I was going to call this entry “Where Serena Goes, Drama Follows”. Really, has there ever before been a tennis player for whom Drama seems to be her middle name? As much as I adore Serena – and folks you know that I do – even I am becoming a bit exhausted by the chaos and turmoil that her mere presence seems always to attract.
I am disappointed too because Serena seemed to have gone to so much trouble to find a core of peace and quiet that she reached to throughout her matches leading up to the US Open finals. Now her latest outburst will take on a life of its own, joining with the 2009 outburst to give an impression of a volatile and labile woman unable to manage her emotions under stress.
Whatever your position on that scream that Serena let out when she thought she had hit a winner against Sam Stosur, the fact is that it was disruptive. Should she however have been penalized with a game? I think not. I agree with Serena that this outburst should have been treated the same way that umpires treat with a hat falling off. The Chair should have called a let and the players should have replayed the point.
To punish Serena for interference is to imply that she deliberately and intentionally screamed at that moment in order to hinder Stosur from playing a return point. That is not what happened. Even Serena’s biggest detractors can hopefully acknowledge that.
What this incident highlights however is that decision-making in tennis is far too subjective. This is what pisses off so many of the pros. One Chair fines a player a penalty point for the same infraction for which another Chair would have called a let. And a third Chair would have done nothing at all – unless Stosur had complained, which she never did.
The process of decision-making in tennis seems to be far too dependent on the subjective interpretation of the rules by different umpires. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the handling of player challenges of line calls. Some Chairs respond to delayed appeals by the players. Other Chairs remain neutral and insist on the player using a challenge even when the Chair him or herself believes that the ball was out. Federer has been an outspoken critic of the tendency of umpires to stop doing the job for which they are paid and instead rely on the players’ use of the challenge system.
What we need in tennis is for decisions not to be reliant on personal judgment calls. There are objective rules in tennis and all umpires should be trained to interpret these rules in the same way across the board. So when Sharapova screams her glee at her effort resulting in a winning shot, she should be penalized in the same way that Serena was. There should not be rules for some that are not applied under the same circumstances, to others. It is the perception of unfairness that is particularly galling.
Understand that my point has nothing to do with the outcome of this match. I could not be happier for Sam Stosur. She is an amazing player who has grown into self-confidence. She has beaten Serena before and she came to the finals with a definite plan about how she was going to execute another win. I felt, going into this match, that it was unfair to count Stosur out. I truly believed that she could beat Serena.
But my coach disagreed with me. He also disagreed with my observation that Serena’s win last night over Wozniacki was not as easy as it looked. For the first time I noticed a level of aggressiveness in Caroline’s play that finally makes me comfortable agreeing that it is just a matter of time until she wins her first Slam. Has she ever been fiercer than when she came back in that match against Kuznetsova? There were moments in her match against Serena when I was stunned by how aggressive Serena HAD to be in order to shut Wozniacki out. It was not an easy win for Serena, by any means.
I also agreed with Mary Carillo that there was more pressure on Serena to win this event than on Stosur. Serena was touted as the odds-on favorite from the minute she bailed in Cincinnati and qualified for a seed. Stosur was seen as lucky to have survived the challenges posed by Petrova and Kerber. But in the end she won fair and square. That single game did not change the outcome of this match. But it did highlight the ongoing problem of inconsistent interpretation and application of the rules of tennis.