NEW YORK — Already outplayed by Sam Stosur in the U.S. Open final, the last thing Serena Williams needed was to lose a game for yelling during a point.
That’s exactly what happened early in the second set, leading to an argument between Williams and the chair umpire, a scene less ugly than — but reminiscent of — the American’s tirade two years ago at the same tournament. In the end, Stosur beat Williams 6-2, 6-3 Sunday in a surprisingly lopsided upset for her first Grand Slam title.
“I think I had one of my best days,” Stosur said. “I’m very fortunate to do it on this stage.”
On Monday, Novak Djokovic will face Rafael Nadal in the men’s final.
In the women’s final, hitting powerful strokes from the baseline, and looking fresher than the far-more-accomplished Williams right from the start, the ninth-seeded Stosur became the first Australian woman to win a major championship since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.
“She played really, really well. She’s a great player, and it’s good to see,” Williams said. “I tried my hardest and she kept hitting winners and I was, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?”’
This was only the 27-year-old Stosur’s third title at any tour-level event, and what a way to do it. She took advantage of Williams’ so-so serving and stayed steady throughout — finishing with 12 unforced errors to Williams’ 25 — despite the bizarre events that unfolded in the second set.
Indeed, the biggest victory of Stosur’s career so far likely will be recalled by everyone else for Williams’ latest dispute with an official at Flushing Meadows.
Down a set and facing a break point in the first game of the second, the 13-time major champion hit a forehand and shouted, “Come on!” as Stosur reached down for a backhand. Chair umpire Eva Asderaki ruled that Williams hindered Stosur’s ability to complete the point and awarded it to Stosur — putting her ahead 1-0 in that set.
Williams went over to talk to Asderaki, saying, “I’m not giving her that game.”
Williams also said: “I promise you, that’s not cool. That’s totally not cool.”
Some fans began booing, delaying the start of the next game as both players waited for the commotion to subside.
Tournament director Brian Earley said Asderaki’s ruling was proper.
But Williams had trouble putting the whole episode behind her.
During the changeover two games later, Williams continued to talk to Asderaki, saying, “You’re out of control. … You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside. … And I never complain. Wow.”
Williams also told the official: “Really, don’t even look at me.”
When Stosur wrapped up the match with a forehand winner, Williams refused the customary post-match handshake with the chair umpire.
“I hit a winner, but I guess it didn’t count,” Williams said during the trophy presentation. “It wouldn’t have mattered in the end. Sam played really well.”
This sort of thing has happened before at the U.S. Open to Williams, who won the tournament in 1999, 2002 and 2008.
In the 2009 semifinals against Kim Clijsters, Williams was called for a foot-fault that set her off on a profanity-laced outburst at a line judge. Williams lost a point there, and because it came on match point, Clijsters won. That led to an immediate $10,000 fine from the U.S. Tennis Association and later a record $82,500 fine from the Grand Slam administrator, who also put Williams on a “probationary period” at Grand Slam tournaments in 2010 and 2011.
A poor call during Williams’ 2004 U.S. Open quarterfinal loss to Jennifer Capriati was cited as a main reason for the introduction of replay technology in tennis.
For the men, when Djokovic faced Nadal in the 2010 U.S. Open final, the guy everyone calls “Rafa” solidified his standing atop the tennis world by earning third Grand Slam title of the season.
Now it’s “Nole” who gets a chance to add to his own remarkable run: A victory over Nadal in the title match at Flushing Meadows on Monday would make Djokovic 64-2 in 2011 with 10 titles, including three at majors.
It also would make Djokovic 6-0 against Nadal this season.
Oh, how their rivalry has changed in the short span of 12 months.
“Well, it’s obvious that this is the best year of my career, by far. The confidence level that is very high at this moment for me helps me … go for the shots that I maybe in some situations wouldn’t; that I wasn’t going for … in the past couple years,” Djokovic said.
“But it’s all, I think, a process of learning and getting experience and maturing as a player, as a person,” he added after coming back from two sets down and erasing two match points to beat Roger Federer in the semifinals Saturday.
At the end of 2010, Nadal led Djokovic 16-7 in head-to-head matches, including 5-0 in tournament finals and 5-0 in Grand Slam meetings.
It’s been a whole different story of late.
Heading into Monday — the fourth year in a row the U.S. Open has stretched into an extra day because of rain — Djokovic is 5-0 against Nadal in 2011. Those matches all were in finals, including on hard courts at Indian Wells, Calif., and Key Biscayne, Fla., on clay at Madrid and Rome, and on grass at Wimbledon.
After that latest setback, in their only Grand Slam encounter of the season, Nadal acknowledged that Djokovic has gained a psychological edge over him — similar to the sort of hold over Federer that Nadal appeared to gain over the years.
And Nadal sounded a similar note when looking ahead to taking on Djokovic again in the U.S. Open final.
“I am not very happy about my mental performance against him this year. That’s true, no? Because for moments I didn’t believe really 100 percent (in) victory. That’s (a) big problem. Because when that’s happening, you have your chances less, much less than if you believe,” Nadal said after eliminating Andy Murray in the semifinals. “So that was (a) problem, and that’s what I gonna try to change for Monday.”
Nadal was asked whether he’d employ a new strategy against Djokovic this time.
“I think I’m going to do serve and volley,” he cracked, knowing full well — as does everyone else — that he will stick to the beat-’em-from-the-baseline tactics that have carried the 25-year-old Spaniard to 10 major trophies and a career Grand Slam.
A day after winning Wimbledon for his third Grand Slam title — and No. 2 this year, along with the Australian Open — Djokovic rose one spot in the rankings to No. 1.
That dropped Nadal to No. 2, and Monday’s match will be the first U.S. Open final between men ranked 1-2 since No. 2 Pete Sampras beat No. 1 Andre Agassi in 1995. For all of their Grand Slam finals against each other, Nadal and Federer never have played in any round at Flushing Meadows.
Federer appeared set to get to his seventh U.S. Open final in eight years, leading 5-3, 40-15 in the fifth set against Djokovic on Saturday. But Djokovic ripped a cross-court return winner to save the first, then fended off a serve into his body on the second and eventually took that point, too.
That began a run of four consecutive games for Djokovic, allowing him to complete a massive comeback and reach his third final in New York. The 24-year-old Serb lost to Federer in 2007, then Nadal in 2010.
“What he does really well this year — he front-runs really well,” Federer said afterward. “And he started playing great. It was hard to counter his playing.”
That’s been the case for pretty much everyone who’s tried to deal with Djokovic during what, by any measure, is one of the greatest seasons in the history of tennis.
Or any sport, for that matter.
“Probably his movements are better than before. He’s having less mistakes than before. … He’s playing with high confidence,” Nadal said. “He’s great to keep his mind fresh in important moments, fight every point. He’s doing everything fantastic.”
Precisely the sort of thing people were saying about Nadal a year ago.