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Sanneriet
Jun 6th, 2003, 06:30 PM
Unruly Crowd Too Much to Take
By HARVEY ARATON


ARIS, June 5 - At the end of a long, tumultuous and ultimately demoralizing afternoon, Oracene Price sat down in the players' lounge, composed enough to smile, to surmise that she was "not going to have a heart attack" over a semifinal defeat in a Grand Slam event.

It was, conversely, understandable how her daughter, still three months shy of her 22nd birthday, could be brokenhearted and moved to tears by the unruliness of a crowd that desperately wished for her to lose.

On a court with the initials P (for Philippe) and C (for Chatrier), political correctness and primal compassion were lost on unfeeling fans who combined with a whirlwind named Justine Henin-Hardenne to put the first dent in Serena Williams's third-set psyche and Grand Slam armor in more than a year. The fans' behavior was ugly and everything else that Price would call it: arrogant, lacking in class and understanding of the game.

"She knew it was a dangerous job when she took it," Price said of Serena, her youngest daughter, after Henin-Hardenne advanced to an all-Belgian final against Kim Clijsters with a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 victory. "That's what I always told her."

It made perfect sense that Henin-Hardenne, an underdog with a French name, would be the overwhelming favorite, especially after Clijsters had qualified for tomorrow's final by defeating the Russian Nadia Petrova in straight sets. Geographic and cultural partisanship are one thing. Turning raucously on Williams the way the fans did in the third set, even cheering her first-service faults, was patently cruel.

"A little bit too much," Henin-Hardenne would say, admitting she was the beneficiary of what she could not condone.

Price did not invoke the undercurrent of race and Serena said she didn't think the derision was related to the recent political tensions between the United States and France. So what was it? Since the Williams sisters have taken over women's tennis, winning nine Grand Slams from the 1999 United States Open on - the last four by Serena - it is always something.

Standing not far from Price, Pam Shriver commented that the fans' reaction yesterday was mild compared with their treatment of Martina Hingis in the 1999 final against Steffi Graf. Hingis was punished for a temper tantrum when the match turned for Graf. All Williams did was point to a couple of marks in the red clay on balls called in by the line judge before the umpire subsequently checked and overruled.

On what is her least favorable surface, this wasn't Serena's most memorable effort, she was quick to admit. Henin-Hardenne, a rising star, had beaten Williams earlier this spring on clay, as had Amélie Mauresmo. For that matter, Clijsters had her down by 5-1 in the third set of the Australian Open final on a hard court in January before a collapse that had nothing to do with being physically outclassed. No one is unbeatable, or indestructible, despite such unthinking portrayals of the Williams sisters during their respective runs of Tour dominance.

This has always made me uncomfortable, the notion that they represent some huge leap on the athletic evolutionary chain, the genetic engineering experiment of their father, Richard.

Yes, the slender Venus and the buff Serena are superior athletes, but they are not the only tall power players in this era of big-babe tennis. Muscle doesn't make the champion, and for all the requisite size and racket technology, women's tennis especially is still a game that often comes down to guile and raw nerve.

So seldom have the Williams sisters been given the credit they deserve for their mental acumen and toughness - too often under adverse conditions - you wonder if, in the context of them being viewed as machines, it leads to misadventures like yesterday's, fans forgetting that this is a 21-year-old woman, a human being.

As she has since winning here last year, Serena had persevered, reaching the third set despite being outplayed for most of the first two. With the benefit of the first chair overrule, she had broken her sagging opponent at love for 4-2. The second call on a 0-15 point in the seventh game turned the fans loose.

Price said she thought most of the louts were upstairs, in the cheaper seats. (Some did cry out for the others to stop and a few went so far as to cheer a later Henin-Hardenne fault.)

Stunned, Williams surrendered the break. "It doesn't make it any harder," she would say later. "I just {hellip} ." She paused to let the tears flow and stuttered, "Actually, that's a lie."

Henin-Hardenne, dealing with her own nerves, would soon fail to serve out the match at 5-4, double-faulting twice. It seemed certain that Williams would soon quiet her tormentors for good but, as Price would say: "She was nervous. I think both players were, because of the crowd."

Serena was rattled, serving poorly, offering up drop shots to a speedy player. Henin-Hardenne broke back and, finally after 2 hours 20 minutes, served out the match.

Price, like Serena, said Henin-Hardenne deserved to win. When Richard Williams was on Tour with Venus and Serena, he often brought disdain upon the family by antagonizing opponents. Price, now divorced from Richard, has been the essence of comportment and class.

Asked how she - as coach as well as mom - could be so calm so soon after the match, she laughed and said, "I'm a cool lady."

Serena Williams lost her composure in a theater of howling fools. She and her Grand Slam streak deserved far more appreciation and respect upon its end



I really liked this article. I usually do not agree so much with anyone writing about tennis.

barmaid
Jun 6th, 2003, 06:47 PM
Fair assessment as the "drama" unfolded ;) As #1 champion Serena showed that she too was normal.....the "cat calls" got to her (maybe she should have worn that cat outfit?? :rolleyes: But it happens.... :( Yes, the crowd do have a reputation of being a "tough" crowd...but they are tough on their own as well :confused: Its a learning and "humbling" experience...all champions have gone through it..remember there will be better days :hearts: Even John McEnroe commented when he played in 1985..he came on court to "cheers and ovations" by the French....at the end of the set.....he was "booed" unmercifully...however in McEnroe's case...he usually did deserve the "boos"!! :rolleyes: :D

barmaid :wavey:

miranda_lou
Jun 6th, 2003, 06:50 PM
I don't usually agreed with Shriver (in fact I have NEVER agreed with Shriver) but I have to say that she's right when she said Serena's rude treatment doesn't even come close to the awful treatment Martina Hingis got in 1999. :o

Serena is stronger than Hingis and she will survive this. Just don't call it "racism" because it wasn't. :rolleyes:

vs1
Jun 6th, 2003, 06:54 PM
Wow! That was a very sane article and portrayed both Serena and Justine as good people. :)

vs1
Jun 6th, 2003, 06:56 PM
I don't usually agreed with Shriver (in fact I have NEVER agreed with Shriver) but I have to say that she's right when she said Serena's rude treatment doesn't even come close to the awful treatment Martina Hingis got in 1999. :o

Serena is stronger than Hingis and she will survive this. Just don't call it "racism" because it wasn't. :rolleyes:

I don't think it's a fair comparison. Serena didn't do anything to provoke anyone. She just called the balls EXACTLY as they were. She remained calm and composed and was out there to take care of business. Quite different than how Martina acted in RG 99.

:rolleyes:

Bright Red
Jun 6th, 2003, 07:30 PM
I've gotten over the loss. What hurts me, and I'm sure what hurts Serena, is that Serena and Venus always say nice things about the French. Serena says Paris is her favorite city. They are learning French. Both Sisters spoke French last year after the final (most other Americans don't even make an effort). And this is how the crowd treated her??

I know that the crowd doesn't represent the whole of France, but given that the crowd is mostly French, you'd think they'd have appreciated Serena's sentiment towards their country, and shown her some respect. It's going to take a long time for me to get over this, and I doubt the French Open will ever be the same for me again.

tennischick
Jun 6th, 2003, 10:12 PM
i hope Serena goes back next year and silences them by winning. ;)