Canada is a country I've never seen, mainly because the United States has been such a magnet for travel in that part of the world. But tomorrow I'm off for two weeks in Canada. Just Canada. I have no desire to see the US in its present state.

That disinclination was strengthened this week as I watched the US Open women's tennis final last Sunday morning and followed the subsequent discussion. America seems to have fallen out of step with civilised international congress in more respects than can be laid at the feet of Donald Trump.

As the stadium lights dimmed and the court was festooned in the stars and stripes for the presentation ceremony, tennis followers worldwide waited to see how the crowd would respond. The match had finished controversially and prematurely. Most of the crowd would have been hoping for a third set but I suspect their appalling reaction to the result reflected something else.


Just about every time I tuned into the US Open over the fortnight I was greeted by a promo on screen for Serena Williams, or a panel of commentators looking forward to the high probability she would win her first major title since having a baby a year ago. When she took a maternity break from the game after winning the Australian Open last year, a film crew followed her and made a documentary movie, Being Serena. I watched in on a plane until I got bored with the repetitions and the self-absorption of the subject.

I don't mind a bit of hype and melodrama in movies or the media generally. I enjoy it. But like most people, I think, I know when I'm watching it. You can enjoy it immensely without entirely believing it. I used to enjoy listening to Trump until I realised so many Americans would vote for him.

Serena's return to glory story seemed harmless enough as on off-court conversation for the commentators, but it turned out far from harmless. Both she and the crowd appeared unable to accept a result that was not in line with the script.

She went through the rounds so easily I nearly didn't bother watching the final. Semifinals of Grand Slam tournaments are often better. I'd caught the end of the semi in which American Madison Keys, who has been to the ASB Classic, was beaten by an unknown Japanese player, Naomi Osaka, who seemed very young.

In the post-match courtside interview she was asked what she was thinking in the tense, tight last game and answered, "I was just thinking, I really want to play Serena." She was just 20.

By the time I tuned in next morning she had taken the first set and Serena was in a funk. It put me in mind of a final I saw her play at Melbourne many years ago. She was lethargic in the first set against Lindsay Davenport that day, went off court during the break and came back miraculously transformed. She was all over Davenport in the second and the third. I wondered if she had been off court in the break this time.

I tuned in just as she was having her first argument with the umpire. The crowd would not have known what it was about. You can't hear unless you are in the front rows. But then the screens began carrying replays of the gesture from her coach. Every tennis follower in the crowd knew that was not allowed.

They also knew even the best players get umpire's warnings at times. Next day in the men's final the next day, Novak Djokovic got one for taking too long to serve. He accepted it and went on to win. Serena, for some reason, could not let it go.


A sport-savvy crowd anywhere else in the world, I think, would have been less interested in Serena's disgraceful sprays at the poor umpire that what was happening at the other end of the court.

A young player in her first Grand Slam final was managing to keep her concentration, maintain the power and accuracy of her shots, and giving a lesson in composure to a veteran of 31 Grand Slam finals, 23 successful, the poster-player of Naomi Osaka's childhood.

That stadium witnessed something quite remarkable but it hardly noticed. What's wrong with Americans these days?

It wasn't just partisanship, I suspect. A closely fought tennis match is an absorbing contest of individual talents and temperaments, nationality quickly matters less than in team sports. What's wrong with Americans, I think, is that too much of their lives have become a media experience.

Their stage was set for Serena's return to the top and neither she not they could accept that real life is not scripted, it is better.

• This column will return in October.