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Web Letter

Ridiculous premise, that the two incidents are at all the same. The sports editor (??) can't have watched both matches. Comparing these two outbursts is totally illogical, let alone using racism and gender inequality as the reason for Serena's penalty.

"You can't be serious!" Know who that was, Mr. Zirin?

Diane Perdue-Shupe

Columbia, SC

Sep 24 2009 - 5:01pm

Web Letter

As a player and avid fan of tennis, I, like others who've written letters, found this article to be severely misinformed and superficial. I'm not going to reiterate what others have said here because they've done, overall, a very good job already. I just want to mention a few things.

First, I am tired of people complaining about foot fault calls as if they are somehow an illegitimate rule. If someone's serve lands a couple centimeters outside of the service box lines, does calling it out constitute a shoddy call? Rules are rules. You're supposed to be behind the baseline when you serve. If you aren't, then you lose the point--exactly as you do when your ball lands outside the lines. The fact that it's not called very often doesn't change the rule. It's not called very often because players rarely foot fault.

Second, Serena in a fit earlier in the match smashed her racket and was given a penalty. Even without that fit her threats of physical harm and gestures to match with her racket and arm against the lines person were enough to get her DQ'd, regardless of the fact that she was at match point against her. Even if she'd been leading 6-0, 5-0, 40-love at that point she should have been defaulted.

Third, I attended that Indian Wells tournament that Dave Zirin mentions. The audience booed Serena because they believed, as I do, that she and Venus arranged the outcome of their match before the final, that they didn't play hard against each other and that the match outcome was fixed. While I can't vouchsafe for everyone who booed her as to their racial attitudes, the reason she was booed was for that reason and not because of racial animus.

Serena's a tremendous athlete and remarkable talent. She will go down in history as one of the very best tennis players ever. But her actions at the Open in the semis are inexcusable. I was struck by how composed she was in the press conference afterwards and if I had just done what she did I would have been deeply ashamed. She took a very long time to actually apologize--it was days later.

Dennis Loo

Los Angeles, CA

Sep 20 2009 - 11:57am

Web Letter

One has to wonder whether Mr. Zirin saw the two matches he writes about in comparing the behavior of Serena Williams and Roger Federer. My suspicion would be that he did not, and that his article is intended for readers who likewise did not watch the US Open; anyone who witnessed both incidents knows how dissimilar they were.

It is irresponsible journalism to misrepresent what happened in an attempt to get readers upset about a case of discrimination that didn't happen. Actual race and gender bias stories are out there to uncover; there's no need to create them from half cloth.

Susan Young

New Orleans, LA

Sep 19 2009 - 11:43pm

Web Letter

I'm a contributing editor to Pete Bodo's TennisWorld, a blog affiliated with Tennis magazine. I'm also a progressive, very well acquainted with The Nation. Full disclosure: I'm a strong fan of Roger Federer, though I always try to be an "objective partisan"--someone who cheers for victory for the player whose game I enjoy the most, but who is objective about Federer's standard of play, and any incidents he's involved in.

If true, it would be disturbing that a double standard operated for women players, but not for men. But I'm sorry to say that Dave Zirin's article doesn't make that case, and is unfortunately littered with factual errors.

As Zirin writes, Williams lost control of her temper, twice cursing out the seated line judge and at least once raising her racket in an intimidatory way. But Zirin says that the foot fault call cost Williams the match, which is not the case. The call made the score 15-40--had Williams got on with the match, we have no idea how the match would have ended.

Williams was assessed a code violation for her outburst, which was visible (and audible) to all in the stadium, as well as the TV audience. It was an egregious display of bad temper. But it was Williams's second code violation--earlier in the match she had smashed her racquet in anger or frustration, receiving an automatic warning for doing this. Because she'd already had a warning, the next sanction for a code violation is a point penalty--and because she was match point down, her loss of temper cost her the match.

Zirin writes that the foot fault call was a terrible call, putting forward no evidence for this except by making an analogy to a technical foul in a different sport, the NBA. Line judges aren't playing NBA rules, they're following tennis rules--if the line judge, acting in good faith, thought the player's foot touched the line, irrespective of the score, she's required to call the fault. Players have indeed lost matches on this kind of a call (a male player last year is celebrated on YouTube for this feat). There's absolutely no double standard here, either.

Now to the Federer incident. Federer didn't become infuriated with a line judge--he protested to the umpire, Jake Garner, that he'd allowed too much time in allowing Del Potro to challenge a call. He did not direct any profanity at any time towards del Potro, as Zirin writes, so no serious breach of tennis etiquette there. He did use profanities in his conversation with Garner, while seated, and at no time abused or threatened Garner in any way. When the changeover was done, he got up from his chair and resumed the match, eventually losing in five sets. The reason that there were no press conference apologies was that most of the journalists who covered the match were completely unaware that anything untoward had happened, and it was only because CBS's microphones were trained on the conversation that anyone heard it.

In the ATP and ITF guidelines, players can be given a code violation for an audible obscenity, and you could argue that Garner, the chair umpire, could have done this. Had he done so, it would have been remarkable: both men and women players argue with the chair umpire, at changeovers and during the match, often using salty language (women players use strong language too--gosh, what a thought), and I've never heard of a chair umpire giving a player a code violation for using a profanity in this kind of conversation, unless the player demonstrated clear contempt or threatened the umpire.

Mr. Federer has been fined $1,500 for the use of an obscenity; it's possible that this happened after this article was published, but once again, it makes it tough to cry "double standard."

So we have two entirely different situations, and no double standard. After the match, there was some media commentary on Federer's remarks (to describe it as a meltdown is hyperbole), but it didn't get nearly as much coverage as Ms. Williams' outburst--which is entirely understandable. Ms. Williams' behavior resulted in her losing her match--Mr. Federer's wasn't noticeable to anyone in the stadium except the umpire, and CBS had cut to commercial.

When Zirin writes that "the behavior of Federer and Williams are examples of bad sportsmanship at its worst," I don't know if he even believes that himself. For what it's worth, had Federer behaved as Ms Williams did, I'd have no problem whatever with the umpire disqualifying him from the match. But a player uses a profanity in an otherwise composed conversation, with both actors seated in a chair, and Zirin throws himself on the fainting couch? Donnez-moi un break.

Andrew Burton

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Sep 19 2009 - 11:38am

Web Letter

This is utterly shoddy journalism. It is clear that this writer did not watch the match he is talking about, nor does he know anything about tennis.

1) Federer did not argue with the "line judge," as is claimed, but with the chair umpire.

2) He did not, I repeat not, direct any profanity towards del Potro whatsoever. He was angry with the umpire for not applying the rules regarding the challenge system. He actually asked the umpire whether he knows the rules because it doesn't look like it. It has to be said the umpire did a horrible job throughout the match and was a bit of an embarrassment.

3) "The foot fault was a terrible call"--this is rich. There was no way to tell from a replay if it was a good call or not, something which the commentators pointed out several times during the match. I'm guessing this guy didn't watch the actual match.

4) Serena Williams repeatedly and unashamedly physically threatened the line judge, in essence telling her she would get hurt if she did her job fairly. Sure, McEnroe and Connors freaked out all the time, but they never, never threatened anyone. It would have caused an equally big controversy if they did. Federer simply sat in his chair, during the changeover, and had a go at the umpire. He didn't even interrupt the flow of the match.

This is one of the most uninformed articles I've read in recent memory. I cannot believe it is actually being published. It's not even that his opinions are idiotic--which they are, but that could still be excused--but his facts are completely wrong. Shame on The Nation for letting this clown write such trash.

John Mansfield

Boston, MA

Sep 18 2009 - 4:55am

Web Letter

Looks like some other people have already covered my thoughts here but just to chime in: This article is disturbing in its rush to point out racism and sexism.

I honestly don't know how anyone can include the two quotes mentioned from Serena and Federer, and not realize how much more severe Serena's statement was. When you add in (1) Serena standing above the lineswoman and moving her tennis racket menacingly, (2) the fact that this isn't the first time this season she's threatened violence, (3) that her penalty resulted in the match ending in a very unusual way, it's crystal clear that there are many reasons to explain the difference in the treatment of Serena and Federer by the media.

All this is not to say that race and gender don't play into perception and media behavior, and couldn't have played in here somewhere, but there is just so much clouding the view, there's no way it should be used as proof of any kind of double standard.

Matt Johnson

Long Beach, CA

Sep 18 2009 - 12:06am

Web Letter

I've been watching tennis for thirty years. This is the single worst call I have ever witnessed by a tennis official; not just because a foot fault is rarely called, but because Serena didn't even commit a foot fault. Her tirade was unacceptable, but it was the first such tirade she has thrown in eleven years of professional tennis. From the utterly ridiculous commentary of Mary Carillo, to the sanctimonious commentary on ESPN, one would think that Serena Williams was Mike Tyson, given the venom of the criticism against her.

A star tennis player is the victim of a bad call at a critical point of a semifinal Grand Slam match and she curses at an official. Why is that even news? McEnroe and Illie Nastase didn't even need to be provoked to curse at officials. Many of the women tennis players also regularly display a lack of decorum. What did Serena do that was notably different from the culture of spoiled tennis stars we've come to expect? Why haven't any of these commentators qualified their criticism with the fact that the official made the wrong call, or that Serena has never engaged in this type of behavior before? More to the point, why on earth is the sports world piling it on Serena? She made a mistake. She has apologized repeatedly. Now leave her alone.

Stephen Brown

chicago, IL

Sep 18 2009 - 12:03am

Web Letter

I am a lifelong fan of sports in general and tennis in particular. I follow sports columns and features every day. This is easily the single worst sports article I have ever read, and on nearly every level. In a contorted effort to force facts to match his thesis, the author butchers every aspect of this story. Nearly every letter from readers only corroborated my own reaction. To compare the two outbursts couldn't possibly make less sense. This piece is embarrassing.

Thomas Gabuzda

Philadelphia, PA

Sep 17 2009 - 6:08pm

Web Letter

Thanks, tennis fans, for your thoughtful and detailed remarks on this ridiculous article, including the one stating, “I would basically call the writer of this article clueless.”

By comparing these two events, Mr. Zirin completely crushes logic and common sense. it makes me wonder if he actually witnessed them, or was just writing from secondhand accounts. I would prefer to believe the latter, because If he did see them, then there's a more serious problem. Either way, this article should never have been published.

David Blanton

Ithaca, NY

Sep 17 2009 - 12:53pm

Web Letter

"The foot fault was a terrible call, and it cost Williams the match. After her rant, she was given a point penalty, and the match was effectively over." Would be nice if you could be factually accurate. The foot fault cost Serena a point, the score was then 15-40. We heard all night how often Serena has been able to come back to win matches. The penalty point ended the match, nothing "effectively over" about it--the match was over.

Bill Carlson

Billerica, MA

Sep 17 2009 - 12:20pm

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