Serena Williams falls, but has the last word Rally wins for Spirlea

rival has history lesson

U.S. Open

September 05, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- A year ago, No. 9 seed Irina Spirlea created a bizarre incident in the U.S. Open when she intentionally chest-bumped Venus Williams during a quarterfinal match.

Last night, Spirlea was on her best behavior during her third-round encounter with Venus' younger sister, Serena, a match in which she had to rally for a 6-3, 0-6, 7-5 victory to move on to the Sweet 16.

Afterward, Spirlea laughed her way through a postmatch interview in which she said the bumping incident was history and that she and the Williams sisters have a normal relationship.

"Serena and I shook hands," Spirlea said. "We talk. I talk to her. They talk to me. It is normal. Would we go out to dinner? Don't ask so much. I am too tired to go out to dinner. I'm going to have room service, so I am going to call her in my room and have room service?"

When Serena arrived for the interview, she agreed the incident was history and that only "people who dwell on the past and problems still remember that." And then a bizarre twist occurred.

A few days ago, at another news conference, Serena was asked about the suggestion by her father, Richard, that the Open be moved to or, at least, another tournament be held, in Compton, Calif., where the Williams sisters grew up.

When asked in that earlier question-and-answer session about what she thought of having a tournament "in a ghetto," Serena turned the tables and said she wouldn't talk about it until someone looked up the origin of the word "ghetto."

The word actually originated in 1555, when Pope Paul IV put forth a decree in Rome defining where the Jewish population had to live.

Last night, after responding to the bumping incident, Serena asked the next question:

"Did anyone do their homework?" she asked, taking the tone of a school teacher. "When you came here next time, I wanted... it's been two days. None of you have a dictionary around anywhere? You could look at the computer. I'm very disappointed."

Once a dictionary was produced and the definition read to the 16-year-old, in an strange turn of events, Serena said: "That's Webster's? You're supposed to look in an encyclopedia."

And then she gave the Serena Williams version of history.

"A ghetto was -- it was actually a German word that was derived from when the Jewish people, they lived -- they actually took the Jewish people out of their homes, because the Germans wanted to be on a pedestal, compared to the Jews, and they took them out of their homes and they just put them in a community and it was the community they called it.

"They named it a ghetto. It was named that because there was no sanitation in the area, no facilities to use inside or anything. So they named it the ghetto.

"They named the facilities the ghetto and they actually had roads that led from ghettoes to ghettoes and the Jews could not leave the ghettoes. So sometimes when you guys say, 'How does it feel being born in the ghetto, that is, I think of that definition. So after that, Americans start using ghettoes as a place of bad just a bad area because that is what it originally was.

"That wasn't that hard, was it?"

When told the word ghetto goes back much further than World War II, she nodded.

"OK, we can talk," she said. "You have your information and I have mine."

The Williams sisters were born in Compton, but moved from the area with their parents when Serena was about 10 and Venus 12.

All of this was a far cry from tennis. And the tennis was, at times, compelling.

In the first set, Spirlea was in charge as Williams overhit massively with her forehand and struggled to get her serve going. But in the second, Williams seemed to take the heart out of Spirlea.

She tracked down everything Spirlea hurled at her and often, even when she looked totally out of position, was somehow able to make a stabbing return for a winner. It robbed Spirlea of some of her energy and also disconcerted her.

"I lost, I just completely lost even the size of the court," she said, thinking back to an easy overhead opportunity in the fourth game of that that she inexplicably let drop to the court, in play, right behind her. "She just made me so confused."

But in the third set, Spirlea pulled herself together and, after saving a break point in the fourth game, settled down and waited for Williams to make a mistake.

The opportunity came in the 11th game, when she went up 0-40. Williams saved the first break point with a 97-mph service winner, but on the second break point, Williams' forehand sailed long and Spirlea was ahead, 6-5. Spirlea earned match point when another Williams forehand went wide.

At that point, Spirlea, who had said barely anything during the match, swung her racket and hurled a string of words into the air.

"I don't know what I said, maybe it was Italian," said Spirlea, laughing, thinking, no doubt, about how she was fined for using profanity in a postmatch news conference.

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