A top-ranked tennis player in a moment of rage cursed out a judge and shocked the world, headlining every sports and news program from ESPN to MSNBC. Meanwhile, another champion tennis player hurled expletives at a judge and the media barely yawned. While the tennis world still reels from Serena Williams’s f-bomb-laced tirade against a line judge on September 12, the “classy” Roger Federer pulled a similar tantrum two days later and didn’t get half as much coverage.
In US Open finals on September 14, Federer lost in five sets to the previously unheralded Juan Martín del Potro. In a tense third set, after a challenge by del Potro, Federer became infuriated with the line judge. After the judge told Federer to settle down, he said, “Don’t tell me to be quiet, OK? I don’t give a [expletive] what [del Potro] said, OK?” The 6-foot-6 power-serving Argentinean frustrated Federer throughout, and the favored player lost his famous cool. But after the match, there were no press conference apologies from Federer. And there were no calls for him to be suspended, fined or sanctioned. This despite the fact that his profanity was directed toward del Potro, a serious breach in tennis etiquette.
Williams without question lost control as well. After being called for a critical foot fault in her semifinal match against Kim Clijsters, she said to the line judge, “If I could, I would take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat.” 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 as Clijsters looked on in a state of bewilderment. It’s worth mentioning that the call by the line judge was the equivalent of calling a technical foul in Game 7 of the NBA finals with the score tied in the closing seconds.
The behavior of Federer and Williams in these matches are examples of bad sportsmanship at its worst. But the double standard is enough to make you want to swallow your tennis ball. When Williams lost it on the court, she later apologized and admitted idolizing tennis’s infamous enfant terrible John McEnroe. McEnroe, now an announcer on CBS, responded, “I guess she idolized me for the wrong reasons, apparently. I feel like I’m on the hot seat now…. I can’t defend the indefensible.” His co-anchor, Mary Carillo, was even harsher, saying, Williams “could have won the Oscar” for her calm performance at the press conference after the match.
On September 13 on ESPN2, Carillo called for Williams’s suspension, saying, “If you care about the integrity of your sport, you throw somebody out of the game for a while.” Later, she called Williams’s $10,500 fine a “joke” and an “embarrassment.” By contrast, when Federer cursed, CBS broadcaster Dick Enberg drew a distinction that it was not “venomous.”