Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Serena-Capriati Debacle


The controversy continues.  Serena is on TV again today, Tuesday, four days after her ill fated match, still talking about THE CALL.

The finals of the US Open tournament last weekend were a snore. Boring boring boring.

First there were two Russian women we'd never heard of.  And don't care about. 

One of them, Ms. Dementieva, has such a lopsided, amateurish toss and serve that you can't believe she's on the tour. 


Then, the finely-tuned Swiss tennis machine, Roger Federer, swatted down hapless Aussie, Lleyton Hewitt, like he was a pesky gnat.   The first bagels in Open finals history since the 1800's.  6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-0.  Z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z.

Too bad. After Wimbledon's exciting finish in July, we had been looking forward to the pleasure of another Roddick-Federer five set struggle at the US Open.

We were expecting, hoping, these two players would continue to meet each other in the finals of many tournaments for years to come. Passing the torch between them. Perhaps Roddick, playing at home this time, would win.  

But while Andy Roddick's game has arrived.  His head is still playing catch up.  So it was not to be.

Luckily, the excitement we expected from the real finals couldn't wait and erupted prematurely during the quarters and semis.  As it turned out, the matches to watch were Roddick and Joachin Johanssen [the 6'6" Scandahoovian whose girlfriend is Hewitt's sister]. 

Federer and Agase [Could you go five sets with the Wimbledon Champion when you're 34? No, you couldn't]. 

Davenport and one of the Russians [One minute Lindsey was winning big; the next minute she was losing].

And then there was THE ONE with THE CALL -- Serena [who needs no last name] against Capriati [who is starting to look like a suburban matron].

There was good reason to expect Serena to blow though her draw and then take down one of the Russians in the women's final. Her knee seems to be getting better. Her foot speed is picking up again.

Even when Wimbledon champ Maria Sharapova  got knocked out embarrassingly early by perennial loser Mary Pierce, there was a gaggle of Russian countrywomen ready to step in and take her place. 

So we just assumed we would be watching Serena and a Russian in the finals. Done.

But first, Serena pulled off another one of her fashion showstoppers, arriving on the scene like Tina Turner preparing for battle in Thunderdome. She came striding onto the court in a skin tight, silver-studded, black gladiatrix outfit. She not only got style points.  She looked like pure power wrapped up in intimidation.

Her opponents, in their cute little white and pastel dresses and shorts, looked like giggly school girls by comparison. Costumes aside, for once it seemed like Serena also came ready to play the whole tournament, not just a few matches.

At least until she met Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinals. Theirs has been a feisty and spirited confrontation for some time. Capriati, despite her inconsistencies, has played Serena better than most.



This time they split the first two sets. 

Then came the deciding third set. And the first game. 

Serena is serving.  Serving first in any set gives a player two important advantages. One is psychological.  The other is literal. 

Serving first means her opponent will be always be playing catch up.  

This advantage is so great in the third set that you can predict the winner of the set [and the match] almost every time by who serves first. 

However, all bets are off when something a player can't control gets in her way.  Like a rain delay. Or equipment problems. An injury. Or the umpire.

So Serena is serving. It's deuce.  She hits a great backhand shot down the line that Capriati couldn't reach on her best day. The momentum of making that winning shot should have provided a valuable jolt of adrenalin, propelling Serena to take the game and elevating her confidence to take the match.

The linesman signaled the ball in. Later replays show that the ball was so far in it wasn't even touching the line. Advantage Serena, or so everybody thinks.

She goes back to serve for the game, but the umpire says "Advantage Capriati."

Shockingly, the umpire had overruled the linesman from across the court. A huge no-no. An umpire is not supposed to overrule a call, particularly from across the court, unless there has clearly been a mistake.  This one wasn't even close.

But it's only one point you say.  

Here's what that one crucial point cost Serena:

First, it meant she had to change her game. For all practical purposes the umpire took away one of her money shots for the rest of the match.  She couldn't paint the lines anymore for fear of having the shot called out.

Second, for an emotional player like Serena, the capricious call by the umpire took away her focus. Now she wasn't thinking about her next shot.  She was thinking about the idiot in the chair. 

[Say what you want, but you try not thinking about the umpire after a call like that.]

Third, Jennifer Capriati revealed herself as the jerk she is. All her disingenuous claims to the contrary, she knew the shot was in. It's her job to know. Tennis pros have extraordinary vision to go with their physical gifts. They watch the ball like a hawk zeroing in on its prey. And they know exactly where it lands.

Just listen to John McEnroe making line calls from the booth. He is rarely, if ever, wrong. And he's not even near the court.

Capriati could have told the umpire the shot was in.

This is not unusual, since players share a common opponent -- the linesmen and the umpire.  In a match where there is mutual respect and admiration between players, an opponent will often confirm to the chair that a mistake was made.

Not this time. Capriati's need to beat Serena was more important to her than maintaining what little integrity she has left.

The damage was done. Serena was toast. She eventually lost the game.

But the match had ended at THE CALL, which continued to hang over the court like an evil spirit.

Playing the rest of the games was a mere formality. 

For good measure, there were two more questionable line calls that went against Serena.

The umpire, Marianna Alves, should be permanently banned from professional tennis. Her mistake was unconscionable.


Ironically, in an interview before the start of the Open, Capriati said she was in favor of an instant replay on close line calls. 

Serena wasn't so sure.



















ann7inflorida said...

I'm sorry, I need to go back & read this entry. I just can't get over the -man arms-.

judithheartsong said...

yes, the ump should be banned. This was a disgrace.