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SERENA'S FANS FIND NO FAULT

Book buyers at her Tampa signing forgive Williams for her Open tirade.

Just five days after the U.S. Open tirade that cost her a chunk of change, Serena Williams appeared at a jam-packed Borders on Thursday evening to make money on words of a more cerebral nature.

Williams, 27, was on hand to sign copies of her newly published biography, On the Line - a fitting title considering the famous foot-fault call that sealed her loss to Kim Clijsters in Saturday's U.S. Open semifinal and ignited her string of expletives at a stunned line judge.

But the moment Williams sat down at her signing table inside the store on S Dale Mabry, the long line of supporters made her feel right at home - clearly not bothered by the fact that the tennis superstar was fined $10,000 Monday for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Dressed stylishly in a black jacket, white blouse and skin-tight leather pants, she came into view just after 6 p.m. to shouts of "Serena, we love you!" Her public statement of apology Monday was good enough for some 125 sympathetic and forgiving fans, waiting patiently for Williams to sign her big, swirling signature to their books.

"I feel like I've known you all your life!" proclaimed Lola Marion, 55, of Tampa, who secured the first spot in the line at 4:15.

What did Marion think about the Open controversy?

"I think it was a stupid call - it wasn't even a foot fault," she said. "If it was John McEnroe, nobody would make any big deal out of it. It's a double standard."

Serena Bennett, 51, of Clearwater - along with her 78-year-old mother, Thomasine Matthews, visiting from Delaware - got to share a few words with Williams. "I told her I had my Serena first!" said Bennett's mom with a smile.

The Stokes Family of Tampa - parents Lonnie, 33, and June, 28, with sons Lonnie, 7, and Jevon, 4 - only heard about the signing several hours earlier and rushed over to buy the book and be part of the Serena scene. They gave her a pass on her actions at the Open. "It was emotional," June said. "You can't hold a microscope to everything."

Only little Lonnie, holding his Pirates of the Caribbean play book, felt let down. "He was sad," said his mom. "He thought she was going to sign his book."

Williams did not speak to the media in attendance. But as the 25-minute signing wrapped up, her event liaison - older sister Isha Williams - watched nearby and offered an inside perspective.

"Everybody makes mistakes," said the D.C.-based Williams sister. "Serena made a mistake. It was definitely an error in judgment. She apologized for it. And at this point, she's definitely ready to move forward and show her fans the type of person she really is."

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