Monday, June 04, 2007

You got served

Storylines like today's will help bring tennis back. There's no doubt that the sport of tennis is suffering here in the U.S. It doesn't help that only one American singles player - Serena Williams - is left in the draw.

And today the focus is on Williams's match with Justine Henin. It's not just No. 8 versus No. 1. It's not just the lone American versus the two-time defending French Open champion. This is a rematch from a three-set thriller I vividly remember watching in the summer of 2003. The 2003 semifinals at Roland Garros frustrated the hell out of me.

In my opinion it is the match that defines who Justine Henin is as a tennis player: a unsportsmanlike cheat.

In the third set, Serena Williams was serving a crucial point when Henin raised her hand signaling she wasn't ready. Serena pulled up short on her serve, serving a fault. The chair umpire called a fault, so Serena pleaded her case that Henin signaled for her to hold up. Henin didn't acknowledge the guesture. Instead, she just shrugged it off and asked to continue the match.

From there a jeering crowd began to get to the then-unbeatable Williams. Henin went on to win the third set and began a downward spiral for Williams's career. Everyone watching that match could see numerous replays of Henin clearly raising a hand to stop Williams from serving. And then everyone also saw her fail to live up to a code of sportsmanship expected in a game like tennis. When asked about it after the match, all she had to say was that in the heat of competition, she wasn't sure what Serena was arguing, so she just stayed out of it.


Ever since I've had Henin pegged as a liar and a cheat. It was one serve, and she clearly put her hand up to stall Williams. Live up to it. Admit it. Come clean with it. And yet, she didn't.

So when Williams takes the court to face off against the women's draw's top seed, I want to see Williams completely dismantle the Belgian. I've wanted to see Williams win to see the advancement of Americans (or really the only American) in Grand Slam tournaments. But for tomorrow's match, I just want Henin to get a taste of the bitter medicine she served Serena four years ago.

A win tomorrow by Serena Williams is not only a win for the United States. It's a win for sportsmanship.

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