By Alix Ramsay
Serena Williams was all smiles once it was over but for a set of her 6-2, 6-3 thrashing by Sam Stosur, she had been at her snarling, fuming, bullying worst. The overwhelming favourite as the tournament began, she had been overwhelmed by the power and precision of Stosur’s shot making. And she had been undone by her own temper.
Still nowhere near her best after more than a year of illness and injury – she had still won back-to-back titles over the summer, mind you – she was everyone’s pick to clatter Stosur in the final. The champion in Serena will out no matter how unfit or under-prepared she is but this aura of invincibility had not reckoned for Stosur having one the best days of her life.
Mentally fragile under pressure, the Australian has spent a career of not quite making it. She reached the French Open final last year but once she got there, she was not the same, confident player she had been in all the other rounds. This time, she came out of the blocks like a sprinter and save for a minor hiccup as Williams went ballistic at the umpire, she never looked back.
The trouble started at the start of the second set. Williams was being run ragged by her opponent and seemed to have no answer to Stosur’s game plan. A set down and now facing break point, she was also serving like a plank and making errors to a band playing. But when she hit what she thought was a clean winner, she got a little ahead of herself. Before the point was dead and just as Stosur was getting her racquet to the ball, she screamed “come on!”. That was clearly unfair and the umpire, Eva Asderaki, called Williams over and explained that the point had been awarded to the Australian. With it went the game.
“Usually you replay the point,” Williams said in disbelief. “I’m not giving her that game.”
Just to add a little extra spice to the moment, Williams was already on probation after her explosion two years ago in her semi-final with Kim Clijsters. Then she was match point down, was called for a foot fault and promptly told the line judge that she was going to ram “this #*%@&$ ball down your *@~?$%^” throat”. Docked a penalty point for that outburst, the deduction cost her the match.
Eventually she was fined $82,500 and put on probation for the next two years. If she transgressed again, the fine would be doubled and she face a ban from the next US Open. So, everyone held their breath when Williams went nuts.
“Aren’t you the one who screwed me over last time?” she asked of Asderaki (actually, she wasn’t). “I truly despise you.”
It was a good spot by Williams. In 2009 at the end of year championships in Doha, she had done exactly the same thing in a match against Svetlana Kuznetsova, yelling “come on!” in mid-rally. Then, Asderaki had merely told the two women to play a let and nothing more was said.
This time, the crowd got involved and started a chorus of booing. Poor Stosur, who had barely put a foot wrong from the moment she walked on the court, tried to serve the first point of the next game but the crowd would not be quiet. They booed and they booed until eventually soon-to-be champion just got on with it. Williams, now pumped up and aware of the fact that she had a stadium full of friends and supporters standing behind her, played a little better while her rival looked in serious danger of falling apart.
As the angry one broke back and then held for a 2-1 lead, she stalked back to her chair and laid into Asderaki again. “If you see me walking down the hallway, look the other way,” she said. “Don’t even look at me. You’re totally out of control. You’re a hater. You’re totally unattractive inside. What a loser. And don’t give me a code violation for expressing my opinion. We’re in America last time I checked.”
Through all of this, Stosur did not know what to think. But, then again, not thinking about anything much other than the ball in front of her had worked pretty well up until that point, so why not stick with it? As the tempers calmed and match moved on, Stosur went back to battering her passing shots and clumping her returns while Williams went back to losing. And once she had completed that task, Williams put on a charm offensive, chatting and giggling with Stosur and showing her ropes during the presentation ceremony.
“I was just doing my best,” Williams said. “I hit a winner but I guess it didn’t count. But it didn’t matter because Sam was playing so well. I tried my hardest but she just kept hitting winners.”
Stosur, who is a charming woman and very decent soul, was keen to point out Williams’s good points to the American audience. “You’re a fantastic champion and such a great player, you’ve done wonders for our sport so, thank you,” she gushed. But then it was on to the business of being awfully happy. “I had one of my best days,” she said. “Ever since I started playing and knew what a grand slam was, I have dreamed of this. I think this feels like I thought it would but, really, I don’t know what to feel right now.”
But when she wakes up tomorrow morning, she will feel like a million dollars. Well, $1.8million to be exact – that was the size of her winner’s check. And if she can beat Serena Williams in the US Open final and survive one of Miss W’s mental meltdowns to do so, she can beat anyone, anywhere. Now that really is worth celebrating.