Making Sense of Serena's Foot Fault

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Making Sense of Serena's Foot Fault
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

If you challenged several of the best Hollywood script writers to come up with the most excruciatingly frustrating finish to a tennis match imaginable—one that would leave viewers maddeningly confused and feeling utterly defeated—I think their ideas would have paled in comparison to the emotional maelstrom that actually occurred last night at the conclusion of the Serena Williams-Kim Clijsters match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

After two days of sitting through seemingly interminable rain delays, die-hard tennis fans were forced to suffer through an ending that was even more piddly than the steady rainfall that has soaked Championship Weekend for the second consecutive year at the U.S. Open.

As much as I'd like to spend the rest of the day berating Serena Williams for her thuggish tirade against an overly zealous lineperson, I'll probably only spend half of my day doing that. With the other half, I'd like to berate the piddly lineperson who took it upon herself to make the call.

It's probably callous of me, given the ire she's already drawn—a fuzzy yellow Wilson tennis ball was figuratively stuck (or was it jammed?) down her throat by a boiling-over and melting-down Serena—but I still want to take a jab at her myself. And while I'm taking a jab at her, can I please take a jab at the networks who failed to have a camera angle that could do anything but confuse viewers as to the legitimacy of the call?

Was it really a foot fault? Serena seemed to think so in her post-match press conference. She may have been in denial about a lot of things, most notably the fact that her actions on the court—no matter what the call or at what precious juncture of the match that it was made—were incorrigible. But she did not dispute the validity of the call.

But this only adds to the confusion. If Serena is not disputing the validity of the call, what does that say about her rampage? Do her actions say that she believes that foot faults should be overlooked at critical junctures of matches? If so, then why doesn't she just come out and say it?

While I don't subscribe to the act of "swallowing the whistle" at crucial junctures of matches (a term made famous by hockey referees), in this case I believe it would have been the right thing to do by the lineperson (based on the camera angle, it looks too close to call).

Instead of letting Clijsters take a whack at that second serve at 15-30 and seeing if she had the goods to finish off the only woman to come back from match point down to win a Slam this year, we got a bunch of piddliness that led to thuggishness. Was it really necessary? And couldn't it have been avoided? We'll never know.

Clearly, tennis officials need to look into making foot faults challengeable by the athletes. It would have at least given Serena closure on the matter. And it would have allowed her to move on and deal with two match points instead of ranting and raving and embarrassing herself (and the sport) on national TV.

Unfortunately, doing it now is going to be the equivalent of putting a stop sign at an intersection after a child gets run over by a Mack truck.

The damage has already been done. Clijsters won the match—deservedly so—but in the end this was a Super Saturday where everybody lost.

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