For the second time in two years the tournament referee here at the US Open was in the unenviable position yesterday of having to pass judgement on the outrageous behaviour of the country's leading female player at her home Grand Slam tournament.
Serena Williams' verbal assault on Eva Asderaki, the umpire during her 6-2, 6-3 defeat by Australia's Sam Stosur in the final here on Sunday night, was not laced with the profanities and threat of physical violence that she directed at a line judge here two years ago but was almost as shocking.
Having been outplayed by Stosur in the first set, Williams was 30-40 down in the opening game of the second when she hit a forehand which looked sure to win the point. However, before Stosur could reach the ball Williams uttered a scream of "Come on!" Asderaki awarded the point to Stosur in accordance with the International Tennis Federation's rule on "hindrance" of an opponent.
"Aren't you the one who screwed me over last time?" Williams said to the umpire. "I truly despise you."
Asderaki, who issued her with a code violation for verbal abuse, was not in the chair during Williams' semi-final against Kim Clijsters two years ago, when the American lost the match after being deducted a point for a foul-mouthed tirade in which she threatened to "shove" a ball down the throat of a line judge who had foot-faulted her. However, Asderaki did punish Williams under the same "hindrance" rule in Doha two years ago.
Williams continued her attack on the umpire at the change of ends two games later. "If you ever see me walking down the hallway, look the other way, because you're out of control," Williams said. "You're totally out of control. You're a hater, unattractive inside. Who would do such a thing? And I never complain. Wow, what a loser. Give me a code violation because I expressed my emotion? We're in America last time I checked. Really, don't even look at me, don't look my way."
After the incident two years ago, Williams was fined a maximum $10,000 (about £6,300) by on-site officials. The Grand Slam Committee, representing the US, French and Australian Opens and Wimbledon, subsequently decided that Williams had been guilty of a "major offence". She was fined $82,500 (about £52,000) and told that would be doubled if she was found guilty of another major offence in the next two years, in which case she would also be banned from a future US Open. Williams' period of probation finished at the end of this tournament.
Brian Earley, the referee, was reviewing the latest incident on tape and meeting Asderaki to decide whether to fine Williams. A verdict was expected last night. However, the decision on whether the incident will be regarded as another major offence will be taken by the Grand Slam Committee, who took more than two months to reach their verdict two years ago.
Williams, who did not shake Asderaki's hand at the end of the match, was asked later if she regretted what she had said to the umpire. "To get here has been a really great experience for me," Williams replied. "I regret losing, but I think there was nothing I could do today. I think Sam played really, really well."
Pressed for a direct answer, she added: "I don't even remember what I said. It was just so intense out there. It's the final for me. I guess I'll see it on YouTube."
Asked about any previous clashes with Asderaki, Williams said: "I don't know. I just was out there trying to fight against a great player who played really, really well."
When asked if she had been referring on court to the Doha incident, Williams replied: "I promise you if I knew I would tell you, but I don't know off the top of my head."
Amid all the controversy little attention was paid to a superb performance by Stosur. The 27-year-old Australian, who had only ever won two previous titles, has had a reputation as a player who can freeze in the big moments, but the new world No 7 coped admirably in the highly-charged atmosphere here in New York.
Both Williams and the home crowd were fired up in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Stosur dropped her serve in the following game but quickly recovered her composure. Throughout the match the Queenslander shocked Williams, the overwhelming favourite, with the power and accuracy of her ground strokes.
Stosur, who lost to Francesca Schiavone in last year's French Open final, is the first Australian woman to win a Grand Slam title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won Wimbledon in 1980. She is also only the second Australian to win here after Margaret Court, who won the last of her five US Open titles in 1973.
"I'd like to be able to continue this," Stosur said as she looked to the future. "I guess time will tell. For sure it will just reinstate that belief and confidence in myself. Hopefully this is the first day of a new beginning for me as a player."Reuse content