. it is a shame that one moment has to some people somehow erased all the good sportsmenship that Serena has showed in most of her matches. the whole tirade has been taken way out of context, people seem to forget that it happened on an incredibly crucial point in the match, admittedly she could have handled it better- but as she said herself she is only human. After the unfair calls that Serena has gotten at majors ( remember 2003 french open semis at 4-2 40-15 double fault and the 2009 french open 3rd round match at 2-2 30-40). Serena has been at the wrong end of some bad calls in her career, so all those who are exegerating this incident, chill out and cut the girl some slack.
    P.S. Anyone who thinks Serena’s outburst was racially motivated, that’s just a manifestation of your own racism!

  11. david Says:

    as a former pro tennis player, whatever. she had a bad day and i would have probably done the same thing. not that i am proud of it. i have seen SO MUCH worse. serena clearly doesn’t like to lose.

    i love during the sanchez whatever changeover when serena says, “u dont know me, im gonna get u in the locker room” and “she better not come to the net again”. what a fucking bitch taking that point when that ball clearly hit her arm. serena was in the right. i can remember a ball barely touching my racket during a doubles match and not claiming it, and thinking about it the whole match (that it was wrong) and I can still remember that I did it. can’t remember whether we won or lost the match, but remember that it was the wrong thing to do.

    i guess we all make mistakes….even Serena and Sanchez Whatever.

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