Serena sets standard with groundbreaking snipe at official

by | National Columnist

I just had this weird image of Kobe Bryant storming up to Joey Crawford and accusing him of being "unattractive inside." Or Justin Verlander barking the same thing at Tim McClelland, or James Harrison to Roger Goodell.

And then I doubled over laughing.

This isn't so much about Serena Williams snapping during Samantha Stosur's beatdown of her in the U.S. Open women's final. Stuff happens, things get done and said, rules get broken, the rules-breakers get caught and don't like it, and blah-blah-blah-de-blah-blah.

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This isn't even about the idea of players' leverage vs. officials' leverage. Or even the sport's characters themselves, who in many ways have created a bizarro world in which they are confused with actual artists and scientists and actors and models and ... well, you know. Non-tennis players.

No, this is actually an homage to a world in which the phrase "unattractive inside" can be used with a straight face and with malice intended. Because everywhere else, you either get ejected from the game you're in or the official howls with delight at your creativity, or you get hit across the chops with a half-full beer stein and get taken to the emergency room to have your jaw realigned while you consider the vagaries of tavern rules.

In every other sport, you drop that one, and hilarity ensues. You either hear a cheerful "F--- you," hear one on your way from the arena while your teammates look at you like you're nuts, or, as we said, you get one in the mouth.

"Unattractive inside?" My god, what Joey Crawford would have done with that one.

Only in tennis. And probably only Serena. One, that seems like it's a trait that would matter to her, or other folks with equally regal self-images. Two, she's probably the only one who would bring it up in a match. I can't imagine Caroline Wozniacki laying that one out. In fact, I would like to think she would drop an F-bomb too, while mainlining a Grolsch.

Only in tennis can Serena Willilams tell an official she's 'unattractive inside' and not get laughed off the court. (Getty Images)  
Only in tennis can Serena Willilams tell an official she's 'unattractive inside' and not get laughed off the court. (Getty Images)  
The problem for Serena Williams, though, is this. Having played the "unattractive inside" card, she now has to ratchet up her insult game, and in a very nontraditional way. She would have to go all Oscar Wilde in a world where Oscar Wilde doesn't get quoted all that often.

Something like a snippy, "You are an affront to the dignity of all mankind."

Or, "Why did the gods allow your parents to meet?"

Or, "You don't scare me. You'll be back to marking down stretch pants in the remainder aisle at Costco tomorrow, while I will be jetting off to fabulous MONTE CARLO!"

Or the much less prolix but properly dismissive, "Commoner!" Or better yet, "You, madam, are a pedant!"

This is always the problem with breaking new ground in a fast-moving world. Williams will have to learn, on the fly, how to deliver the kind of insults that are cutting, abusive, yet oddly elegant.

And elegance really isn't a sports construct anyway. In boxing, most insults are preceded by a punch in the joy division, or some reference to the victim's sexuality. Not creative; in fact, rather a cliché by now.

There isn't really a good golf alternative. What would it be -- "You, sir, are an unrepentant Democrat?"

No, this is Serena Williams' particular gift to the language -- the return of the insult that confuses rather than pains. It's as if S.J. Perelman has risen from the dead and taken the jokes Groucho Marx rejected and dusted them off for her.

I mean, it's only a matter of time before she drops a cheery "You have the brain of a four-year-old, and I'll bet she was glad to get rid of it." Or, "Go, and never darken my towels again." Or, "I've had a perfectly wonderful afternoon, but this isn't it." Or, "Whatever it is, I'm against it."

Or she may just go full QE I on us, point to the chair some day and shriek, "Guards! Take her to the tower!" She'll look crazy at that point, I grant you, but who doesn't enjoy a good crazy now and then?

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay


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