ROGER Federer and Serena Williams were born only 49 days apart, but the difference in their levels of maturity and class is massive.
Federer turned 37 on Aug 8, while Serena will celebrate the same birthday on Sept 26.
And yet, Serena’s disgraceful behaviour as she was outplayed in last Sunday’s US Open final would be unacceptable for a raw teenager playing in her first tournament, rather than the elder stateswoman who has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles.
As she crashed to a 6-2 6-4 defeat at Flushing Meadows, Williams was warned for illegal coaching, penalised a point for breaking a racquet, before being docked a game for verbal abuse of chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
Serena called the Portuguese official “a liar” and “a thief” as she erupted into tears on the court. Bizarrely, she even referenced her baby daughter Alexis as she defended herself against accusations of cheating.
Four days earlier, 20-time Grand Slam winner Federer suffered one of the worst defeats of his career, losing in four sets to Australian journeyman John Millman in the fourth round.
In contrast, the Swiss was graceful in defeat, smiling as he gave the Aussie a high handshake at the net on a brutally hot night in New York.
“John was able to deal with (the heat) better. He comes from one of the most humid places on earth, Brisbane,” Federer said.
Serena’s toxic antics saw the same crowd booing her opponent Osaka, whose achievement of becoming the first Japanese winner of a Grand Slam singles title was unfairly overshadowed.
And, suddenly, everyone else is the bad guy for Serena and her enablers – from chair umpire Ramos to Australian cartoonist Mark Knight.
Ramos was described as sexist for applying harsher standards on women’s on-court outbursts compared to men.
Knight’s Herald-Sun newspaper was accused to being sexist by depicting a chunky and fat-lipped Williams jumping on her racquet as the umpire asks Osaka “Can’t you just let her win?’’
Even 12-time Grand Slam winner Billie-Jean King leapt to Williams’ defence, thanking her for calling out a double standard between women and men in tennis.
“When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalised for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions,” King was quoted as saying.
Of course, all of this utter nonsense, aimed at deflecting attention from the poor conduct of one of the worst losers in modern sports.
There are countless other examples of Serena’s unsavoury outbursts and comments. One of the most memorable came at the 2009 US Open when she was fined US$10,500 for a profanity-laced tirade against a lineswoman who called a foot fault against her during a semi-final defeat to Kim Clijsters.
According to media reports, she vowed to shove the ball down the lineswoman’s throat and was further aggravated when the official complained that she’d been physically threatened by the former world number one.
And, as for being upset that she was accused of cheating in last Saturday’s US Open, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou later admitted that he actually was sending hand signals to Serena, which is against WTA rules.
“I am honest. I was coaching,” Mouratoglou told ESPN. “But (Osaka’s coach) Sascha Bajin was doing the same.”
It makes Serena’s earlier tirade ring rather hollow, as she badgered poor Ramos: “You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what is right and I have never cheated.”
Rightfully, Ramos has been publicly backed by the International Tennis Federation and applauded for his tough yet fair officiating in a high-pressure situation. Let’s not forget that Williams was playing in her home Grand Slam and had the majority of fans and media on her side.
This weekend, he will be officiating the Davis Cup tie between Croatia and the United States.
“I’m fine, given the circumstances. It’s a delicate situation… do not worry about me,’’ Ramos told Portugal’s Tribuna Expresso.
There is no doubt that Serena is an incredible athlete, and one of the best female players of all-time.
However, until she can clean up her act, and accept losing in a more graceful manner, she won’t be remembered as a great champion in the way that Roger Federer will be.
This has nothing to do with sex, race or nationality. It is all about handling yourself on the days when things aren’t going your way.
Serena needs to stop blaming everyone else and making excuses. Instead, she should take a long, hard look in the mirror.
Jason Dasey hosts Weekend Mornings on Singapore’s Money FM 89.3 and is CEO of Cockatoo Media. Twitter: @JasonDasey