As much of the nation, or at least the nation’s media, focused on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, I primarily focused my weekend TV-watching on US Open Tennis played here in New York City, specifically Flushing Meadows, Queens. The women’s final between three-time US Open champion, Serena Williams and Samantha Stosur, the 27-year-old underdog from Australia who had yet to win a women’s singles Grand Slam tournament (as opposed to Serena’s thirteen singles titles), was played Sunday afternoon.
I like both players very much.
Serena, who turns 30 in a few weeks, and was ranked a very deceiving 28, has made a remarkable comeback from a lacerated foot injury suffered in June 2010, and this past February she was hospitalized with a very scary sounding blood clot in her lung. Couple her physical ills with her sister, Venus, having to withdraw from this tournament after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Sjögren’s syndrome, Serena won a double dose of sympathy points from me by default. Yet, my close pal, Milton, who is still in a recovery of his own from Novak Djokovic defeating Roger Federer in a heartbreaking men’s five set semi-final has loathed Serena for years. What he loathes most is her personality. He thinks she’s a jerk and it infuriates him when people assume that Venus, who is always gracious, is the same way. When Serena last won the Open in 2008, as she was exuberantly jumping up and down, Milton called.
Milton: My TV’s shaking.
The following year, 2009, during the second set of the Open’s women’s semi-final against Kim Clijsters, Serena displayed one of her notorious fits of bad temper. She was already down a set, and the second set score was 5-6. Serena was serving to stay in the match at 15-30. Then, the lineswoman called her on a foot fault twice and the score was now 15-40; Clijsters had two match points. Enraged, Serena profanely threatened to shove a tennis ball down that lineswoman’s throat.
This display of ugly antics awarded me another Milton phone call.
Milton: Do you believe this? She deserves to lose!
Just as he said that, she was smacked with a one-point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The victory went to a baffled Clijsters.
Fast forward to the present. Throughout the entire 2011 US Open Serena has been the model of poise and power dominating opponent after opponent. She had not dropped a set in her entire comeback run leading to the final. Prior to the start of the match, Serena the Magnanimous announced that she was playing for her country in honor of 9/11.
I had been feeling neutral over who should win. I’ve always had a soft (or maybe it’s a wet) spot for scrappy underdog Stosur, who has a powerful serve and a wicked forehand. Her matches, all brilliantly played (including a riveting 32-point tiebreaker against Maria Kirilenko), received second billing. None of her matches leading to the final rated network TV coverage. Only snippets of her semi-final were broadcast live since her match conflicted with the men’s semi-final where Rafael Nadal defeated Andy Murray.
Milton can recognize Stosur’s athleticism but he has issues with her highly toned arms; arms that make me drool.
Milton insists that they look like a man’s.
Milton: They make Rafa’s look wimpy.
When it came down to Serena playing Sam in the women’s final, the pressure was on heavily favored Serena to win her 14th title. Since she was vocal about playing for her country on this historic date, the fans were fully on her side to make mincemeat out of the Aussie. Even I, a rare American Stosur fan, assumed that Stosur’s luck was about to run out, so I was rooting more for my country(wo)man due to the symbolism of this day in history. Then, the match got underway …
Serena served first and won her game, Stosur did the same during her serve, but then when it was Serena’s serve again, the unthinkable began, Stosur broke her. When the score was 4-2, Stosur broke her again, and then she served for the first set, a set she won impressively at 6-2 in 31 minutes. I thought:
Me (thinking): Holy crap!
Stosur had all the momentum, but when Serena was facing break point on her serve in the first game of the second set, she flubbed. She hit an obvious forehand winner but made the relatively innocent mistake of shouting at the ball, “Come on!” Everyone knew why she had shouted at the ball. She’s an aggressive competitor and was feeling frustrated with her game, which was sluggish. I felt bad for Stosur was actually making mincemeat out of her. Yet, according to an arcane rule, a player is not supposed to scream before the opponent makes contact with the ball. The chair umpire, Eva Asderaki, correctly called the error on Serena and that gave Stosur both the point and the break.
She berated Asderaki, and the crowd booed in her favor, rattling Stosur. During the changeover, fuming Serena continued her tirade against Asderaki:
Serena: If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way,
[Serena confused Asderaki with another chair umpire she locked horns with over a controversial call back in 2004.]
Serena: Because you’re out of control, you’re out of control. You’re not only out of control, you’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside. Who would do such a thing? And I never complain! Wow.
My full allegiance instantly shifted to Stosur as soon as Serena declared, “And I never complain!” I am sure that gaining my positive vibes was all Sam needed to regain her focus and convincingly defeat Serena in two sets 6-2, 6-3.
After her loss, in another display of no class, Serena refused to shake Asderaki’s hand.
Milton did not call, a sign that he resisted tuning in. I considered calling him, but I thought better of it not wanting to raise his blood pressure. If Serena was truly intent on being a sports hero and honoring her country with a victory on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, she should have suppressed her inner jerk, shut her pie-hole and played her guts out.