"Fairness anyone? Tennis looks as bad as calls
08:30 PM CDT on Wednesday, September 8, 2004
By CHIP BROWN / The Dallas Morning News
Tennis has a big problem.
The sport's mostly white establishment keeps getting it wrong when the two best black women's players are on the court.
Racism? Let's pray not.
But it's getting to the point where tennis should start feeling uncomfortable. Four incorrect line calls went against Serena Williams in the third set alone of her loss to Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open on Tuesday night. None was bigger than an outrageous overrule on a deuce point in the first game by chair umpire Mariana Alves of Portugal.
With the worst possible vantage point of the far sideline, Alves called a down-the-line backhand by Williams out after a lineswoman right on top of the shot called it in. Replays showed the ball so far inside the court that it didn't even touch the line. Williams would have had game point. Instead, she went on to lose her serve and the match, 6-2, 4-6, 4-6.
At Wimbledon in June, Venus Williams was subjected to chair umpire Ted Watts' bad judgment. Watts, of Great Britain, mistakenly gave Venus' second-round opponent, Karolina Sprem, a point she didn't win in the second-set tiebreaker of a match ultimately won by Sprem.
At the French Open last year, Serena encountered a negligent umpire who failed to intervene when Justine Henin-Hardenne raised her hand to signal she wasn't ready to receive Williams' first serve at 4-2, 30-0 in the final set.
When Serena hit her first serve into the net, she asked to be awarded another first serve, as is standard tennis etiquette. Henin-Hardenne said nothing and Swedish umpire Stefan Fransson refused Williams' request, forcing her to play her second serve. Serena lost the next four points, the service game and, eventually, the match.
"I thought it was another Wimbledon conspiracy," Serena said in a news conference after her match with Capriati at, of all places, Arthur Ashe Stadium – named for one of tennis' foremost black pioneers.
At that point, reporters asked Serena what she meant by "conspiracy." They asked her what she thought of this happening to both her and her sister at the most recent majors.
She called Alves "anti-Serena" and wondered if Alves went "temporarily insane." But she also blamed herself for not putting Capriati away in the second set.
Even Richard Williams, who has called his daughters the victims of racism in the tennis world in the past, simply said Serena should have gone to the net more to beat Capriati.
"I guess the lady didn't want me to be in the tournament anymore," Serena said of Alves.
We'll never know what Alves was thinking because tennis, like all major sports, protects its umpires from having to answer questions from the media.
U.S. Open officials released a statement saying that Alves wouldn't umpire any more matches at this year's event. Tournament referee Brian Earley then told USA Network on Wednesday that Alves wasn't scheduled to work the rest of the tournament anyway.
So, in effect, there is no reprimand for Alves, unless the WTA Tour, the sanctioning body of women's tennis, announces a suspension. WTA officials apologized to Serena for Tuesday night's controversy but haven't said if they'll do anything else.
When U.S. Open director Jim Curley was told that Serena would like a written apology from Alves, he all but laughed.
"I don't think that's appropriate," he told USA Network.
Why not? Alves may have cost Serena the chance to win her third U.S. Open title and seventh major championship.
Love or hate the Williams sisters, they are two of the best things ever to happen to women's tennis. They're bold. They bring nontraditional fans to the sport. They also don't play the catty game that is endemic to women's tennis. While others have taken their verbal shots at the Williamses – and most all of the top players have, including Capriati – the Williams sisters have never returned fire.
Although griping about bad calls is commonplace, tennis owes the Williamses every effort to keep these egregious errors from happening in the future. The biggest blunders in the most-watched tournaments only seem to be hurting the two black superstars in a mostly white sport. "