Article: Serena goes down to Justine in the French lion pit.
Serena goes down to Justine in the French lion pit
By Eleanor Preston
Special to ********************
Fred Mullane/Camerawork USA, Inc.
FROM ROLAND GARROS – After three rather dull, all-Williams Grand Slams and a rouser in Australia, it's about time women's tennis enjoyed a little bit of drama that involved another player. Where better for the sport to regain some of its theatricality than Roland Garros, where the crowd is always keen to upstage the players?
Watching Justine Henin-Hardenne and 15,000 of her noisy, jeering supporters beat Serena Williams on the Philip Chatrier Court, it was hard not to think of Martina Hingis and the ordeal she suffered in the same arena during her 1999 final against Steffi Graf.
Had she still been playing, Hingis could have warned Williams what happens if you have the temerity to be playing someone they like, especially if, along the way, you dare to become involved in line calls against your opponent.
Oracene Price, who afterwards said the crowd had "no class" and were ignorant of tennis etiquette, can now swap horror stories with Melanie Molitor, who also watched her daughter ripped to shreds by those who would rather boo and cheer mistakes than applaud good tennis.
Neither Hingis nor Williams deserved the treatment they got, of course, and there were tears from both when they tried to cope with Roland Garros' very own bear-pit, where their every quizzical look towards a ball mark merited the same reaction as if they had called the crowd a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys.
"I think it's bad when people start booing in between serves or other people start egging them on," said Serena in between sniffles afterwards. "It's really tough when you get to the semifinals and you have to face a crowd that's not going to be for you. I can sit up here and say, 'You know, it's okay but deep down it hurts.' "
It was hard for Williams to say whether being booed hurt more than losing her French Open title, or the chance to attempt the Grand Slam of all four major titles this year. It just hurt, period. That much was clear from the tears she kept wiping away as she spoke.
Her pain and shock at being beaten in a Grand Slam for the first time since the '01 US Open final (she didn't play the '02 Australian Open because she was injured and has won all the rest since then) means we should probably not read too much into her ill-advised remarks about Henin-Hardenne in her post-match press conference.
SERENA ACCUSES HENIN-HARDENNE
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Williams accused Henin-Hardenne of being dishonest after a small incident midway through the third set when the Belgian put her hand up to suggest she wasn't ready to receive serve causing, according to Williams, the American to dump her serve in the net. Williams thought she should have had two serves, asked the umpire Jorge Dias for two serves and looked at Henin-Hardenne. Dias said he hadn't seen anything and Henin-Hardenne stayed silent. "I'm a little disappointed with her because. .. I think to start lying and fabricating, it's not fair," said Williams, in remarks that will not do her reputation as an ungracious loser any good at all. A TV replay showed Justine's hand was up as Serena started her serve.
Henin-Hardenne plainly did not lie because she did not speak, and it did Williams no favors to throw such accusations at a player not known for gamesmanship of any kind. Williams was quick to admit the incident was not a turning point in the match and had no bearing on the result, and was equally quick to say that Henin-Hardenne deserved the win. In any case, the crowd had already decided where their allegiances lay and Williams had long since antagonized the crowd by calling her own lines – never a smart move at Roland Garros. Hingis could have told her that.
It is to be hoped that, for the sake of locker room relations and Williams' reputation, Henin-Hardenne puts the No. 1 player's remarks down to sour grapes and does not rise to the bait. Williams had, after all, had a rough day.
Henin-Hardenne and Williams, and everyone else, should be able to remember the match for some stunning passages of play and heavy doses of courage from both women rather than words said with the bitter sting of tears. Williams needed courage to take the catcalls (on court at least) with a certain amount of dignity, and Henin-Hardenne needed it to overcome a bad case of the jitters and, lest we forget, being the first person in 21 months – since Venus Williams in fact – to beat Serena at a Grand Slam.
Just as it was in 1999, it's hard to find words to describe what happened on that court which adequately capture the noise, the tears and the sheer spectacle of what took place. Drama barely covers it.
Blanche (to Rose): "What? Are you what is left out of your mind!!!??
"Let's follow the cops back home" (Placebo)