Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Professional Tennis in the 21st Century

I am very much like Billy Jean King, “I love tennis”. After watching the U.S. Open 2009 Women’s Semi Finals Kim Clijsters versus Serena Williams (defending champion) on Saturday, 12 September 2009 has changed my mind about women’s tennis.

I have watched tennis for almost fifty years and I have seen players get upset over bad calls and express themselves on the court. Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Andre Agassi come to mind.

photo from U.S.Open 2009/internet

What brothers me are the consistently bad calls that have been heaped upon the Williams Sisters over these many years. Remember at the French Open when Justine Henin requested time while Serena was in the middle of her serve, and Serena did not return the ball when Justine returned it because she thought Justine really wanted time. Then there was the incident with Venus when the Chair Umpire got the score wrong; and let us not forget the incident when the player was hit by the ball and denied being hit. And these are just the major infractions. When Venus played Clijsters, there was a 125mph serve from Venus that was call out, but was actually a great serve.

True there is a challenge system that is in place, but the Sisters rarely ever use this system. Their focus is clearly on the match, and there are people who are assigned to make calls. Yes they are human, but like Roger Federer has often said on the court, “why should I have to do your job”, because he doesn’t like the challenge system. In my humble opinion, using the challenge system results in players breaking concentration, focus, and flow to defend what they feel was an incorrect call by the lines people or the chair umpire.

Saturday night’s match began after multiple rain delays over an hour late. Kim Clijsters has been retired for the past three years (of her own decision), came out of retirement in July 2009. In her own right Kim Clijsters was a good tennis player, having won the U.S. Open in 2004. But Kim’s serves were often long, but went uncalled. Several times Serena questioned the lines people or the chair to no avail. The calls continued to get worse. And then as we approached the end of the second set, Serena was called for a foot fault.

I have complained about the obvious bias in the announcers who have made questionable comments, which have been unfair, at times racist, and unforgivably mean about the Williams Sisters in the past. I question why during tennis matches we have to listen to what they accomplished when they were active in tennis. Last night during the men’s semi final, Mary Carillo demanded that Serena Williams not be allowed to play in the women’s double final because of her outburst on the court. How many times do they have to put up with bad calls. Should they continue to act as if these calls are not affecting them?

As I watch the men’s U.S. Open 2009 final today, I have witnessed some of the same bad calls during the Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro’s match. As I watch the match is in the fifth set and during the fourth set , a fan called a serve out, Roger thought it was the linesman and that it was the correct call. But the lines person did not make the call, the chair awarded the point to Del Potro, but Roger questioned the chair, the chair explained that the lines person had not made the call, so Roger challenged the call. The Chair umpire determined that too much time had elapsed to challenge the call, even though an instant replay was played and the serve was clearly out. They replayed the point, which Roger lost... Will this call affect the outcome of the match? I think it could and has. But this was not the only bad call during the match. Roger was clearly upset over some of the calls during the match during the third set when he questioned the chair-umpire regarding a challenge by his opponent. The chair actually told Roger to be quiet on camera. Roger told the chair umpire not to tell him to shut up and the camera cut to commercial.

Serena and Venus Williams have been labeled by commentators and others as unskilled, lacking in tennis etiquette, over powering, physically muscling the ball around the court, and more. During a tennis tournament in Palm Springs, CA people in the stands were said to make unflattering comments about the sisters within earshot of their Father. Following this incident, the sisters decided not to play in this specific tournament again. The powers that be have rewritten the rules to attempt to force the sisters to play that tournament or be forced to pay fines.

Dinara Safina has also been denigrated by the powers that be for her lack of ability to win a major slam title, by the commentators and others. Dinara is young and she will hopefully come back to prove them all wrong

These young women, Serena and Venus Williams, have accomplished so much in their tennis careers winning multiple grand slam titles each. They have also done a lot for tennis, television, and advertisers. Serena’s ranking would have become number one in the world, if she had won the tournament. Would she have defeated Kim, possibly We have seen both Serena and Venus Williams come back when down a set and down in the last stages of the second set to go on to win the match. But we will never know for sure. Kim went on to defeat Caroline Wozniacki to become the U.S. Open 2009 Women’s Champion.

Is it necessary in the 21st Century for tennis players to defeat the umpires and lines people as well as their opponent in order to win a match? Does women’s tennis want to alienate all the viewers who watch tennis because of the Venus and Serena Williams? Does tennis want to alienate Venus and Serena Williams? Woman’s tennis would be very very boring without the Williams sisters, and the tennis community needs to remember what they have done for the sport and start doing something for them.

No, I am not condoning Serena’s outburst, but I understand why it happened, just like I understand why Roger had his little tirade today. Maybe the tennis management could do something to train the lines people better, ensure that there is no gambling by the lines people and no bribery. Maybe they could find a better way of utilizing technology to further ensure better line calling. I suggest that something needs to be done; otherwise women’s tennis will loose a lot more than just me as a fan.