By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - The legacy of Serena Williams, who next week will compete in her first Grand Slam since her fiery clash with a U.S. Open umpire, will not be harmed by the infamous feud that tarnished the New York final, American great Chris Evert said on Wednesday.
When it comes to Williams, who is seeking a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title at the Jan. 14-27 Australian Open, Evert believes it is her remarkable journey from the hardscrabble courts in Compton where she learned the game to the top of the tennis world that will be remembered most.
"The fact that she dominated for so long and could break the record of Grand Slams I think that will overshadow everything at the end of the day," former world number one Evert, who will be part of ESPN's coverage of the Australian Open, told a conference call.
"But there will be a sidenote that Serena has a lot of passion and that she has at times lost her cool on the courts but I don't think for one minute it's going to tarnish her whole reputation."
Williams was handed a warning by U.S. Open chair umpire Carlos Ramos last September for a coaching violation before being deducted a point for smashing her racket and later a game for a heated argument during her loss to Naomi Osaka.
Williams is no stranger to such confrontations but the incident, during which she called Ramos a "liar" and a "thief" and said he treated her differently than male players during her loss to Osaka, divided the tennis world.
"It's yet another chapter in the incredible story of Serena Williams," ESPN tennis analyst and former professional Patrick McEnroe said about Williams' U.S. Open episode. "There's a lot of positives, there's a few negatives.
"There's no doubt that was a negative but there's no doubt that also last year when you look at the bigger picture, the fact that she came back from having a child she was really nowhere near 100 percent and she still made the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open was incredible."
Williams, 37, captured her seventh Australian Open title in her last appearance in Melbourne in 2017, when she in the early stages of her pregnancy with daughter Alexis Olympia.
Williams reached the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals after her return last year but lost both, leaving her one short of Australian Margaret Court's tally of major singles titles.
But McEnroe said Williams looked good and appeared to be in a great state of mind during last week's Hopman Cup in Perth. He expects her to be in the title mix going forward.
"I am looking ahead to more great things from Serena," said McEnroe. "That was disappointing what happened in New York but overall I am really looking forward to seeing her back on the court this year and see if she can win another major or two."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)