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.
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.