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Venus Loses Beads, Then Unravels

Tennis: Penalized a point after repeat rule violation, she falls apart in 6-4, 6-0 quarterfinal loss to top-seeded Davenport.

January 27, 1999|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MELBOURNE, Australia — He could not be serious.

Australian umpire Denis Overberg's voice punctured the Centre Court silence with one word--"Point"--and sent fifth-seeded Venus Williams spinning out of control, and soon after, crashing out of the Australian Open on Tuesday. Williams' famous hair beads began falling out--and so were her errant forehands under tremendous pressure from top-seeded Lindsay Davenport of Newport Beach. The latter was more of a factor than the former, as Davenport turned in a businesslike performance, winning the quarterfinal match, 6-4, 6-0, in 62 minutes.

But Overberg penalized Williams a point--on break point, no less--in the third game in the second set for causing an unintentional hindrance, a "disturbance." Previously, he called a let earlier in the set when an array of beads went flying, issuing a warning.

Williams did not go ballistic and start crying, the way she did at Wimbledon against Jana Novotna after receiving some questionable line calls. This time, she lashed out--barely keeping the tears from flowing, after losing that game, which gave Davenport a 3-0 lead.

Williams: "But wait a minute, no one is distracted."

Overberg: "I can't guess whether she is distracted or not. I have to call it if they're there.

Williams: "I am not causing a disturbance here. I think the referee should come out. No one is disturbed! Come on out!

Tournament referee Peter Bellenger went out on the court and upheld Overberg's ruling.

"This has never happened to me before," she said. "There's no disturbance. No one is being disturbed. I don't care. . . .

"As if I was doing this on purpose. Do you see me pulling hair, pulling them out? This is so out of control. This is out of control!" shouted Williams at the officials, as she walked back on the court to resume play.

Williams, rattled, would not win another game and refused to shake Overberg's hand afterward, drawing boos from the crowd. Bead-gate was the overshadowing theme of the day, but Davenport clearly had, well, a bead, on Williams long before the first one hit the court.

She never lost serve and fought off six break-point opportunities, four in the tight first set, and committed only four unforced errors in the second set. Davenport has lost to Williams once in eight meetings and is raising her level in major events. She has not lost a set in a Grand Slam event since the Wimbledon quarterfinals, a 12-match span.

"I'm a little bit of a different player, more confident and a little bit more smart on the court," Davenport said. "She really goes for her shots, and today, if they're not on, she doesn't have a Plan B to fall back on."

"She was so thrown off by what happened, and she didn't really gain her composure back, which helped me win 6-0. I've done it once before, but it's tough. Today, she just collapsed in the last couple of games--they still were close--but in the quarterfinals you have to be a little tougher, not let that bother you."

Williams was far more composed in her news conference afterward and even joked about the hindrance rule, saying: "I guess it was never written for beads," she said.

Although Williams had lost beads on the court in other matches, she said she had never been warned, much less been penalized a point.

"I don't think it was a very fair call, because I have not in the past [been warned] when beads have fallen out of my hair," she said. "It's not an incident that occurs frequently. I have never had such treatment before from any other umpire in any other match. I just found it quite odd. It was a little bit disturbing."

Said Davenport, who thought the flying beads were annoying, not distracting: "The first time, it happened, the umpire looked at her and said, 'If it happens again, you are going to lose the point.' I thought she should have maybe argued after the first time, not the second time, because she knew if it happened, she was going to lose the point. These are the rules we live by. I mean, it's unfortunate, but I think he [the umpire] played by the rules."

She once lost a point in a doubles match because her cap fell off.

"I pull my hat pretty tight now," Davenport said.

For Williams, it was a learning experience, albeit a controversial one.

"I didn't lose the match because my beads were falling out," she said. "I lost because I didn't play as well and I lost my focus. It's definitely a lesson I have to learn at this stage of my life."

* SELES MOVES ON: Monica Seles' perseverance pays off in 7-5, 6-1 victory over Steffi Graf. Page 8

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Hindrance Rule

Venus Williams had to replay a point, then lost one in her Australian Open quarterfinal match against Lindsay Davenport for creating a "distraction" when her hair beads scattered on the court. Williams lost the game and went on to lose the match:

The ATP rule book, also followed by the International Tennis Federation, lists the following in its "Hindrance" section:

* 2. Inadvertent or Deliberate Event: A distraction occurring on-court may be ruled inadvertent (unintentional) or ruled deliberate.

* a. Inadvertent distractions may include the following (a "let" may be called in these cases): a ball rolling onto the court; a ball falling out of a pocket; a hat falling off; or a sound or exclamation from a player. Any player who created the hindrance must be advised that the next time play is stopped by the chair umpire because of that player's similar actions, it shall result in a loss of point.

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