NEW YORK -- Serena Williams' U.S. Open title defense ended in bizarre, ugly fashion Saturday night, when she was penalized a point on match point after yelling and shaking her racket in the direction of an official who called a foot fault.
Williams lost to unseeded, unranked Kim Clijsters 6-4, 7-5 in a taut semifinal that featured plenty of powerful groundstrokes by both women. No one will remember a single shot that was struck, though, because of the unusual, dramatic way it finished.
With Williams serving at 5-6, 15-30 in the second set, she faulted on her first serve. On the second serve, a line judge called a foot fault, making it a double-fault -- a call rarely, if ever, seen at that stage of any match, let alone the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament.
That made the score 15-40, putting Clijsters one point from victory.
Instead of stepping to the baseline to serve again, Williams went over and shouted and cursed at the line judge, pointing at her and shaking a ball at her.
Dropping the f-word liberally, Williams said, "I swear to God I'm [expletive] going to take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat, you hear that? I swear to God."
The line judge was called over to the chair umpire, and tournament referee Brian Earley joined in the conversation. With the crowd booing -- making part of the dialogue inaudible -- Williams then went over and said to the line judge: "Sorry, but there are a lot of people who've said way worse." Then the line judge said something to the chair umpire, and Williams responded, "I didn't say I would kill you. Are you serious? I didn't say that." The line judge replied by shaking her head and saying, "Yes."
Williams already had been given a code violation warning when she broke her racket after losing the first set. So the chair umpire now awarded a penalty point to Clijsters, ending the match.
"She was called for a foot fault, and a point later, she said something to a line umpire, and it was reported to the chair, and that resulted in a point penalty," Earley explained. "And it just happened that point penalty was match point. It was a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct."
When the ruling was announced, Williams walked around the net to the other end of the court to shake hands with a stunned Clijsters, who did not appear to understand what had happened.
"I used to have a real temper, and I've gotten a lot better," Williams said in her postmatch news conference. "So I know you don't believe me, but I used to be worse. Yes, yes, indeed."
Williams denied threatening the line judge but would not reveal what she said.
"I used to have a real temper, and I've gotten a lot better," Serena Williams said after the match.
"I didn't threaten [her]. I don't remember anymore [what I said], to be honest. I was in the moment. And, you know, everyone's fighting for every point. It was a really crucial point," Williams said.
Asked if the line judge deserved an apology, Williams added: "An apology? From me? Well, how many people yell at linespeople? Players, athletes get frustrated. I don't know how many times I've seen that happen.
"All year I've never been foot faulted, and then suddenly in this tournament they keep calling foot faults. I said something that I guess they gave me a point penalty for. Unfortunately it was on match point."
Lost in the theatrics was Clijsters' significant accomplishment: In only her third tournament back after 2 1/2 years in retirement, the 26-year-old Belgian became the first mother to reach a Grand Slam final since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won Wimbledon 1980.
"The normal feelings of winning a match weren't quite there," Clijsters said. "But I think afterwards, when everything kind of sunk in a little bit and got explained to me about what happened, yeah, you kind of have to put it all in place, and then it becomes a little bit easier to understand and to kind of not celebrate, but at least have a little bit of joy after a match like that."
Clijsters hadn't competed at the U.S. Open since winning the 2005 championship. Now she will play for her second career major title Sunday against No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki, who beat Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 6-3, 6-3 in the other rain-delayed women's semifinal.
Williams came into the day having won three of the past four Grand Slam titles, and 30 of her previous 31 matches at major tournaments.