From my column Sept. 10, 2018:
Serena Williams flashed the ugly side of her character Saturday in the women’s final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, drawing three penalties, first for receiving coaching, then for smashing her racket on the court in frustration, then for berating the chair umpire.
Her behavior has reminiscent of an episode at the U.S. Open four years ago when she was disqualified for threatening a line judge during a profanity-laced tirade.
Williams is unquestionably the best player in the history of women’s tennis. Her legend has grown since she gave birth to a daughter last year, then returned to the game and almost instantly reached the top again.
When she’s winning, Williams performs with sportsmanship and graciousness. But when she’s losing, as she was Saturday, she’s a petty, angry player who finds someone else to blame. This Serena Williams is unworthy of the adoration lavished on her since her comeback as a mother.
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A year later, Williams was back in the U.S Open final Saturday, still in search of Grand Slam singles title No. 24, which would tie her with Margaret Court for the all-time record.
And, after losing in the 2018 final to upstart Noami Osaka, Williams faced another ascendant star in Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, whose parents had emigrated from Romania in 1994. Bianca was born in 2000, a year after Williams won her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open.
Williams, who had stormed through her matches in New York over the past two weeks, was a heavy favorite to defeat Andresscu, who came into the final ranked No. 15 in the world. Williams was ranked eighth, but that’s a result of skipping tournaments to rest her 37-year-old body and spend time with her daughter. Most everyone still considers her the best female player on the planet.
But Williams just didn’t have it Saturday. Unraveled by the depth, speed and angles of Andreescu’s serves and ground strokes, Williams repeatedly double-faulted and fell behind quickly before recovering to win four games in a row and tie the second set at 5-5.
That’s when Andreescu managed to calm her nerves and win the last two games to take the championship trophy.
As the two players embraced at the net after the final point, Williams smiled genuinely. Post match, she offered praise for her young opponent and thanked the legion of fans who had cheered wildly for her throughout the tournament and in the final.
This time around, Williams berated no line judges, treated the chair umpire with respect and accepted defeat graciously. This time around, Serena Williams behaved like the true champion she is.