Join Date: Feb 2004
Tough Serena goes down swinging
Tough Serena goes down swinging
Bruce Jenkins // The San Francisco Chronicle // September 8, 2004
Copyright 2004 The Chronicle Publishing Co.
Get out the indelible ink and draw that line just as clearly as possible. Draw it between Serena and Venus Williams. Don't link their tennis in any way, and don't claim "they" represent anything on the court. On a Tuesday night that belonged to Jennifer Capriati at the U.S. Open, Serena made her mark as an individual and might have gained some admiration in the process.
Let's not allow Capriati's story to slip away. This was one of the great nights of her career. On the kind of still, perfect autumnal night that defines this tournament, Capriati hammered out a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Serena to reach the semifinals and stake her latest claim as a fighter. But Capriati has reached this stage before -- three of the last four years, in fact -- and needs two more wins to earn her first-ever Open title.
The impression left by Serena, stolen blind by the chair umpire, burned brighter. The past few months haven't been kind to the Williamses, but if either has a chance to reclaim the old dominance, it's going to be Serena.
From the moment she came onto the scene, Serena was the garrulous, more outgoing younger sister. Venus set the good example, always saying and doing the proper thing, and while Serena clearly idolized her, patterning her tennis game and demeanor in that mold, it was hardly a surprise when Serena became the object of Hollywood's attention. "Saucy" isn't quite the word, but whatever "it" is, Serena had it in abundance.
On the court, while absolutely dressed to kill, Serena took the family highway. Venus overcame some teenage lapses -- the "bump" with Irina Spirlea, a temper tantrum at Wimbledon -- to set wonderful standards for presence, demeanor and sportsmanship. Serena chose that path, and they racked up what seemed like a thousand titles together.
Over the past three years, Venus has been disappearing. There's an odd sort of fog surrounding her, and it grows thicker with each tournament. She must care, deep down, but she gives no indication whatsoever. Injuries, outside interests and Serena's increasing superiority have sapped her motivation, and there's an empty feeling surrounding all of Venus' matches, win or lose. It seemed downright pathetic at Wimbledon when, clearly wronged by an umpire's brain lock during her loss to Karolina Sprem, she continued on as if nothing had happened.
Sternly poker-faced, almost going through the motions, Venus was a blank page against Lindsay Davenport on Monday night until the very last game, when she fought valiantly against a series of match points. Her postmatch interview was disturbingly vacant, and she'd had only a cursory handshake with Davenport at the net.
"Wet-fish time," one of them seemed to say.
"Check out this halibut," said the other.
Against that troubling backdrop, Serena took Arthur Ashe Stadium by storm Tuesday night. She was nearly flawless in the first set, a vision of strength and command in her wicked black top and blue-denim shorts. Opponents once wilted under this brand of assault, but not any more, and especially not Capriati, who squared the match in the second set with her punishing groundstrokes and amazing court coverage (forever prone to career-ending weight gain, Capriati works like a drought-year farmer to prevent that from happening).
Switch now to the first game of the third set -- a Capriati service break that kept the momentum in her favor. At deuce, Serena drilled a clear winner with her down-the-line backhand; television replays showed it undeniably inside the line, and the line judge called it in.
Inexplicably, chair umpire Mariana Alves overruled the call -- and the reaction we saw wasn't Venus, shrugging off the burglar in her own bedroom. This was Serena, looking like someone messed with her man. Veritably stalking the chair, wagging her finger and shouting "No, no, no," Serena wasn't hearing any of it.
"That was my point," she said through the din. "What are you talking about? That was not out!"
This was shocking behavior from a Williams sister, but eminently welcome. Isn't that what the public wants from tennis, a bit of the old Connors or McEnroe? We don't need the profanity or the crotch-grabbing, but there's nothing wrong with some old-fashioned outrage.
"I know my shots, and I know that one was in," Serena said later. "I'm never one to argue, but this one ... at first I thought it was another Wimbledon conspiracy, that they just got the score wrong. I don't know, I guess she (Alves) just went temporarily insane. I guess the lady didn't want me to be in the tournament no more, and I think she owes me an apology."
(In a statement released an hour after the match, tournament referee Brian Earley acknowledged Alves' mistake, indicated that she would not officiate another match in this year's tournament, and said officials are looking into the possibility of using instant-replay technology after disputed points.)
"Listen, I didn't lose because of that," Serena said. "I'm not making excuses. But I feel if I'd won that game, I could easily have gone up 3-0. Instead, I dug a hole for myself, jumped in, then threw the dirt on myself."
Shaking her head, she began to laugh. "I'm very angry and bitter right now," she said through her smile. "Yes, I'm extremely angry. And bitter. I feel cheated. Should I keep going?"
Yes, keep right on going. Sympathy and respect come easier if the people know you care.
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