NEW YORK — Enraged over a foot-fault call by a lineswoman that gave her a double fault and put her a point away from losing a U.S. Open semifinal, Serena Williams lost everything.
Lost her composure, her temper, her good judgment and the match. With a mouthful of obscenities, Williams waved the tennis ball toward the lineswoman while saying, "If I could, I would take . . . this ball and . . . shove it down your throat." On the CBS tape, two obscenities were beeped out.
Within a few seconds, after shouting, "I didn't say I would kill you! Are you serious?" Williams spoke to tournament referee Brian Earley, gently tossed her racket to the ground, walked over to Clijsters, shook her hand, whispered in her ear and left Arthur Ashe Stadium to a chorus of boos.
Because of her tirade, Williams received a point penalty. That point was match point for the stunned Clijsters, who advanced to the Open final with a 6-4, 7-5 win.
The 26-year-old unseeded wild card, who has been competing for only a month after her two-year retirement, will play ninth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark at 6 p.m. today in the final. Wozniacki beat another unseeded Belgian, Yanina Wickmayer, 6-3, 6-3.
Before Williams and Clijsters took the court, no ball had been struck for more than eight hours after third-seeded Rafael Nadal had spent 33 1/2 minutes finishing off his delayed men's quarterfinal before the rain came back.
Nadal, who had begun quarterfinal play Thursday night, beat 11th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-0. Nadal will play sixth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro at 9:30 a.m. today in one men's semifinal on ESPN2. Top-seeded Roger Federer and fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic will play at 1:30 p.m. in the other semifinal, which will be televised by CBS.
But the finish of the Williams-Clijsters match overshadowed everything else that happened on the day, including the serenely precise and powerful shot-making of Clijsters.
After the foot-fault call, Williams exploded. After her tirade, Williams turned and went back to the service line to prepare for what might have been her final serve, while the lineswoman approached chair umpire Louise Engzell. Earley soon was on the court, and when Williams saw the group gathered, she dashed to the chair umpire.
Earley spoke to Williams, who walked away and appeared to whisper to Clijsters, "It's over. You won."
In a news conference afterward, as her agent Jill Smoller made a gesture to Williams to smile, Williams said, "I didn't threaten. I didn't say . . . I don't remember anymore, to be honest. I was in the moment. And, you know, everybody's fighting for every point. It was a really crucial point, 15-30. At that point you just kind of keep going."
In a statement, Earley said: "At 5-6, 15-30, Miss Williams was called for a foot fault on her second serve, making the score 15-40. She then yelled something at the line umpire, who reported it to the chair umpire. Based on the report, Miss Williams was assessed a code violation, point penalty, for unsportsmanlike conduct, ending the match."
Clijsters was diplomatic afterward, but she did express regret that her celebration of the biggest win of her comeback was muted. "When you play that last point, whether it is a winner or a mistake from your opponent, it's a great feeling to have. So, yeah, the normal feelings of winning a match weren't quite there."
Williams was in the position of being penalized by the loss of a point because after she lost the first set, she smashed her racket on the court. That resulted in her first warning. By receiving the second warning because of her outburst, under the rules Williams had to lose a point.
After the match, Clijsters said Williams told her, "Good luck, I hope you win." Clijsters said she and Williams have had a good relationship. "It's unfortunate a battle like that has to end like that," Clijsters said.
Williams was the defending champion. Until she faced Clijsters, who had also upset her sister Venus in the fourth round, she hadn't lost a set and had had her serve broken only three times. But with Clijsters speeding around the baseline, Williams had her serve broken four times in this match, including that fateful final game.
Williams remained unrepentant about what she said to the lineswoman, whom U.S. Open officials refused to identify. "How many people yell at lines people?" she said. "So I think, you know, if you look at it -- I don't know."