Friday, Serena Williams lost an Italian Open semifinal match to Jelena Jankovic despite what appeared to be a subtle attempt at gamesmanship by Serena.
During the match-ending, third set tiebreaker, Serena served an ace to go up 3-0. After the ace, Jankovic complained to the chair umpire that she hadn’t been ready for the point. The official disallowed the protest because Jankovic did not have her hand up to ask for a stoppage of play.
Minutes later, a Jankovic serve during the same tiebreaker was disallowed because Serena asked for a similar stoppage. Unlike Jankovic, Serena raised a hand before Jankovic’s serve. Jankovic disputed the umpire’s call but was rebuffed.
Though Jankovic did go on to win the next four points and the match. That’s when the real fun started.
As Jankovic and Serena met at the net to shake hands, courtside microphones picked up Serena telling Jankovic, “Don’t think that I would ever treat you like that. Don’t think I would do that. I’m not Justine.”
Serena’s comment was in reference to perhaps the lowest moment in her career. In 2003 while leading Justin Henin in a French Open semifinal, Henin asked for a play stoppage by holding up her hand during Serena’s first serve.
Serena netted the attempt and asked the umpire to replay the point, with her first serve. The umpire didn’t see Henin raise her hand and disallowed Serena’s request. The decision stood after Henin refused to confirm to the umpire that she raised her hand, which she clearly did.
Incensed and apparently distracted by Henin’s gamesmanship, Serena’s game fell apart and she went on to lose the match. She later left the court in tears after being booed by the pro-Henin crowd.
Some say that match marked the beginning of a decline in the career of Serena and the turning point for subsequent Henin success.
That’s where Friday’s comment came from.
Interesting to note that when confronted with somewhat similar situations in the Jankovics and Henin incidents, Serena’s game imploded in both instances. Remarkable when you consider she’s often thought as perhaps the greatest female tennis player of all time.
Serena’s seeming inability to overcome those type of distractions accounts for the “perhaps” part.