flashback: irene inspires irina bump lookback, 1997



Irene-a. While we’re bent on avoiding hurricane — oops, we mean hurrican’t — jokes for now, TSF contributor Troy Venechanos sent this text along to the TSF crew earlier today: “hope you survived hurricane irina spirlea!”

It was one that had us cracking up out loud, and brought to mind the famous “bump,” which — upon watching it again — may have delivered more force to Flushing Meadows than Irene herself. Hard to believe this was 14 years ago in 1997, when a 17-year-old Venus Williams took down Irina Spirlea, the Romanian, 7-6 (5) 4-6 7-6 (7) in the semifinals.

TSF Vault: Flashbacks

crazy u.s. open: spirlea bumps venus



Maybe it’s the lights, maybe it’s the matches that last until 2 a.m., or maybe it’s the fact that it’s New York — for whatever reason, the U.S. Open seems to bring out some crazy. As part of our coverage over the next two weeks, TSF will be posting clips of madness and memories from tournaments past. We’re talkin’ about the nitty gritty stuff. Stuff you can’t make up.

The breakthrough of Venus Williams at the 1997 U.S. Open saw her, unseeded, make it all the way through the final after defeating Anke Huber (eighth seed), Irina Spirlea (11th seed). In the final, Martina Hingis beat Venus 6-0, 6-4.

Bump: One of that tourney’s biggest moments came in the semi between Venus and Spirlea, which Venus won 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 7-6 (9-7). During a second-set changeover, Spirlea looked like she deliberately changed her path to bump into Venus as they walked to their chairs (see video). Once Spirlea sat down, cameras caught her looking towards her players’ box with a smile. Was she laughing off a goofy and embarassing incident, or was she giggling like a bully proud of her work?

After the match. Spirlea admitted she wanted Venus to acknowledge her existence (and bumping into her was the only way to do that, I guess) and stop being so aloof. She thought the Williams sisters were smug and used an expletive — which she was fined for — to describe Venus.

Of course ringleader Richard Williams retorted by calling Spirlea a tall, white turkey. LOVE IT.

What’s Venus’ take of all this?

“I was locked in an epic battle, and I had no idea what I was doing, and she was playing unbelievable,” Venus said recently. “It just happened. She got blamed because of the way she acted later, and then she laughed after, but I didn’t have time for laughs and games because I wanted to reach the final. I went over and started to read my notes. People blamed her for the bump, but I guess I didn’t move. Everybody got a kick out of it I guess. Wow. That’s my life.” (source)

Bonus round: The Romanian Spirlea — whose strong forehand, stinging slice, and effective drop shots reminded us all of Steffi Graf — didn’t really recover from that incident. She won Paris in 1999. Now married with a child. (source)

(Do you remember a moment or match at the U.S. Open that we should mention? Tell us!.)