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Serena can't steal show from Stosur
Another controversy, another defeat for Serena Williams at the US Open but this time it was a completely unforeseen reverse for the former three-time champion who was outplayed from start to finish by Sam Stosur 6-2, 6-3. For the 27-year-old Australian it was a thoroughly deserved first Grand Slam title. For Williams another fall from grace when dealing with court officials and one which could result in more sanctions against her. A final decision will be taken tomorrow when tournament referee Brian Earley has viewed the tape.
The point that everyone will be talking about occurred at 30-40 with Williams serving in the first game of the second set, having been pummeled out of the first by the power and penetration of Stosur's ground strokes and terrific court coverage.
Williams had already saved one break point and went for a huge forehand in an attempt to save the second. She certainly would have succeeded had she not yelled out "Come On!" a fraction of a second before Stosur unexpectedly stuck out a racket and made contact with the ball. Greek umpire Eva Asderaki ruled, correctly, that she had interfered with the point and awarded it to Stosur, giving the Australian her third service break of the match.
"Are you trying to screw me again?" Serena called out to an official who had been involved in a similar incident when Williams played Svetlana Kuznetsova in Qatar two years ago. On that occasion, Asderaki merely told Williams to replay the point and everyone ended up laughing. The tension on Arthur Ashe in this US Open final dictated a very different reaction. There was no replay this time. Just a straight award of the point to her opponent. And, of course, there was the memory of her foul-mouthed outburst against a female line judge who had foot-faulted her in the 2009 semifinal against Kim Clijsters -- a match she went on to lose.
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On this occasion, two significant things happened. Firstly, Serena continued the argument from the chair, berating Asderaki, suggesting she was unattractive inside as a person and a loser and telling her not to look at her when she was talking. It was an unsavory and unnecessary tirade but Serena did not use any audible foul language. Whether that will count with the Grand Slam committee who put her on a two year probation after the foot fault incident remains to be seen. The probation ended with this match. Williams was issued with a code violation for verbal abuse and, according to a statement put out by the tournament committee, "any impact this code violation might save on Serena Williams' Grand Slam probation would require the incident being ruled a major event."
In other words it might mean suspension. And that, after everything Serena has been through these past fourteen months with her injuries and her health, would be ironic to say the least.
Serena was inundated with questions about the incident in press conference but she refused to apologize for what she said to the umpire and kept falling back on the "intensity of the moment" routine.
"I think everyone is so intense out there," she said. "I was really intense and everyone just wants to do great. I know I did. I was just out there trying to fight against a great player who played really, really well. She was cracking them today. She definitely hit hard and just went for broke."
Williams certainly made no attempt to use the disputed point as an excuse for losing and also went out of her way to congratulate her opponent during the presentation ceremony. Her only defense was the surprise she felt that the umpire had not ordered a replay of the point as she had done before. "I thought it was the hat drop rule, where if you drop a hat, you kind of replay the point. I certainly did not do anything deliberately. I thought it was a winner but she did really good to even put her racket on it."
Stosur said the whole thing happened too fast for her to take it in. "I guess the rules of tennis are there for a reason and she made the call she felt was right. I can't even remember the whole point with the crowd, which was the loudest I've ever played in front of in my life, and the noise and everything. All I remember is sitting in the chair after winning the first set and I could feel my heart pounding out of my chest and I thought, OK, I've won the first set and I've got a chance."
It would be unfair for the disputed point to take the spotlight off the new champion. Stosur had battled long and hard to get through to her second Grand Slam final, beating Nadia Petrova 7-6, 6-7, 7-5 in the third round and breaking the record for the longest tie-break ever played by women in a Grand Slam (17-15) when she defeated Maria Kirilenko 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. She had also needed three sets to overcome Angelique Kerber in the semifinal the day before, something Serena had not required while beating world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-4.
So there was a lot for Stosur to overcome. But, right from the first ball, she looked the more composed and more determined player out there, producing first serves while Serena struggled to find hers and hitting crisp ground strokes from all parts of the court. It was only after the incident, which whipped up crowd support for the American player and got Williams breathing fire, that the former champion showed any signs of forcing her way into the match. Two huge forehand winners contributed to Stosur dropping serve in the very next game and, for a moment, it seemed as if a call that was meant to benefit her was actually having the reverse effect. Stosur could have been thrown completely out of her stride but, to her enormous credit, she kept her head and battled out of a potentially disastrous second break in the fourth game by saving the 15-40 point with an ace and saving the second when Serena backed off instead of going to the net and hit a bad backhand.
By three all, the pattern of the first set was re-establishing itself. The weight and accuracy of Stosur's ground strokes were proving too much for a strangely hesitant Williams and two service breaks in succession ensured that the Queenslander would become the first Australian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980 and the first at the US Open since Margaret Court in 1973.
Stosur paid tribute to her parents and her two brothers for having supported her ever since she was a child. "They saw that I had this dream and drive and determination to be a tennis player and, obviously, none of us knew if it was ever going to pay off. Playing all those small tournaments; I've slept in railway stations and stayed in dodgy hotels and done the hard yards through many places and it pays off in the end. I'd do it all again if I had to."