WIMBLEDON: Serena Fumbling Around. Question, but Don’t Assume Worst



Questions are fair. Assumptions are not. And I think people are crossing the line on Serena Williams’ bizarre actions the other day, when she couldn’t catch the ball, couldn’t hold the ball, couldn’t toss the ball, apparently couldn’t see the ball, serve the ball or even hit the ball during warmups and the first few minutes of her Wimbledon doubles match with her sister, Venus Williams.

Three games into the match, after Serena had double-faulted on all four of her service points, including some serves that she hadn’t hit hard enough to get all the way to the net, they retired from the match. Venus held her hand as they walked to the net for the last time.

So what did you see? Because Chris Evert wondered aloud if Serena’s problem was something that needed to be drug-tested for. And Martina Navratilova said it was “clearly” not a sickness. Williams and Wimbledon officials made things worse by saying, overly generically, that the problem was a viral illness.

And the suggestions might be right, or might not be. My inclination is to be concerned for her emotional state before being suspicious of her behavior. I’m still going back to her singles match a few days earlier, when she seemed scared, fought off tears and played poorly. I’m not just saying this in hindsight, either. What I wrote after her singles loss was that she seems afraid.

It stood out. It was different than the Serena we have seen for years.

Don’t assume the worst about her on this. It’s equally possible that Williams’ issues are emotional. People can be emotionally rung out and it can look like this.

Of course, I’m just guessing, too. It looked so disturbing, though, to see the strongest face of women’s sports in the world lose her senses and coordination like that, and to apparently not even know it was that bad.

Whatever the reason for her condition, Williams shouldn’t have taken the court like that. If she didn’t know how disoriented she was, then what about her support group, her team, even Venus? Her own coach has been quoted as saying he hadn’t seen her for two days before that doubles match.

It’s just so hard to know what’s going on in the personal life of these people. For example, there are reports out of London that Andy Murray’s terrible play Wednesday might have been related to a fight he had with his girlfriend right before the match. Murray was reportedly cursing on court, looking to his box and saying, “Five minutes before the f—— match” and “Shut the f— up.”

Who really knows? These athletes have personal lives beyond serving as our personal entertainment.

Now, if Williams’ issue is something that needed to be drug-tested for, then there needs to be some sort of consequence for that. People paid for those tickets to see her, and if they didn’t get a match because of something like that, then there needs to be a suspension. The WTA tour needs to investigate this, but I’m reluctant to say that too loud because it is not my first thought.

I do think we need some sort of explanation, when all-time greats are so publicly expressing doubts, and one of the strongest people we’ve ever seen could barely stand up. For some reason, the viral-illness thing just doesn’t ring true. It sounds too intentionally vague.

Williams looked emotionally rung out during the French Open, too. And by the start of Wimbledon, I was already wondering if she was having issues with apathy about the game, hitting at just the wrong time as young stars are emerging and challenging her. Genie Bouchard is now in the Wimbledon final, one win from becoming a new, young superstar. She and Simona Halep lead yet another generation to challenge Williams.

At 32, is she really up for another years-long fight?

Now, Williams has brought on the suspicions about her. In the past, she has had so little interest in tournaments that aren’t majors that she would pull out at times citing questionable injuries. A few years ago, she said she cut her foot stepping on broken glass at, or in front of, a restaurant in Germany. Williams’ take on the story was inconsistent, and it was beyond belief that no one recorded it on a cellphone, posted it on Twitter, or stepped up to even say they had witnessed it.

So now she was fumbling around, unable to play tennis yet taking the court at Wimbledon. People have questions, and that is fair.

“I find it distressing,” Navratilova told espnW. “I think virus, whatever they’re saying it was, I don’t think that was it. I think it’s clear that’s not the case.”

No. Nothing is clear yet.


About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

10 responses to “WIMBLEDON: Serena Fumbling Around. Question, but Don’t Assume Worst

  • roGER

    The key thing is something Greg doesn’t mention.

    Serena Williams could barely hit a ball during the warm-up. A doctor, yes a trained doctor, not a paramedic was then called, and spent over 10 minutes examining Serena Williams.

    There are plenty of things the doctor could check for during this ten minutes, and the video evidence shows checks for pulse and blood pressure and of course breathing. The doctor would almost certainly check for dilated pupils, evidence of poor circulation, raised temperature and so on.

    The doctor couldn’t find a thing, and allowed Serena Williams to play. So we’re asked to believe that a viral illness severe enough to cause Serena Williams to lose her balance and hand eye co-ordination had no detectable physical symptoms! Either the doctor was completely incompetent or (gasp, shock, horror, racism!) Serena Williams isn’t telling the truth.

    Supporting evidence? The reactions and attitude of Serena’s best friend in the whole world – Venus Williams. Venus was completely unconcerned for sister during the entire episode – indeed at times she seemed slightly annoyed by her sister’s behaviour.

    Put the whole incident down into the mysterious and ever growing file that’s labelled “The Williams Mysteries” that includes unidentified Munich restaurants, racist abuse at India Wells, treating drugs testers as dangerous trespassers and allegations of match fixing. I hope one day someone in the Williams entourage loses patience and decides to tell the truth – it’ll make a hell of a story.

  • sarah godwin

    Roger, you are full of crap and so are Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and Greg Couch. A Doctor DID diagnose Serena earlier with a Viral infection. Venus stated that Serena had been ill for a while, but she had good reason to trust her sister’s judgement in trying to play. That reason? She’s Serena Williams.

    After her own diagnosis of an auto-immune illness, Venus had been playing terribly during a doubles match, but Serena continued to play on beside her.

    They each trust the other to make the determination as to whether or not to play – for herself. Venus’s alleged “unconcern” was merely indicative of the fact that she already Knew what was ailing Serena: A stomach bug or other viral illness that she realized would blow over relatively soon.

    Ever try to play tennis with the flu? Or with a stomach bug that had caused severe dehydration and sleep deprivation? How about with a Viral Infection of the Inner Ear? That often causes VERTIGO. Serena’s lack of coordination and lack of balance could have been symptomatic of a classic case of it. All the nonsense from Evert and Navratilova was just that: Nonsense (with a hint of slander).

    Again, Venus knew earlier that Serena was ill with a Virus, so there was no “annoyance” towards Serena. Maybe Venus heard a crack from some racist dimbulb in the crowd. That had happened before. The fact that Venus walked Hand-in-Hand with Serena off the court as if they were children again gives the lie to your strange “assessment” of alleged “irritation” at “Serena” on Venus’s part.

    And what do you mean by “unidentified” Munich restaurant? You and Couch sound like racist Obama “birthers!” Why should Serena have to “prove” anything to you twits? She had Operations on the feet that were cut outside that restaurant. The FACT that those operations and cast led to a relatively sedentary recuperation which led to blood clots which led to a pulmonary embolism is not a figment of anyone’s imagination!

    And the person who was with Serena at that restaurant was her young Nephew – not a litigious lawyer apt to take “cell phone” pictures! His Aunt was in pain and literally Bleeding! He was obviously more concerned about getting MEDICAL help than Legal help!

    And everyone and his brother know that the evil done to the Williams family at Indian Wells was racially motivated – whether or not they ADMIT it.

    And as for “drug testers?” Serena Williams took the maximum number of rigorous drug tests Allowed by Law last year- one of her most dominant on tour Ever – and Passed all of them. Too bad we couldn’t say the same for Eastern European woman tennis pro, Sesil Karantantcheva, a few years back. Karantantcheva FLUNKED drug tests and was Banned from tennis for Years because of it.

    The irony for rabid racists stupidly pointing the finger at the Clean, Naturally hard-working Williams Sisters? Sesil Karantantcheva, PED cheat, was Juiced to the Gills when she “beat” a Clean, Naturally highly-skilled Williams Sister whose official ranking Unfairly dropped as a result.

    Serena Williams is a justifiably famous, attractive, interesting woman who was STALKED by TWO men. The first was a German man who flew around the world trying to follow Serena Williams for a Year and a Half! He was finally arrested in New York while stalking her and saying he was ” in love” with her and wanted to meet and marry her.

    The second stalker actually made it onto the Williams Sisters’ property! And was arrested.

    In addition, a FAKE “drug tester” – an Imposter- had shown up on the Williams Sisters’ doorstep earlier. The problem for that wacko was this: The Williams Sisters were both Honors Students and they Called officials to verify. Officials told them that NO ONE had been to drug test them.

    Given THAT history and the fact that Two WOMEN, but for due diligence and their own savvy, might have been in danger of being victimized over and over, you’d think tennis officials would have better sense than to later send a drug tester to those two Ladies’ home at the crack of dawn when presumably there was no one at the “office” to verify. Sane people are Glad Serena has a panic room and understand that she was entirely rational in resorting to its use.

    As for the bizarrejly ridiculous claims of “match fixing,” look no farther than the initial “source!” A Russian tennis player just off the boat, aptly named, DEMENTieva, who had just been beaten by both Williams Sisters. She later stated she’d been joking about the Williams’ Sisters’ father allegedly “deciding” which sister would win. That racists at Indian Wells as well as reporters took her comments seriously and used them as an excuse to spew racist vitriol is downright demonically bigoted

    A book “should be written,” alright. And Richard Williams just wrote it.

    • roGER

      Sarah, don’t you dare call me a racist!

      I support and respect black players such as Heather Watson, Gael Monfils, Sloane Stevens and many more.

      It’s true that i dislike the Williams family, and Serena Williams especially for the contempt they have shown over many years to fans like myself, and the way they never seem to tell the truth about anything.

      Why oh why oh why people like you can’t accept this and instead ALWAYS reach for the racist slur is beyond me.

      • Jane Austen

        Fuck you roGER or whatever you call yourself, you are a racist cunt and you know it!

        Williams this and that , one would think they are the worst players on tour. Do you know there worse players, players threatening Umpires like Fognini who also called an opponent “a Gypsy”

        Racist fucks like you will alway try to justify your ugly hatred. As a whit person myself i am very grateful for all this years that this hard working ladies have represented us regardless of the hard time that racist bastards like you have given!

      • roGER

        Sarah, if you speak as well as you write, nobody listens to you.

  • Sarah Godwin

    Roger, it was indeed biased of you to assume the worst when virtually nothing in Serena’s nearly 20 Year Career warranted that. And the fact that you lump Venus and Serena together as if they are one entity rather than two distinct personalities sets off warning bells as well.

    You don’t know the Williams family well enough to “dislike” them – and they have normally treated fans – even the evilly bigoted ones – with a remarkable sense of decency that those tennis “fans” sometimes did not deserve! See Indian Wells.

    And it is also duly noted that big-mouthed Sloane Stephens or Gael Monfils, etc. have not defeated the great white hopes for major titles. Much easier for biased people to allegedly “like” people of color who keep their “place.”

  • Sarah Godwin

    Roger, btw, You are the one being Dishonest in crazily thinking you can get away with Pretending the Williamses allegedly, “Never tell the truth about anything!” That is a hyperbolic LIE on that family and you and everyone else know it.

    You sound angry because I proved to you that it has been White tennis players who have been Dishonest – from the Eastern European PED Cheats to the Eastern European Match- fixers. Look all THAT up. Then leave the Naturally hard-working Williams Sisters ALONE!

    • roGER

      Sarah, you’ve made serious allegations against me, and have failed to respond to any of the points I’ve made. Fuck off.

      • Sarah Godwin

        ?!? WRONG! It is Clearly seen that I have addressed nearly Everything in your dissembling, dishonest, truly ignorant post. And it is YOU who have made serious allegations against Serena Williams and her family – allegations that make NO sense whatsoever. You ridiculously Tried to smear the Williamses as allegedly “dishonest” when they have been as honest as a July day is long compared to Dishonest Justine “The Hand” Henin and Maria “Balco Connection” Sharapova. And that’s just for starters. It was other Russian (male) tennis pros who had proof against Themselves of match fixing. Some racist and/or ignorant white people just have a raging case of projection when it comes to Honest, hard-working, Excellent black people. Admit it.

  • roGER

    Sarah, I hate Maria Sharapova. I guess in your narrow bigoted twisted little world, the only reason for that is because she’s white. You’d be wrong about that, just as you’re wrong about me hating the Willliams sisters because of their race. But you just can’t accept that can you?

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