This was the dramatic moment when Serena Williams screamed her way out of the U.S. Open.
TV viewers around the world saw the irate Wimbledon champion launch a threatening, profanity-laced tirade at a female line judge after being called for a foot fault.
‘If I could, I would take this ******* ball and shove it down your ******* throat,’ she reportedly said.
The diminutive lineswoman reported her words to the umpire, who called in the tournament referee at Flushing Meadows in New York.
With the crowd booing, Miss Williams could be heard on the court microphone pleading with the lineswoman, saying: ‘I didn’t say I would kill you. Are you serious? I didn’t say that.’
But her extraordinary outburst meant she was docked a point on match point, handing a semi-final victory to bemused Belgian opponent Kim Clijsters in one of the ugliest-ever endings to a major sports match.
Clijsters, who retired from tennis more than two years ago and was playing on a wild card entry, went on to become the U.S. Open champion early this morning.
She celebrated on court with 18-month-old daughter Jada and husband Brian after beating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 7-5 6-3 to notch up another grand slam victory.
In the semi-final, Miss Williams had already received a warning for smashing a racquet, so the next sanction was a penalty point for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Not since John McEnroe was defaulted in the Australian Open in 1990 for swearing at the umpire has a top player made such an ignominious exit from such a high-profile match.
It happened when, with the 27-year-old American serving at 5-6 and 15-30 in the second set, she faulted on her first serve.
On her second serve, the line judge declared a foot fault, a call rarely, if ever, seen at that stage of a match.
That made the score 15-40, putting Miss Clijsters one point from a place in the final.
Miss Williams stormed over to the line judge, cursing and shaking her racquet, pointing at her and thrusting a ball in her face.
When the ruling was announced, she walked around the net to shake hands with her stunned opponent, who did not appear to understand at first what had happened.
At her post-match press conference, she was asked if she wished to apologise to the lineswoman.
‘An apology for?’ she asked. ‘From me? How many people yell at linespeople? Players, athletes get frustrated–I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that happen.
‘I haven’t really thought about it to have any regrets. I was out there and I fought and I tried and I did my best.
‘I used to have a real temper, and I’ve gotten a lot better,’ she said, with no apparent sense of irony.
‘So I know you don’t believe me, but I used to be worse. Yes, yes indeed.’
Asked what she had said to the line judge, she replied: ‘What did I say? You didn’t hear? I’ve never been in a fight in my whole life, so I don’t know why she would have felt threatened.’
Clijsters, from Belgium, had not played at Flushing Meadows since winning the title there in 2005 after missing 2006 due to injury and the following two years because she had already retired.
‘I don’t have words for this,’ the 26-year-old said after her win early this morning. ‘I’m just glad I got to come back and defend my title from 2005. It’s so exciting for me.’
The player, who is hugely popular on the circuit and collects $1.6m in prize money along with the title, said winning was ‘not really our plan’.
‘I just wanted to start these three tournaments to get back into the rhythm of playing tennis and get used to the surroundings again.’
Wozniacki, who was seeded ninth and playing in her first grand slam final, said: ‘She’s such a great girl. Unfortunately she beat me today. She played a great match and deserved this trophy.’
Clijsters is not expected to return to playing full time but is expected to appear in the major tournaments, including possibly Wimbledon next year.
[Editors Note: Tiger Woods also is notorious for unsportsmanlike conduct. Read the story here.]