Funny that a stadium named after Arthur Ashe, one of the most collected players to ever hold a racket, has become known as the place to rage against the tennis machine.
What will Serena Williams do in New York this summer? Yes, there is great interest in whether Williams, the Wimbledon champion and Olympic gold medallist, can keep that success going on her home side of the Atlantic by winning the final slam of the year. But you just know there will be almost as much scrutiny of the other run she’s on, having growled at officialdom the past couple of times she has played at the US Open. Perhaps Williams does both, crushing the field and effing as she goes, so confirming her status as the greatest, most watchable, player of her generation. New York City tends to bring out the best and worst in her.
To truly shock Flushing Meadows this summer, Williams could go quietly, minding her Ps and Qs. Unlikely. Even Williams thinks “something will happen” this year. If that ‘something’ is on the same scale as events in 2009 and 2011 – she missed 2010 because of injury – the tournament director ought to schedule all her matches late at night, after America’s children have gone to bed. The worst of the two incidents came during a semi-final against Kim Clijsters at the 2009 tournament when, furious with a lineswoman for calling her for a double-fault, she threatened to stuff a tennis ball down her throat. Then, on the way to defeat to Sam Stosur in last summer’s final, after a hindrance call for crying out “C’mon” during a rally, she spent the next changeover accusing the umpire of being “a hater” who was “unattractive inside”. Ask the casual tennis fan about the women’s tournament at last year’s US Open and they might be able to quote Serena at you; less likely that they can tell you who won the title. That was a pity for Stosur, but there’s no getting around the fact that Serena commands attention at the US Open.
Though Williams’s first slam title came at Flushing Meadows, some 13 years ago in 1999, she has not had been as dominant in New York as she has been in Melbourne or London. She has won the Australian Open and the Wimbledon Championships five times each, and the US Open on three occasions, the last of those being in 2008. For Williams to win the US Open for a fourth time, does she need to learn to count to ten to control her temper? More of the internal dialogue, less of the external cursing.
“My mind frame this year is that something is going to happen for sure because something always happens to me at the Open, whether it’s a horrendous line call that’s two feet in or whether it’s a grunt and I get a point penalised. Or a foot fault when I actually don’t foot fault. I’m prepared for something to happen,” Serena has said. “Hopefully if I get to the semifinals or finals, I’m really prepared and really going to count — I’m going to try to make it to 10. But if I don’t, I don’t, you know, hey. I can’t stop who I am, you know. I’m definitely going to start one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight and see how far I get.”