x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

We need fire but not the bullying

Saturday night's US Open semi-final between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters went from a favoured player getting beaten by a new mum to a superstar athlete having a meltdown on national television.

Saturday night's US Open semi-final between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters went from a favoured player getting beaten by a new mum to a superstar athlete having a meltdown on national television. The racket-smashing and foul-mouthed antics ultimately cost Williams the match and a US$10,500 (Dh38,500) fine. But the wider implications with the US sporting world go much further.

The next morning details of the threatening language that Williams used hit the media and it became open season to criticise the biggest name in women's tennis. Columnists and commentators called her a "bully" and were also critical of her lack of remorse in her post-match press conference. As with all such mistakes, it is usually how the athlete handles the fall out that decides public opinion, especially in the USA. Williams' nonchalant apology post-match did little to help her.

She has since upped her contrition with more comments, but this appears to be more of a public relations bandage than true remorse. Williams is a brand and the brand took a hit on Saturday. That being said, I have to admit that John McEnroe is among my favorite athletes. I loved his game and the fire he played with. I loved that at all times McEnroe played with his emotions on his sleeve and that a perceived bad call could make him lose it in one of those classic McEnroe rants against an official.

We had McEnroe on the radio show just last week and he lamented that the new computer technology that decides close calls will make debates between players and officials a thing of the past. The days of McEnroe, Boris Becker or Jimmy Connors lobbying for a call are coming to an end. McEnroe admitted that he went too far with his arguments, but added that today's players are too lackadaisical during the match. He wants to see more fire. We saw that fire with Williams the other night, but it was misplaced and threatening.

It was not a debate of a call as much as it was a bigger person waving the racket in the face of a smaller person saying: "Do you know who I am? How can you do this to me?" The problem for her now is that whenever she even lightly debates a call, the crowd will perk up to see if she is going to have another meltdown. Other players may even bait her into it. It happens. What is worse, we will always have the video of her getting in the face of the line judge and you can hear that threat over and over.

Williams and her older sister Venus have been American household names since they were in their mid-teens. They have been criticised for arrogance and for spending more time promoting themselves than the game they play. Even though Venus and Serena have each reached the top of their sports and won grand slam events, this incident magnifies how the US public still has issues embracing them as sports icons, which they clearly are.

As for this year's US Open as a whole, it was not the sold-out event that it has been in the heyday of Connors and McEnroe. When Andy Roddick bowed out early, Serena became the last hope of Americans caring about this tournament. Now they care for all the wrong reasons. To show you how far the sport of tennis has fallen in America, I can tell you that the Serena blow-up made us talk about the US Open on our sports radio show for the first time in the past few weeks of the tournament.

With American tennis, if we are not there?we don't care. @Email:ppabst@thenational.ae