Its that pain for gain. Again …

January, 1998.

SYDNEY INTERNATIONAL; Serena Williams Stuns Davenport

… (Serena) Williams, only 16 and ranked No. 96, trailed 1-6, 2-5 and faced two match points at 15-40 when she grabbed control with a combination of wily play and youthful athleticism.

Limping on her bandaged right knee after taking an injury timeout at 1-3 in the second set, Williams fashioned a 1-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory by cutting down on the errors that cost her the first set. She suddenly ripped winners down the lines and into the corners from both sides, and watched Davenport dig herself deeper into trouble with double-faults and mistakes.

January 2003

Australian Open Tennis : Serena overcomes Clijsters and blisters.

… Serena Williams ultimately fought off two match points and a 1-5 deficit in the third set to keep her now customary date with older sibling, Venus.

…though the top seeded American struggled with her consistency and sought treatment for three blisters on her right foot while trailing 1-2 in the final set, she eventually reminded Clijsters and everybody else, why she is one of the world’s most remarkable athletes.

The crowd in Rod Laver Arena did not like Serena’s decision to take an injury timeout, considering it an attempt to break Clijster’s rhythm. But they would have reacted differently if they had seen the upclose television picture of the burst blister on the ball of her foot.

Final score 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

January 2005

Australian Open Tennis : Serena Williams battles to Aussie Title.

 Serena Williams staged a remarkable recovery to beat Lindsay Davenport and win her second Australian Open title.

The 2003 champion claimed her seventh Grand Slam title, and her first since Wimbledon in 2003, 2-6 6-3 6-0.

Williams had looked close to quitting with a rib injury when she left the court for treatment after five games.

About that injury itself, here’s a bit from an award winning Medical blog

In the women’s final, Serena Williams (a regular “time out turnaround event” [TOTE] user) was playing against Lindsay Davenport, and losing badly during the first set. Unforced errors, two breaks of serve, and general malaise plagued Serena’s game.

Suddenly, Serena began wincing and stretching on every point, reaching for her chest wall and scowling. Then she called an injury time out. The trainer attended to Serena’s rib cage as Davenport cooled her heels, and her game.

When Serena came back out to play, the TOTE reared its magical head. Serena — showing absolutely no further discomfiture — steamrolled Davenport for the next two sets and walked away with the title. It was a classic TOTE phenomenon.

Serena would later say that she was suffering from “rib dysfunction” and that the trainer “popped it back in,” thus the miraculous recovery. She said:

“I reached for a backhand and I think it tweaked my back out, one of my ribs out”

“I finally decided, ‘OK, why don’t you call for the trainer and see if she can put it back in place?’ She did, and everything worked out”

Problem is that there is no such thing as rib dysfunction and ribs can neither pop out nor in. Evolutionarily, the ribs developed as a solid, unmoving apparatus designed to be a source of order, design, and stability, guarding the delicate Samba dance that goes on beneath their bony framework. If ribs were poppable, there would be dead tennis players littering the grand slam courts — and no one would ever watch!

Wimbledon 2007.

Injured Serena seals amazing win

Serena Williams, seeded seventh, won the first set easily against Hantuchova, seeded 10th. But Hantuchova broke Williams’s serve early in the second set, and Williams started to feel tightening in her calf.

With the second set at 5-5, between points, Serena Williams suddenly stopped, jolted by pain, like someone who had stepped on a tack.

She looked down at her bulging left calf. She screamed and banged at it three times with her racket, trying to loosen the knot. A trainer arrived and massaged the leg. Williams lay on her side, her face strained in anguish. Her screams echoed through Center Court. Family and friends watched nervously. Richard Williams, her father, stood. Venus uttered, “C’mon, c’mon.”


Serena, pushed by time limits, finally rose and put weight on her left leg. It buckled, and she winced. She tried again. Same result. Tears filled her eyes.


“I’ve never dealt with such pain,” she said later of an injury described as a spasm-induced strain. “I can’t believe I won, really.”

Ten minutes of hushed murmurs in the crowd turned into cheers of encouragement as Williams stood gingerly at the baseline, awaiting Hantuchova’s next serve. It came, and Williams did not budge. The next one was within reach. Williams stiffly returned it into the net, giving Hantuchova a 6-5 lead.

Between games, her lower leg was wrapped in a bandage. Williams served, without her usual power. But a couple of Hantuchova’s returns flew long, and others found the middle of the court, where Williams could reach and return them, flat-footed. Improbably, Williams clinched the game by muscling a 110-mile-an-hour ace, sending the set to a tie breaker.

Hantuchova won the first four points in the race to seven. In the stands, Venus Williams looked to the darkening sky and muttered, “Come on, rain.”

Serena Williams, taking her time on each point, won the next two as a little drizzle turned into a shower. Richard Williams stood and pointed to the sky.

The match was suspended, and some boos, rarely heard here, rained from the stands. The match resumed about two hours later, in the early evening. Williams wore cropped pants and appeared to have both legs wrapped in bandages underneath.

After Hantuchova won three consecutive points to capture the second set, the players held serve. One set all. 2-2. Hantuchova appeared to have the upper hand. Williams asked for a loo break. They had been on court 20 minutes. The umpire refused. Williams broke Hantuchova that next game. Experience at Centre Court is a huge plus. At the changeover, the umpire offered Williams the loo break. No, thanks – she says and proceeds to wrap up the match.

Serena Williams won. But did she really ?

21 thoughts on “Its that pain for gain. Again …

  1. Purely with ref to this Wimbledon match, a 3 min treatment rule is “fair and square” and it was violated- if one goes by the letter of the law. But thats not fair because thats a crap rule.
    Getting into dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s tho, is missing the point.
    And the point is about “champions” of sport (in the true sense of the term)…
    If rules allow TOTE and someone uses them to win slams and thats a winner for you – then that works for you ….
    If someone wants a loo break to disrupt a nervous opponent or does not want a loo break to go for the jugular of a frustrated opponent and thats fair, then thats your call as well.
    A lot of top players do comparable acts and a lot of top sides do it in a lot of sports. And its rare champions that don’t.

  2. I think Serena was ok after the rain break but may have played on her injury to gain advantage. She was moving perfectly well when required. The loo break was obviously part of her plan to distract her opponent. The game is played in the mind as anywhere else and Serena definitely won that battle. She used all her experience to battle it out and won through. If the roof had been there she probably would have lost!

  3. Its the whole “how much gamesmanship is good” debate, isn’t it ?
    I think Women’s Tennis is finding it a bit too stark right now because of the Williams sisters and their injuries, the Sharapova shriek, the Justine Henin coaching-from-the-sidelines ; and the sheer contrast of the Roger Federer ….
    On another note , while trying to research stuff for this post , I found an article which said this :
    “People talk about attitude and in the UK it seems very important to be a good loser. While in America you are taught to win at any cost. I personally feel that somewhere in the middle of that would be ideal. ”
    And I’d never have believed I’d hear John McEnroe say that, but age does wonders, I guess…
    Now, for my wine …..

  4. Its a mentality thing.. I will not lose and if I have to stretch the rules ( not break them , mind you), thats what I will do.

    Do what it takes to win. And its not gamesmanship either – there are rules and one is asked to play within the framework of those rules.

    As long as that is the case, everything is kosher.

    And Rahul, Greg was well within his rights as was Jardine.
    Or Nasser Hussain when he got Giles to bowl 2 feet wide of the leg stump. Or Matt Hayden when he charges pace bowlers. Or Kevin Pieterson when he reverse sweeps or rather, plays the conventional left handers sweep.

  5. Homer ,

    What Greg did within his rights and what Matt Hayden does when he charges pace bowlers are not the same thing …

    Surely ?

  6. Because bowlers are allowed to alter the length at which they bowl. And so use of the crease balances the equation. Thats the premise…

  7. so can batsmen.. they can switch their guard from ball to ball.. they can take their stance anywhere along the length of the wicket. They can play the ball in a 360 degree arc.

  8. Exactly right. Sorry , I should have clarified. I’ll say that the way I meant it.

    “Because bowlers are allowed to alter the length at which they bowl. And so giving batsman use of the crease balances the equation. Thats the premise…”

    And of course, Bowlers can choose the length from which they bowl within the crease….and over or around the stumps. And they can choose the length of run up …

    I don’t get the point about the 360 arc ? Thats the point of the sport, Homer… What rule’s getting bent there ?

  9. none are Sfx, just like Serena did not break any rules taking time off for injury or loo breaks..

    What do u have to say about players taking more than 30 seconds between points – a clear violation of the rule but done with impunity nonetheless?

  10. No rules were broken and the ones that were – (more than 3 mins treatment – more than 30 secs between most points in a blatant attempt to wait for rain) – were by no means her alone.

    As I mentioned, maybe its just the contrast that Federer provides, but its something that one sees a lot of in Women’s Tennis these days and its sad.

    TOTE and gamesmanship are by no means Serena’s exclusive domain – and she’s a great champion as and when she wins “clean”. Which , for me (and I emphasise, the “for me” bit) is without TOTE …and which is often.

    Irrespective, she’s always great television.

  11. Like I’ve said before on the blog, Homer – individual instances and matches are not fair to make generalisations.

    Patterns of behaviour are a different issue. How often one does it. How deliberate it is. How much one concedes to it. All counts. Nobody’s perfect.

    I consider Steve Waugh a terrific cricketer. And one of these days I hope to do a post about how he was good in spite of his sledging. Its not a case of blind love. Its a case of an overall picture.

  12. Sfx,

    And the pattern points towards a personality.. Who will do whatever it takes to win.. And within the rules, let me point out.

    Serena Williams does not ever praise her opponents.. Even after losing..

    Cussed? Maybe.

    So what?

    How are the traits we so admire in one sportsperson become such negatives in another?

  13. The sledging was not what I hold against Steve Waugh..

    It is the doublespeak of talking about cleaning up his team’s act while at the same time condoning Glenn McGrath ( v West Indies) and Michael Slater ( v India) for their disgraceful behavior under his watch.

  14. Homer,

    The pattern of behaviour that points to a personality and a win at all costs – (the within the rules bit is only because we allow the same leeway to others) – is that there is a pattern of injury when trailing matches… thats lying as opposed to winning at all costs…

    What dismays a fan like me (and makes it a negative) is that she can (and has – and will) win without these shenanigans. But she will also lose. And thats sport. And life.

    (Not accepting anyone as better is not as bad as biting a opponent’s ear though – she did say she felt violated by Justine Henin at the French) …

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