Serena Williams lost her semi-final match at the US Open 2009 against Kim Clijsters in a controversial way. Serena was 4-6, 5-6 and 15:30 down when she served a second serve and it was called a foot fault by the line judge.
That meant 15:40 and two match points for Clijsters. Serena at first seemed to accept the call but a few seconds later she exploded and threateningly waved her racquet towards the line judge and definitely said a few harsh words.
Anyway, the tournament referee (Brian Earley) was called in and according to the rules if the player threatens or curses towards any of the umpires, he or she gets a warning. Since Serena already had a warning because she smashed her racquet previously in the match, her next warning meant a penalty point. And since it was 15:40, that meant the end of the match. Brian Earley calmly explained the situation to Serena and she quickly "got it", walked to Clijsters, congratulated her and walked off the court.
1. Was the line judge right to call the foot fault?
Yes, absolutely. I don’t think the line judge had any desire or motif to cheat Serena; she was just watching the line and noticed that Serena had touched it with her shoe. If you’re Serena fan, you may say that the line judge didn’t get the seriousness of the situation and could have easily overlooked that one or two millimeters that Serena got closer to the net since that really didn’t affect the outcome of the point. In other words, the line judge didn’t have the feel for the situation and should have been silent. Of course, if you’re Kim Clijsters fan, you’re 100% behind the line judge because rules are rules and if Serena touched the line, that’s a fault. It’s her fault if she is serving so close to the baseline. She could have easily stand one inch away from the baseline and that would ensure that she would never make a foot fault while at the same time not affect her serving percentage in any significant way.
2. Was the tournament referee – Brian Earley right to enforce another warning to Serena and thus a penalty point?
I think there is much less room for maneuvering. It was clear that Serena was threatening the line judge even when the supervisor was coming on the court. That is not allowed and with so many cameras around, the referee could not down play the seriousness of Serena’s behavior. He had to follow the rules and again it was Serena’s fault. If she hadn’t smashed her racquet and gotten a warning already, she would only get a warning here and the score would stand 15:40. I think it’s really down to Serena’s own faults that she lost the match in that way. She could have been serving an inch away from the line (should have been taught that 20 years ago) and she could have been smart enough not break the racquet because she knows the rules and she knows that breaking the racquet automatically means a warning. She probably also knows what are the consequences of talking directly to the line judge – that’s why you’ll see the players in 99% of the times complain to the chair umpire when they don’t agree with the call of the line judge.
Should the line judge have overlooked the minute foot fault that Serena made considering the weight of the situation?
Should the main umpire or the referee let Serena get away with her behavior?
And should Serena carry all the responsibility for what happened?
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