"To forgive and not to forget is like burying the hatchet with the handle sticking out."
In Rome, during the third set tiebreak in her semifinal loss to Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams put her hand up during one of JJ's serves. After the match, Serena wanted to make clear to the Serb that she wasn't trying to cheat her by (allegedly) telling her "I'm not Justine."
What she's (allegedly) referring to is this little chestnut from the '03 French Open, in which Justine not only held her hand up during a Serena serve but completely denied doing it:
For the non-mathematicians, that was seven years ago. Seven years Serena! In that time, Henin's dropped a whole Hardenne, retired and rejoined the Tour again. How long are you going to hold on to this grudge?
Just when I was feeling holiest than thou, I started choking on my own grudge. It happened a mere 24 hours later precisely as Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez was winning championship point. I couldn't help but flash back to MJMS's match against Serena at last year's French Open, in which the Spaniard won a point off a shot she denied ricocheted off her body (which the replay clearly showed it did). So my elation for MJMS morphed into bitterness, looking something like this: Oh wow, Maria Jose is playing amazing. She's going to win Rome! No way, she won! Oh wait, remember last year when..? Aw fiddlesticks, she just won the whole stupid tournament! (Ed. note: fiddlesticks was not the actual word used.)
Suddenly, without having to scratch much of a surface, I was faced with all the other not entirely positive feelings I have towards players who done me, er…their opponents wrong.
Joining Martinez Sanchez inside this Pandora's Box, Fernando Gonzalez, for the exact same offense. He's a super dude and his commitment to the people of Chile after the earthquake (he blew off Indian Wells to help with relief efforts) spoke volumes about his character. So did that moment of decision at the '08 Olympics when he denied a ball hit him in his match v. James Blake. Blake was so undone that he lost the match and then promptly went out back and shot himself in the face. (Okay, admittedly my memory of that last bit is murky, but we for sure haven't seen James since.)
Also tucked away in the funhouse of my mind, Lleyton Hewitt. The Aussie is a patriot (his commitment to Davis Cup last week was ridiculous) and a stand-up family man. He also stepped in a pile of bigoted poo at the '01 U.S. Open by asking that a black line judge be removed because of perceived bias towards his opponent, Blake again (below). Hewitt denied racism and James was kind, giving him the benefit of the doubt in the heat of competition. All these years later though, for me, it still stings like fiddlesticks.
So how can I roll my eyes at Serena when I'm still holding all these grudges myself?
The truth is, nothing is more vital in tennis than a short term memory. A player needs to be able to forget the last lost point, the last lost match, the last nine times they got shellacked by that cankerous SOB across the net. It's also vital to tennis fans, and this one in particular, who'd really like to be able to enjoy his tennis without gagging on his own bitterness.
To that end, I'm burying these hatchets, handles and all. I'm going to assume that, nine years later, Lleyton's grown up. Ditto, after seven years, Justine. I'm going to give MJMS the benefit of the doubt that she went to church after last year's French Open, fell to her knees and begged Bud Collins to douse her with holy water. And Gonzo, well, like I said, dude worked it out for Chile so he doesn’t need any help from me feeling good about his karma. Still, to all of you who done me, er…your opponents wrong, despite the fact that none of you have copped to your offenses (I mean, not a single one), not only do I forgive you, I'm also forgetting. Not for you, for me.
If you could just do one thing for me. The next time you're faced with a moral dilemma in the throes of a heated three-setter, remember these words: YOU'RE ON TV! WE SEE YOU. Those youtube clips above? They weren't from my home movies. It's live television folks. And if you think it all goes by in the blink of an eye, guess what? WE HAVE INSTANT REPLAY. Not only can they slow it down, they can also show it again and again and again. Just, you know, keep that tucked away somewhere.
And while I would never tell someone else how to live their lives (I'm kidding, have we met?), Serena might do well to consider that she may want a little of that forgiving and forgetting herself in a few months when she returns to the US Open. But that's between her and Bud Collins.
Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa