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September 14th, 2009
10:39 AM ET

Serena Williams' tennis outburst under review

A profanity-laced outburst by tennis superstar Serena Williams could cost her a lot more than originally thought. Williams has already been hit with a $10,000 fine for swearing and waving her racquet at a line judge. She was also fined an additional $500 for racquet abuse when she threw her racquet and broke it earlier in the match.

Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated calls Serena Williams' outburst unprecedented.
Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated calls Serena Williams' outburst unprecedented.

The incident with the line judge occurred after she was called on a foot fault in the semifinals of this weekend’s U.S. Open. If officials decide Williams committed a major offense under the Grand Slam rules, she could lose all of her prize money and maybe even suspended from a future Grand Slam event.

Jon Wertheim has been covering the U.S. Open for Sports Illustrated where he's the senior tennis writer. He joined John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Monday. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

John Roberts: Have you ever seen anything like this?

Jon Wertheim: Not like that. And certainly not from Serena. We've seen players lose it with officials but to get that close and threaten like that. Also, at that stage – a Grand Slam semifinal. That was unprecedented as far as I’ve seen.

Roberts: There is no clear angle that I have seen on the foot fault. Apparently that line judge, though, she's very good. She's very confident in the calls that she makes. Serena had been called for a foot fault a couple – three games earlier on the other side of the court by a different line judge. If it was an infraction, it was a minor one. She wasn’t a foot into the court or anything like that. Maybe she touched the line. Looking at it, John McEnroe said you don't call something like that at that point in the game. It was 15-30 with Serena serving, and she touched the line. Should that even have been called?

Wertheim: I mean, you know, in a perfect world it never happens, but I don't think you can waive off infractions. You get on slippery terrain pretty quickly when you make calls or don't make calls based on where you are in the match. I mean, you're either over the line or not. Unfortunately, you wish one way or the other there was conclusive video. It was a pretty shaky call, but that in no way excuses what followed.

Roberts: You see her when she's serving up the second serve there she lifts the toe of her left foot, does it wander over onto the line? It’s really unclear. In the press conference afterwards, which you were at, she didn't say whether or not she actually foot faulted. She said maybe I did. She didn't apologize but talked about the encounter between her and the line judge.

She said, “I think she said I would kill you and I was like what? I was like wait a minute. But then I had misheard, she had never said that. That was just something - I was like whoa. I was like wait a minute. Let's not, because I'm not that way.”

Maybe she didn't say “I'm going to kill you,” but what she did apparently say, because we've seen it on camera, “I swear I [expletive] want to take this ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat.” You were at that presser. What did you think of her appearance?

Wertheim: She had calmed down considerably, which is good. But you would have liked to see a little more contrition. This was a pretty big violation. … This was way over the line. Serena had calmed down and was even sort of joking about it but not a whole lot of apology. That was disappointing.

Roberts: John McEnroe, famous as one of the bad boys of tennis when he was playing, said you can't defend the indefensible. Look at what McEnroe has done over the years. I was reviewing an old match that he had with Lendl and the umpire called an ace and McEnroe comes over and there's so many expletives coming out of his mouth it’s really unsuitable for television. He was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. What's the difference between the way he behaved and how Serena behaved on Saturday night?

Wertheim: He faced consequences. I don’t think there’s a double standard here where people turned a blind eye. Also, I don't recall John McEnroe approaching the official and making a physical threat like that.

Roberts: So what do you think is going to happen? Sportscaster Mary Carillo was mocking the fine that was assessed to her. She says she could be suspended from the game, at least suspended from a Grand Slam event. What do you think?

Wertheim: I think maybe there's a creative solution. I mean, a fine is going to be silly no matter what. She'll make $500,000 this tournament alone. $10,000 is chopping money. By the same token, she's done an awful lot of good for the sport. We've seen players whack balls at fans in anger and not be suspended. I think a suspension is hard to justify. But there’s got to be another alternative there. Clearly, this needs to go punished but I think there are options other than a fine or suspension.

Roberts: She has new book coming out this week, "On the Line." She's supposed to be here on Wednesday to chat about that, so we'll see if she makes it. Hopefully we'll get her side of the story.


Filed under: Sports
soundoff (522 Responses)
  1. Glenn

    Wow, don't you remember John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors? That was great tennis with alot of bluster. It was actually fun to watch back then. Now I put it on when I want to take a nap.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm |
  2. missvirgo

    Everyone is talking about Serena. What about the lines person who made the bad call which seemed to have been done on purpose. Leave the girl alone. They get a numerous amount of bad calls and personally I think they should have acted sooner. They do take a lot
    of crap.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm |
  3. Scott

    Seriously?? Is tennis that much of a sissy sport where the fans can't tolerate a player losing their cool at a pivotal point in a match. Breaking her racket? Other than being a bit childish, who cares! She only hurt herself by having 1 less replacement racket. And as for the swearing and "threats". Players swear and make threats at officials all the time in every sport as a way of "venting". Officials just let it go because they know it is just that, venting. Does anyone really think Williams was going to go over and shove a tennis ball down the judges throat??? Seriously. I think she has been punished enough by basically being disqualified in the match and being publicly embarrassed by the whole event. Another zero at the end of her monetary fine wouldn't hurt either.......

    September 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm |
  4. Vince Salvati

    Didn't the Williams sisters hand out the Arthur Ashe award to Nelson Mandela at a recent ESPY show? Doesn't that award exemplify courage, class, strength and integrity? Serena should realize that her behavior is embarrassing and diminishes her credibility as a supporter of that gracious award. It doesn't matter whether or not she "foot-faulted", what matters is how you conduct yourself when you disagree with something. McEnroe was a poor sport and was considered, by many, a baby. It does not justify Serena's threats. It's in poor taste that anyone uses the excuse that others do it.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm |
  5. Carol Johnson

    She just needs to apologize and we can all move on. That should be her punishment from either the USTA, WTA, or whoever. Obviously, her advisers are not recommending this to her, which is a shame. I hope that she does the right thing for tennis, herself and her fans. APOLOGIZE.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:35 pm |
  6. Mark in Philly

    Anyone ever see Connors' outburst in 1991 U.S. Open?

    September 14, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  7. Chalisa

    J. McEnroe has not been forgotten – it's just a double standard.. no explaination needed.
    This is not likened to Joke Wilson – which was uncivil, on so many levels- he was heckling the US President.
    Kanye West was disrespectful – another action that should not be compared to Serena. Although she was frustrated, her concerns were valid, for those of us who watched the match. I suppose none of us have ever blown up at anyone – whether we were wrong or right, no way, not us...

    September 14, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  8. Fire Line Judge

    If Serena is going to be fined and whatever else, that idiot line judge should be reprimanded also. You don't call a foot fault that wasn't even a foot fault when it gives the other player a match point in the semi final of a grand slam.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  9. Richard

    Serena Williams should absolutely be punished for acting like the child she is. I really believe we saw her true colors during that match. Forget the expletives, saying the that you are going to shove a ball down a line judges throat, during a grand slam semifinal no less, is this a joke?? Her punishment should be much more severe, espeically since she obviously feels no remorse. I also find it hilarious that John McEnroe, has an opinion on this subject...how in the world can tennis let this guy formulate an opinion on a subject he clearly STILL doesn't understand. Regardless of her status as a major American sports star, he behavior is inexcusable. You're a lady...act like one. Ignore McEnroe and punish Serena, period.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  10. Emily

    "She should be banned from the sport indefinitely"? Really? I'm not sure if you are aware of a certain Michael Vick who will be playing NFL football this season...

    Yes she let her temper take over at the worst possible time in the worst possible setting and she should be punished. But banned from the sport-that is one of the most extreme stances I have heard. If there aren't clear rules on the matter then they should come up with some. If a not-so-famous tennis player acted this way, first it probably wouldn't have been the finals and for that matter televised, but a fine would be assessed and the world would move on. It doesn't matter that she is rich, of course a fine doesn't phase her.

    Perhaps she should have been taken out of the doubles match (but then that penalizes her partner). She should make a sincere apology directly to the judge and to tv viewers, tell children watching that it is not acceptable to act that way, and be done with it.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  11. Senthil

    John McEnroe was fined and suspended for bad mouthing the officials after a match – check this link
    http://articles.latimes.com/1986-11-01/sports/sp-14495_1

    Now, what SW did is much worse and it warrants some suspension.
    You cant wave a racquet threateningly at an official and get away with just a fine.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  12. philygrl

    She is a professional and should behave as such! A steep fine and the loss of this match is enough of a punishment, for this offense. A warning that if she "threatens" or psuedo threatens a line judge again she will receive a nice suspension in addition to fines, etc.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  13. Lazza

    Serena did big stupid, and she knows it. Her behavior was understandable (getting a bad call when about to lose an important match) but nonetheless inexcusable. She should be punished by more than the current $10k fine. Yes, McEnroe and Connors both got away with a lot of abuse of linesmen in their day. But I think if either of them told a lineswoman "I'm gonna shove this ball down your throat!" I am sure both guys would have been severely punished. Yes, there is an element of sexism here. Yet in watching Serena's outburst I was absolutely appalled at her threat. McEnroe/Connors were abusive, but mostly scathingly sarcastic. Serena was simply vicious.

    Now consider, could you ever imagine the likes of the other champions of today like Federer, Nadal, Clijsters or even Serena's sister Venus ever threaten a linesman? No, because they are true champions. I'm afraid Serena has permanently tarnished her image in the eyes of all tennis fans.

    Oh, I should add that I hated watching McEnroe and especially Connors solely because of their regular outbursts.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  14. Manon

    Serena's actions were disgraceful, no matter what the call.
    And to not apologize immediately hurt her more than anything she did on the court. It shows the depth of her arrogance and disdain for the officiating. It's unfortunate, but she needs a long lesson in grace and civility.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  15. mary hoot

    Having watched tennis matches for 25+ years, I rarely see the players get charged with "racquet abuse" as Serena did, the first thing to set her off. Just last week Gonzalez smashed his racquet; no violation call that I saw or did I miss it and all the other times the men have done so? Why Serena? Then the foot-fault; McEnroe was right, this was not justified. Have a camera on their feet. And ladies, I think there is a double standard going on.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  16. Mike

    I agree that Serena lost her temper to the detriment of her losing the match. However, I think it is over-reaching to suggest nonsense like a permanent ban from the sport, or a ban from upcoming grand slam tournaments – that would be detrimental for the sport itself. She has been tremendous for the sport, and need I remind you that she has been the top American tennis player (male or female) for the past 4 or 5 years running. I defninitely think a fine is in order - but I also think she should be allowed to play the doubles final since she and her sister earned it. After the U.S. Open is over, the USTA can consider options, such as additional fines or a ban from any upcoming tournament (just one folks) that she had committed to play. Beyond that, for her to not win the ladies singles, and for her to have to exit a tournament the way that she did was punishment enough.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:31 pm |
  17. It Was Ok

    No one can find a video that shows Serena foot faulting. Lets Review: It is a semi-final match in a Grand Slam, and a bad call is made that gives one player a match point. And, the bad call is over a foot fault which means a lot less than the ball being in or out. This is how Serena saw the situation. I'll give her a pass for going off!

    September 14, 2009 at 1:31 pm |
  18. James

    I think its just a simple matter of Serena being frustrated at herself for poor performance at such an important event. We all get frustrated at ourselves from time to time. We want to do good because we've done good before, and there's just that one time where we just can't seem to get anything right. The foot call was just the last straw at that point. I think she was tired of seeing and hearing all the mistakes she had made and she just kind of snapped.

    If you have ever played anything competitively, and you aren't up to your par that you normally are, you are going to get frustrated, and, just like the rest of America, we are going to have certain expletives to say about it. I know I do. The only difference, my expletives aren't televised, and I don't get paid for it.

    Should she be fined, no. I think there should be a period of time where she is not authorized to play certain events is all. It's nothing that we wouldn't have done in the same situation.

    September 14, 2009 at 1:31 pm |
  19. Sheliah M.

    Hello......race card – Did you just arrive from Mars or Pluto? Racism, sexism, etc. are "alive and well" in America!

    Almost any "thinking" African American (as well as other races) will tell you they have EXPRIENCED racism from Asians! Why do you think the Japanese considered themselves to be IMPERIALISTS?

    Asians have their issues, too! When Blacks were on the FRONT LINES of Civil Rights...where were the Asians...? The Latinos got on the "bandwagon" late, because they could "see the train of freedom coming and DID NOT wish to be left behind. The DIFFICULT work of "getting rid of racism" has ALWAYS been performed by Blacks...yesterday, today and tomorrow!

    Get used to it, Serena, Venus, Tiger, Michael Jordan, etc....all with Black blood....are EXCELLENT! Other Blacks are being groomed to "take up the sports and continue with the excellence! Sports in America were BORING and mundane...until Black excellence came on the scene. Sports will NEVER be the same.....

    JUST MY THOUGHTS,
    Sheliah M. Johnson

    September 14, 2009 at 1:30 pm |
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