November 30, 2009
Serena Williams was fined a record amount for her infamous U.S. Open tirade three months ago and has been placed on an unprecedented two-year probationary period at Grand Slam events. She will have to pay an $82,500 fine and avoid a "major offense" at the next eight major events or the fine would increase to $175,000 and she would be barred from the following U.S. Open. Though it seems harsh (and the headlines play up the severity of the rebuke), the punishment isn't nearly as bad as it seems.
Serena, of course, screamed at a lineswoman during a semifinal match against Kim Clijsters and was docked a penalty point which ended up giving her opponent the match. Since then, the worry in her camp was that she would be suspended for one, or multiple, Grand Slam events. She avoided that punishment and won't earn a tournament ban unless she has a similar incident over the next two years. Given the fact that Serena's outburst was more the exception than the rule (translation: she's not John McEnroe), it seems likely she'll avoid further sanction.
As for the fine, $82,500 is a big number, but Serena routinely makes three times as much for just showing up at overseas events. Last year she signed a $2 million endorsement deal with Hewlett Packard, this year she became the face of Tampax. And we haven't even mentioned her long-time deal with Nike. In 2008, Forbes said Serena made $14 million through prize money, appearance fees and endorsements. For her, having to cut a check for $82,500 is more an annoyance than anything.
The biggest question is why it took so long to make the decision about Serena's punishment? As we wrote at the beginning of the month, there wasn't much investigating to do here. This wasn't the Warren Commission. The Grand Slam officials needed to speak to Serena, the lineswoman, the chair umpire and, perhaps, any other U.S. Open officials within earshot. Stringing Serena along for three months was unfair and unnecessarily kept the story in the spotlight for longer than necessary. There was no reason this couldn't have been figured out in late-September. (Plus releasing the news of a Monday morning after a holiday weekend only intensified the interest. Learn from politicians and dump the news on a Saturday morning).
This was an expected punishment that fits the crime. It's just too bad it took so long to figure out.