Tears for Jeers: Serena Very Human After Loss
Tears for Jeers: Serena Very Human After Loss
6/5/03 9:03 PM
By Matthew Cronin, special to USTA.com
Serena was down and out after her loss to Henin-Hardenne.
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PARIS - Serena Williams is widely seen as the world’s toughest women’s athlete, so when she broke down in tears four times in her press conference after her incredibly painful 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 loss to Justine Henin-Hardenne at the French Open on Thursday, the steely aura she portrayed in winning four straight Grand Slams completely vanished.
It was not the worst crowd that Serena had played in front of, but it was by far most penetrating one, because unlike in Indian Wells three and half years ago when she shut out the boos and went on to beat Kim Clijsters for the title, and unlike in the 2002 Australian semifinals when she dismissed the hisses and overcame Clijsters again, this somewhat hostile group cracked her shell.
"It was just a tough crowd out there," Serena said. "Very tough. Story of my life. From the first point on, they were all over her to do well. Once they got started it was hard to make them stop."
And why not? She was the defending champion, after all. She did nothing wrong, save for circle two marks on two obvious out balls on which umpire ruled in her favor. But after those two calls, the crowd was cheering her every error, her every fault.
It was in the next game where Serena really lost it, when the combination of a win-at-any-cost Henin and rabid fans undid her.
With Serena serving at 4-2, 15-0, Henin held up her hand on a Serena first serve and then Serena served it into the net. Serena thought she would get a first serve again, but the umpire didn’t see Henin raise her hand and Justine didn’t acknowledge what she did. Serena won the point, but her concentration was cooked.
"I was a little disappointed with her," Serena said. "I think to start lying and fabricating, it’s not fair. I understand that people want to win these day but…."
A charged Henin then broke Serena to 4-3 with a pretty forehand down the line. Henin held to 4-4 and then broke Serena to 5-4 when Williams floated a when her many horrific drop shots. Henin caught up to it and pasted a backhand crosscourt.
Yet Justine began to gag and was broken at love to 5-5 when she double-faulted twice and committed two groundstroke errors.
However, just when you thought that Serena had the match in her grasp, she couldn’t push through, wasting a game point and then
committing a backhand error after Justine did some tremendous retrieving.
Henin then beautifully served out the match, pulling off a brilliant topspin lob, smacking two service winners and then watching Serena pull a backhand return of serve wide.
The crowd then went nuts cheering the French-speaking Henin, while a clearly angry Williams gave her opponent a stiff handshake and walked quickly off the court.
"It’s a little difficult," Serena said with tears dripping down her cheeks. "All my life I’ve had to fight. So it’s just another fight. It’s like this every time going into a tournament. It’s a vicious cycle."
That’s not quite true, but a devastated player like Serena only sees it that way on their day of defeat. The crowds in L.A. and New York absolutely adore her, as do the fans in South Carolina and Florida.
But when you are going for back to back titles on a surface where you have won only two titles and where the other elite players know they have more than a fair shot to upend you, it’s tough to lose, especially when you always fight like hell and almost always win as a result.
"I don’t know if this is my toughest loss but it’s my most disappointing because I didn’t play as well as I could have and I really wanted to win Roland Garros," Serena said.
Without question, the pressure of going for the calendar year Grand Slam got to Serena. Most pundits thought that if she won Roland Garros, she’d certainly repeat on the fast lawns of Wimbledon and her beloved U.S. Open hard courts. But on Tuesday, she faced a hard-nosed Belgian with a lot of spunk who has the speed and variety to not only trouble her, but defeat her when she’s shaky. When you have to face the triple combination of a negative crowd, a game, talented opponent and thoughts in your head that you are chasing the likes of Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf for Grand Slam winning streaks, it’s not difficult to lose.
Especially when are very human, which Serena is today.
"It’s definitely a worse feeling," Serena said when asked if she was happy that the pressure of having to win Grand Slam this year was over. I wanted to try. I know some things are impossible, but I always set my goals really high."
The she finally broke out in a smile.
"Next year, maybe."