This should have been Sam Stosur's night. Not even a tantrum by Serena Williams should have detracted from the innocent joy she brought to her unexpected but excellent victory in the women's final of the US Open on Sunday night, her first in a grand slam, but it did.
Stosur is the first Australian winner here since Margaret Court in 1973 - and that ought to be the garland that hangs around the final.
But it is not. To reach her 6-2, 6-3 win, the quietly spoken Queenslander had to ignore a sustained outburst that her opponent directed at the chair umpire, Eva Asderaki, when penalised a point for intentional verbal hindrance during play.
Williams, serving at 30-40 to open the second set, screamed “Come on!” immediately after hitting a powerful forehand deep to the advantage side, distracting Stosur as she reached for an impossible get. She got a racket to it - and that was enough for the rule to come into play, and Williams lost the game.
Then it got ugly. “Are you the one who screwed me over the last time?” she said to Asderaki. It was unclear if she was referring to her infamous display in the semi-final in 2009, when she was penalised against Kim Clijsters and heavily fined, or a similar incident to Sunday night's, in Doha last year.
Asderaki was not the woman in the chair in the Clijsters match - but she did adjudicate in Doha, where Williams took the decision with equanimity.
The tournament referee, Brian Earley, who has not played a blinder over the past sodden week of rain rows and court changes, said: “The
chair umpire made a correct call under the intentional hindrance rule.”
Angry but energised
The uproar energised the American who grabbed three break points, her first of the match. In a dazzling close-quarters exchange at the net Stosur, a former world No 1 at doubles, clipped the final winning shot wide of her opponent. But Williams got the break. She was back. And the crowd went crazy in the hothouse atmosphere.
At the changeover Williams refused to let up on her barrage. “We were in America last time I checked,’ she said to Asderaki, who leaned down to hear what she was saying. “Don't look at me,” Williams shouted.
And so it continued. “If we're ever walking down the street, stay on the other side. You're totally out of control. You're a hater and you're unattractive inside. What a loser.”
There was no excuse for it, good call or not.
Stosur had two championship points when Williams netted a deep backhand. Williams saved the first, smashing at the net. A huge serve and following forehand brought it to deuce. Stosur replied with a cross-court forehand of uncompromising power for a third match point. When she did it again, leaving Williams helpless on the backhand, the match, the title and moral high ground were hers.
Calm and composed
She behaved with dignity throughout the incident, one which unnecessarily took the focus away from the tennis. Stosur’s was better. So were her manners.
Stosur, who picked up $1.8m, said: “I think I had one of my best days. I was very fortunate to be able to do it on this stage in New York.
I've been dreaming about this since I was 10, since I knew what a grand slam was. I do want to say, Serena, you are a great player and a fantastic champion and you have done wonders for our sport.”
Later Williams paid tribute to Stosur but repeatedly flat-batted questions about her own behaviour. Asked if she thought it set a good example for one of America's finest athletes to be so disrespectful to an official, she said: “I don't know.”
She went on to argue that this was the moment she lived for, the final of a major. “I was in a zone. We live for these moments.” That is all right, then. Eva Asderaki?
Well, she was just a bit-part player.