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Monday, September 14, 2009

Serena Williams Foot-Fault in 2009 US Open semi-final vs Kim Clijsters

As a tennis player who wished that more recreational hackers knew at least a little bit about the rules, and more importantly, the "Code", I have more than a passing interest in the Serena Williams "foot-fault" controversy.

After reading many press reports of the incident & after personally viewing the Williams-Clijsters semifinals match on ESPN 2 Saturday night, as well as the You Tube videos of the incident, here are my conclusions...

There is no video that shows that the foot-fault call by the lines person on Serena's second serve at 15-30 and 5-6 in the 2nd set was incorrect, despite some reports to the contrary in the press & TV. While ESPN's replay and angle were inconclusive, other coverage (British broadcast?) played the incident in slow motion and seemingly at a better angle--which clearly showed the foot fault. The commentator then remarks "There's the foot-fault."

Please study the video above***the 'Cats that look like Hitler' post (especially at the point after the sequence of events is explained to Clijsters) and decide for yourself if I am indeed correct. I suggest that the clip be viewed in full screen mode.
***please ignore the video below--link is broken.

Williams had been called for a foot fault earlier in the set, not to mention being called for a number of foot faults in an earlier doubles match.

As a matter of fact, foot-faults are a problem she has had her entire career, not just at the U.S. Open--as she insisted at her "ridiculous, disingenuous" news conference (description by Mike Lupica of the Daily News). She sarcastically offered to "stand 2 feet in back of the baseline" in future matches in New York.

However, it must be admitted that foot faults are called very inconsistently--even at Grand Slam events. There seems to be an unwritten rule that this violation is not generally called unless it is egregious, and especially not on 'important' points, where the fate of the match might be decided by the call.

That this problem occurs again and again is certainly the fault of the ITF, USTA, the Grand Slam and other tournament commitees. The obvious consequence is that lines umpires are inadequately trained and unsure how to rule. Do line judges now have to consider the score and the importance of the event? Wouldn't this impact their impartiality?

Also, in this specific incident, few have pointed out that the chair umpire had the power to overrule an incorrect foot fault call. Why Williams did not appeal to the chair instead of threatening the line judge with her ghetto/thug act we'll never know...

'In matches where line umpires are assigned, they make all calls (including foot-fault calls) relating to that line or net. The chair umpire has the right to overrule a line umpire or a net umpire if the chair umpire is sure that a clear mistake has been made...'

USTA Tennis Rules & Regulations Handbook ITF Rules of Tennis
Appendix V

Since the chair umpire did not overrule in this case, it must be assumed that he was NOT sure that a clear mistake had been made. Incidentally, Williams later appeared to agree that 'she probably foot-faulted'.

In "Straight Sets", the Tennis Blog of The New York Times, these interesting and relevant insights into sports officiating were offered on 9/13--

The Thinking Behind Calling Foot Faults

"A foot fault occurs when the server touches the baseline or the court with either foot. Sometimes a player’s foot slides forward and touches the line inadvertently, and, because a player can’t see the rule violation, the foot-fault call provokes a lot of anger. Often the players’ frustration with themselves is then directed at the line official. For Serena Williams, who has been called for foot faults throughout her career, the call came at a critical moment in the match. Down by a set and serving at 5-6 and 15-30, the call on her second serve gave Kim Clijsters two match points.

Carol Cox, a veteran tennis official who evaluates line officials and referees for the United States Tennis Association, said there were two schools of thought on making a foot-fault call at a critical juncture in the match.

“One philosophy is that it is a rule, and you call it when you see it,” Cox said. “The second way of thinking is more in line with a good N.B.A. official: You don’t make a call that can decide a match unless it’s flagrant.”

John McEnroe had a similar view to the N.B.A. comparison when he was commenting on the CBS broadcast on Saturday night. “You can’t call that there,” he said.

Serena Williams had received a warning for a code violation, for smashing her racket after the first set, so her next offense resulted in a point penalty. The lineswoman, whose name has not been released, is trained to report such abuse immediately to the chair umpire.

In the end, Williams’s outburst decided the game, the set and the match.

To read the full article quoted above, please follow this link:

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