This year’s tennis US Open, which finished last week, was wrought with rain that pushed back many of the matches, but it also came with storms of a different nature: temper tantrums. For a sport that is known as a “gentleman’s game,” tennis players can often be as far from gentlemen (or women) as you can get. From screaming at referees, to throwing rackets and swatting balls into the stands, professional tennis players can often forget their manners. The Championships at Wimbledon may require the players to wear all white, but the players’ actions can be quite deviant from what their attire suggests. Case in point: Serena Williams was fined recently at the US Open for “verbally abusing” the chair umpire. I just have one question. Where was her mother?
Before Bjorn Borg became a tennis legend, he was a tennis phenom growing up in Sweden. However, even with the talent that would eventually lead to 11 Grand Slam titles, if he ever threw a tantrum during a match, his mother would walk out onto the court and take him home. Can you imagine having the players’ mothers sitting in the front row, ready to lead them off the court in the event of a tantrum? In my opinion, facing an angry mother is a much worse alternative than the measly $2,000 fine Williams received. With all of tennis’ old-fashioned rules, perhaps they should think of adding the “mother-umpire” to help keep the players in line.
Now, Serena Williams is one of the greatest athletes on the planet. But that still does not give her the right to act like a child when a call does not go her way. Williams’s outburst of rage in this instance came after the umpire awarded a point to Sam Stosur (the eventual champion) on the basis that Williams hindered Stosur’s ability to complete the point by yelling. Ridiculous rules aside, Williams took great offense to this call and proceeded to yell and taunt the official for the remainder of the second set. Williams eventually lost and instead of collecting $900,000 for her runner-up finish, she had to settle for $898,000 because of her slap-on-the-wrist fine. She has yet to apologize for this outburst, instead only tweeting that her “emotions got the best of her.”
This wasn’t the first time Williams lost her cool during a Grand Slam event either. The most famous episode came in 2009 at the US Open, where she berated a line judge and at one point even threatened to stuff a tennis ball down his throat. This was more reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining rather than that of someone who is supposed to be a role model. For this she was fined $82,500, but not suspended. She still has not apologized for her behavior from that incident (I’m sensing a pattern).
Williams can most likely thank some of her tennis forebears for showing her how to throw a good old-fashioned tantrum. John McEnroe, now an esteemed announcer, is still known for his antics on the court. You can find many of his best tantrums on YouTube, which range from yelling at umpires (“Are you BLIND?”) to destroying water coolers with his tennis racket. Perhaps William is simply trying to emulate her elders.
Tradition notwithstanding, temper tantrums should not be regarded as a “part of the game” in any sport, especially one that prides itself on etiquette such as tennis. Williams and other athletes need to accept the fact that they are role models and act accordingly. In baseball and basketball, a profanity-laced rant will get you thrown out of the game and possibly a multi-game suspension. If tennis does not choose to enact similar rules, I think the next logical step is clear: bring in the mothers.