Come at the queen, you best not miss.
But that’s just what Roberta Vinci did against Venus Williams in their Wuhan Open semifinal encounter in China on Friday. Vinci came back from 4-1 down in the third set and found herself in a tiebreak battle to end the match. Not so invincible against the House of Williams on this day, she soon found herself down 6-4 in said tiebreak. Tension ran sky-high as Venus held double match point on the Vinci serve.
After watching a fault, Venus set up slowly for a second-serve return as the ball boy bounded away with the ball from Vinci’s errant serve. Vinci, already irritated by the amount of time Venus was taking between a couple of previous points, came off her emotional hinges.
Vinci delivered an expletive in Italian in Venus’ direction, which prompted Williams to reply, “He was still running” about the ball boy. Came the sarcastic retort from the other side of the net, “Would you like tea or coffee or something?”
Two words then from Venus: “Excuse me?”
After trading these testy rhetorical questions, the two resumed play. Venus sent a hard backhand up the middle of the court and Vinci’s forehand didn’t find the sideline angle she wanted, dropping it wide. The two met at net after Venus put up a fairly angry fist pump and shot a formal glare at Vinci. Their handshake, suffice it to say, was fleeting. Game, set, match and sportsmanship: Williams.
She won, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
To her credit, Vinci was conciliatory — as the defeated often are — in her post-match press meeting.
Roberta Vinci on Venus’ time between points in the tiebreak. Said she was more annoyed that umpire did not step in. pic.twitter.com/8mhkkYGdmm
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) October 2, 2015
The incident marked a turn of character for Vinci, such a charmer in her on-court interview in New York upon defeating Serena Williams, thus ending the No. 1 star’s quest for the calendar-year Grand Slam. Here she charmed no one, offering a limp reason to get angry when down match point a few weeks and a few time zones removed from that richly deserved moment in Queens.
In short, she blew it. Venus took advantage, and Vinci was frustrated to have lost a huge lead. She held a match point, as Venus would point out later to the press. (Even so, Venus herself had an earlier match point — at 6-5, 40-30 — in the deciding set. So quickly those can be gone, and to the tiebreak they went.)
Venus remarked on court after her victory that, a day before downing Garbine Muguruza for the Wuhan title, she wished she could retroactively hand the defeat of Vinci to her younger sister.
”Definitely watching the match at the U.S. Open, I learned a lot from Serena,” she said, ever the thoughtful sibling. ”If I could, I’d give my win to Serena at the U.S. Open. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.”
The squabble wasn’t the first in a Venus match this season, notable as she has arguably become the grandest stateswoman in the women’s game. At the February tournament in Doha, Barbora Strycova — often prone to on-court spats and bizarre post-match handshakes — had an undisclosed disagreement with Venus but ultimately backed off when Venus inquired.
In a long season of subpar handshakes worth mourning, the Venus-Vinci exchange may not be the last. As semi-beleaguered tennis fans and players alike know, there’s still a good amount to play in 2015. Game on.
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9. News tips gladly accepted. Serving tips kindly refused.