September 12, 2011

Drama, Drama, Drama

It wouldn't be a night out in New York if a couple of heated sparks didn't fly. But thankfully, this time around, those sparks didn't cause too big a fire.

Three-time U.S. Open champion Serena Williams and last year's French Open finalist Sam Stosur took the court Sunday evening in what promised to be one of more thrilling women's finals we've seen in a while. But the most exciting moments of the match came, not from a fantastic shot or a drawn-out rally, but from a chair umpire's decision and the ensuing fall-out.

The storyline, if not the details, seems familiar. Serving at 30-40 in the first game of the second set, Williams prematurely and loudly celebrated a shot that probably would have been a winner. But because the shout came before Stosur got to the ball, Eva Asderaki -- neither the official from the 2009 foot-fault debacle nor the one from Serena's famed 2004 quarterfinal with Jennifer Capriati -- penalized the American for intentional hindrance and, rather than calling a let as commentators suggested was appropriate, awarded the point and, incidentally the break of serve, to Stosur.

It didn't come at quite as crucial a point in the match as did the penalty two years ago -- the commotion actually got the crowd on Serena's side, and she was able to draw back even the very next game -- but it did set off another angry tirade from Williams. She accused Asderaki of "screwing" her over again, apparently mistaking her for Mariana Alves who officiated in '04, and threatened during the changeover, "If you ever see me walking down the hall, walk the other way." Several points later she was still fuming over the code violation.

In the end, of course, it wasn't the "free" point, but the quality of Stosur's play that won her the match. She won more than seventy percent of her first serve points and committed half the number of errors as her opponent. She got her racquet on most balls Serena hit and was able to catch her off balance more than a few times with her own serve. She was able to withstand the noise and distraction that began the second set and kept her cool when she became the accidental villain in the crowd's eye. And when a forehand from Williams sailed wide on a second match point, it was Stosur who raised her arms in stunned victory.

It's a shame, of course, that the match will be remembered more for Williams' outburst than for Stosur's win. But the latter shouldn't be ignored -- after watching Sam play earlier in the week, I felt she was probably the only player in the field capable of absorbing and handing back the power Serena could dole out. And if you watched her Sunday, you have to appreciate the way she earned her victory -- with skill, focus and very little drama.

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