In 2009, Serena Williams was already in US Open semi-final. While defending champion, the American lost her temper against a lineswoman on a match point. Story of a historical fit of anger since decisive in the final victory of her opponent, Kim Clijsters.
It was in 2009, Serena Williams was then World No. 2 and playing her place in the final of the US Open. The goal for the American was no less than to retain her title. Against her, the ex-retiree Kim Clijsters. After two years of absence, the Belgian was coming back on the courts as a young mother for the US tour. Wildcard at the US Open, the 2005 winner passed brilliantly the Kutuzova, Bartoli, Flipkens, Venus Williams and Li Na obstacles. Before entering the Arthur Ashe court, packed, Serena had already dominated Clijsters seven times out of eight matches. Yet "she seemed nervous," remembers Yves Simon, Belgian journalist for Sudpresse who was on site at the time. "Kim defeated her sister after an epic match and Serena had to face Kim again ten years after a hotly contested match at the US Open. In short, there was an emotional context." Despite a good start, the American lost the first set. 4-6. The second set was more disputed, but the American was still back against the wall. 5-6, 15-30 on her service, the "Go Serena!" were clashing with the "shhhhh!" After a first serve that went out Serena went back into place, set forth and... « FAULT! »
A quite «violent» explanation
On her left, the lineswoman Shino Tsurubuchi was adamant. Foot fault on the service. Serena stopped short, booed. Dismayed, hands on hips, the American looked at the baseline. With 15-40, Serena tried to refocus... But it was too late. Furious, she ran to the chair of Shino Tsurubuchi, lineswoman since 2002. "I pray for players not to touch the line with their foot," said the lineswoman to Sports Illustrated one year after the incident. "But if the players do, we have to call it." The World No. 2 gesticulated and pointed a finger towards the official then said a few words. Tsurubuchi stayed still and then looked at the chair umpire Louise Engzell, as if to implore her support. Standing in front of the Japanese lineswoman, Serena Williams continued to yell. "It was quite violent," remembers Yves Simon. "She was pointing her racquet in her direction and the lineswoman was quite small, so the contrast was striking." Kim Clijsters stayed away. "Honestly, I didn’t want to get involved," she told the press. “I thought “Okay Kim, don't lose your focus. You still have to win the last point.”'' Behind Shino Tsurubuchi, incredulous spectators were observing the face to face.
Serena Williams returned to serve, aggressively bouncing the ball on her line. Shino Tsurubuchi then looked at Louise Engzell, assented and walked toward her. The two women discussed while a dumbfounded Serena Williams looked at them. Spectators stood up and booed. It was a mess. The Umpire Brian Earley arrived with a determined step on the court, assisted by Donna Kelso, WTA supervisor of the American Grand Slam. Serena listened and suddenly said: "I never said that I was going to kill you! Are you serious?" Journalists, too, were astounded. "At the moment, we didn't understand what was going on," recalls Yves Simon. They only understood the end of the story later.
A 82 500 $ fine, a new record
What did Serena Williams said to Shino Tsurubuchi? The sentence, the media decrypted it by reading on the lips of the American from the video: "I swear to God I'll fucking take the ball and shove it down your fucking throat." Charming. The problem was that it wasn’t the first fit of anger of Serena in that match. After throwing her racquet on the floor in the first set, the younger Williams had already been booked. At 15-40, the penalty point was fatal. Clijsters won the match 6-4, 7-5.
A few seconds later, Serena Williams walked to her bench and threw her racquet in rage. Then she came to shake hands with Kim Clijsters who seemed very surprised too. "She just said 'Good luck, I hope that you will win the title,'" later said the Belgian. The American then took her belongings and left the court to the applause of the fans. "Go Serena!" Yves Simon remembers that Kim Clijsters was "livid" on her chair. "She didn't understand wh at happened. It was as if she couldn't agree for the match to end up like this." But it was already over, "Ladies and gentlemen, the 2009 US Open finalist: Kim Clijsters!" At the end of the fortnight, the Belgian even won the title.
«Give her a hug»
The price to pay for Serena Williams was pretty steep: 10 500 dollars (about 7000 £) for the altercation and the broken racquet, and then, after two months of investigation, a 82,500 dollar fine, the largest fine ever received by a player... The American also remained two years under probation. In a statement, Serena admitted to have behaved "inappropriately". After her doubles title with Venus, Serena even answered to the press: "To this lineswoman, I would give her a hug and tell her that I'm just... Let's just put it behind us and look ahead." But not too much, it’s important to stay behind the baseline…