Maintaining Sportsmanship and Composure in Professional Tennis

By Beatrice Endler '17

On Sept. 10, Serena Williams played, but lost to the unseeded Roberta Vinci in the semifinals of the women’s U.S. Open, ruining Serena’s chances of winning and completing a “calendar slam.”

A “calendar slam” requires the tennis player to win the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, the Australian Open, and the French Open, all four major competitions in the same season. Serena was close to acquiring her twenty-second grand slam singles title, but lost in the third set to Vinci 4-6.

Serena Williams reacts to lost point against Vinci (Photo: Associated Press)

Serena Williams reacts to lost point against Vinci (Photo: Associated Press)

In Serena’s post-match interview, her disappointment was expected, but her lack of respect towards the reporters and her opponent, given Serena’s position as a talented and widely admired athlete, seemed inappropriate. She shut down certain questions, stating, “I don’t want to talk about how disappointing it is for me. If you have any other questions.” Although she praised her opponent, the comments appeared to be somewhat insincere. “She played literally out of her mind,” was one of  Serena’s remarks on Roberta Vinci’s performance. This, however, was not necessarily surprising, considering some of her past outbursts on the court.

At the 2009 U.S. Open, Serena Williams played against Kim Clijsters. Clijsters won the first set, and was up 6 games to 5 in the second. Serena was serving, and it was 15-40. Her first serve went out, and so she took her second. However, the linesman noted a foot fault. This is an uncommon call, and considering that she was penalized during a defining point in the match, her objection was understandable. But, Williams not only opposed the call, she also waved her racket angrily and shouted at the linesman. The linesman reported Serena’s behavior to the umpire, and Williams was accused of threatening the official. Williams was assigned a point penalty, allowing Clijsters to win the match.

At the China Open in 2013, the Williams sisters were playing doubles in their first-round match. Unfortunately, they lost in the third set due to Serena’s double fault. Venus kept calm, but Serena repeatedly slammed her racket on the court, and then furiously threw it to the side. After this tantrum, Serena proceeded to congratulate her opponents. She has intentionally smashed her rackets, out of anger, many times.

Serena Williams is certainly not the only tennis player to overreact during matches. Her status as the number one women’s singles player in the world, however, gives her more responsibility in terms of winning and losing with grace. Her attitude and behavior in these examples act as a reminder that in professional Tennis, participants are expected to be respectful towards their opponents and officials.