View From Lodi, CA Pittsburgh, PA: As Part of Her Fine, Make Serena Watch Chris Evert`s Old Matches
September 18, 2009, 05:00 AM
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I make it a rule not to write about the same subject two weeks in a row. And although today's column references tennis players, my topic is more important than athletics.

I'm dealing with sportsmanship and civility.

Serena William's profane, racquet-wielding explosion against a linesman at last week's U.S. Open confirmed, a thousand times over, what I've noted before. The players, with their fist pumping, grunting and finger pointing toward heaven, are unbearably boorish.

They're not entirely to blame. Apparently no one along their path to tennis success taught them good manners or the importance of sportsmanship.

But today's spoiled brats could learn from role models like Chris Evert.

During one of the tournament's interminable rain delays, the Tennis Channel played an interview of Evert by Marina Navratalova. And within that interview were dozens of examples of how to behave no matter how high the stakes.

First, let's learn about how Martina and Chris' unlikely friendship developed.

Evert is an all-American girl from sunny Florida, conservative, Roman Catholic and straight. On the other hand, Navratilova is Czechoslovakian-born, liberal, outspoken and gay.

For the fifteen years that their careers overlapped, Evert and Navratalova played each other 80 times with Martina holding a slight edge, 43-37.

Their intense professional rivalry remains one of the best in sports' history. Yet throughout it all, they each admired the other and became a successful doubles team.

Throughout the interview, clips from Evert's historic matches against Billie Jean King and Martina played on the screen.

As part of her fine, Williams should be ordered to watch the old films.

The way Evert conducted herself is a pleasure.

At the end of each point, win or lose, Evert dropped her eyes to the ground and, expressionless, moved to begin the next point. No one looking at Evert could tell whether she was pleased or disgusted. (See examples here.)

Evert had a fascinating way of challenging bad calls. Instead of berating the linesman with vulgarities, Evert simply looked at the spot where the ball landed for a few extra seconds.

Although Evert never engaged in any histrionics or overt demonstrations of emotion, no competitor questioned her resolve.

What happens next to Williams is up to the Grand Slam Committee, the body that oversees tennis' major events. Among its options are to impose the maximum penalty that would deny Williams her $455,000 tournament winnings and bar her from the 2010 Open.

So far, however, Williams has gotten only a wrist slap—a $10,000 fine for her outburst and another $500 for "racquet abuse".

Williams has an estimated $150 million annual income so she's not going to miss ten grand.

The penny ante fine sends the wrong message from the U.S Tennis Association to Williams. Do what you want, you're a big draw (money maker) and we don't want you to be angry with us.

The unsportsmanlike behavior routinely seen on the tennis court could easily go away. For example, give the chair umpire the discretion to assess a penalty point for excessive grunting. Nothing is more offensive to fans and distracting to opponents than the grunt, an annoying novelty that only recently cropped up in tennis. Why is it tolerated?

I have a good example to share with you about how to reinforce proper conduct.

During one of my first junior tournaments, I became incensed over a bad line call. In my youthful agitation, I flung my racquet to the ground.

After bending over to pick my racquet up, I turned around. There stood my father who had been watching from the stands.

Dad grabbed me by the wrist and hauled me off the court. First, he defaulted me. He warned me about what the dire consequences of any future juvenile conduct would be.

Then, in a lecture that I carried with me for the rest of my life, he told me about the importance of being a good sport and a gentleman no matter how adverse the conditions might seem.

Perhaps if modern players had gotten the same advice, fans wouldn't be subjected to such boorishness.

Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.