Serena’s Implosion: “Nobody’s Right If Everybody’s Wrong”

By

Leonard Zwelling

In the sixties anthem “For What It’s Worth,” Stephen Stills used that line about “battle lines being drawn.” It resonated on Saturday when 24-time tennis Grand Slam champion Serena Williams had a public breakdown because she was penalized, once, twice, three times for being coached (illegal during a tennis match), pulverizing a racquet (bad form), and then yelling at an umpire (a bad idea in any sport).

The point being made by Serena’s defenders is that similar behavior coming from a man would not have been as severely penalized. This may be so, but that doesn’t make it right.

The umpire, a known stickler for the rules, could have kept the outrage in check by not assessing Serena a full game penalty, even if that was within his power. It was also within his judgment to allow control of the match to stay in the hands of the players, not him.

Finally, the fans have got to be kidding. Booing when the new 20-year old champion gets her trophy? What is that? That’s poor form even for New Yorkers.

Everyone let’s take a deep breath and realize that a world shattering situation could have been averted had someone—anyone—simply stayed cool enough to realize that rash behavior would not lead to a good outcome. And it didn’t.

Starting with Serena, she’s a great champion and perhaps the greatest female tennis player of all time. She is also a new mother and much has been made of this in the press. She has been the focus of more than a few magazine layouts and her income has only grown from endorsements due to her excellence on the court and her personality off it. But with that comes some degree of responsibility for civil behavior. She let the fans down with her demonstration of arrogance and misplaced maternal feminism. She had a point, but this was no place and no way to make it.

The umpire was also wrong. While he was well within his rights to penalize Serena all three times, cooler heads would have realized that in the finals of a Grand Slam event, to the greatest extent possible, only the players should have a role in determining the champion. It’s like not calling a foul in the last five seconds of an NBA playoff game. Let the players play. There is no place for inserting a judgment call into the outcome of such a high profile event.

Finally, the fans need to calm down. Serena has a reputation for having a temper and allowing it to flare in public. She walks around with a well-earned chip on her shoulder and that is not attractive. That she is the premier woman to ever play the game and, of course, African-American from the streets of Compton to boot, makes her road harder and means more people will always be watching and judging. Is any of this fair? No. But it is reality.

The situation was one of those unfortunate occurrences where a series of steps escalated and at any point one or more of the participants could have stopped the disaster had it occurred to someone to do so. Alas, that didn’t happen and the implosion was there at center court for all to see.

What a mess!

But let’s be clear, no one involved acted like an adult. No one, except maybe the Champion, Naomi Osaka, who is twenty. Go figure!

Leonard Zwelling