PARIS – As she says, drama follows Serena Williams everywhere she goes, but with her brash personality and her willingness to confront all comers, she’s an integral part of her own mini-series.
After a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 third round defeat of Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez at the French Open on Saturday, the 10-time Grand Slam champion accused her Spanish opponent of cheating on a controversial point in the first set. Serena had ripped a ball at her opponent’s body at 2-2, break point, and it appeared that the ball hit off of the Spaniard’s right arm. The ball ricocheted back for a winner and although replays showed it never touched Martinez’s racket, the Spaniard wouldn’t cop to the foul, which would have given Serena the point.
Williams first apologized and then went after her foe, saying, “I’m going to get you in the locker room for that, you don’t know me.”
She then complained to the chair umpire, but to no avail.
“I said, did you ask her? He said, ‘Well, she’s saying that it didn’t happen.’ I looked at her dead in the eye. I said, ‘Why? Just be honest if the ball hit you or not.’ I mean, Hello. It totally hit her. She looked down, and I just have no respect for anybody who can’t play a professional game and just be really professional out here.”
After Serena lost the argument with the chair umpire, she declared, “She better not come to the net again.”
That’s a pretty threatening comment, but Serena wasn’t brought up to crawl meekly away and she later explained, “Well I am from Compton, so, you know…”
Williams, who is stricken with a bad cold and looked like she was going to vomit in the 3rd set, eventually went on to win the contest, but never launched another ball at her foe again.
She was quite disturbed after the match.
“I didn’t think the ball touched her. The ball did touch her 100 per cent on her arm,” Williams said. “The rules of tennis is when the ball hits your body, then it’s out of play. You lose a point automatically. So the ball hit her body, and therefore, she should have lost the point instead of cheating. I hit that ball rather hard. She knew that ball hit her.”
Martinez Sanchez denied that the ball touched her body, saying she didn’t feel it. Serena didn’t believe a word of it.
“ I would never do that. I’ve never done that. I’ve never sunk low, and I would never do that to anyone on this tour and I never have. I’ve always been a really clean player and a good player, and it doesn’t take that to win…. Because that’s all I’ve ever been was be extremely professional to anyone I’ve ever played.”
Serena is no stranger to controversy, not in Paris, where she accused Justine Henin of cheating against her in 2003 after the eventual champion put her hand up while Williams was serving and later denied it after winning the point; not at the 2004 US Open when she was at the losing end questionable line calls against Jennifer Capriati in a defeat that eventually lead to the installation of the line calling system Hawkeye; not in the Indian Wells final in 2001, when due to her sister Venus pulling out of their semifinal, what Serena described as a racist crowd reigned boos down upon her in her final round victory over Kim Clijsters and she vowed to never play there again (she hasn’t).
“I’m like drama, and I don’t want to be drama,” Serena said. “Every time you look around, there was an incident with Justine, and then there was another incident with Jennifer. Always some drama.
Even in Australia this year I had a bad call, and I was just like, why? I’m like one of those girls on a reality show that has all the drama, and everyone in the house hates them because no matter what they do, like, drama follows them. I don’t want to be that girl.”
Part of the reason that Serena isn’t the belle of her the reality show is that she is an in-your-face player. While hitting an opponent’s body when she is at the net is considered an legitimate play, in some circles, it’s considered unsportsmanlike if there is an open court to aim at.
Jelena Jankovic recalled her US Open final against Serena last fall and says that Serena went right at her body when she was at the net, but that she managed to reflex the ball away. She agrees that it’s a legitimate play, but says that Serena has a reputation for aiming at the body and especially doesn’t like it when an opponent responds and hits a winner. A few years back in L.A. , Daniela Hantuchova claimed that Serena deliberately bumped into her on a changeover and said that she always does that.
Serena, who is the greatest player of her generation, lives by the sword, and sometimes, due to her bold reputation, a foe like Martinez is going to let her fall on it. But at least on Saturday, Williams came away with a victory, even if it was a controversial.
“I’m beginning to think it’s me, because I do have a lot of drama, and it’s always something, whether it’s my life with friends, with anybody,” she said. “It’s like I have the most dramatic life. It’s so ridiculous.”