Serena Williams was fined a record $82,500 for her tirade at a U.S. Open line judge and could be suspended from that tournament if she has another "major offense" at any Grand Slam in the next two years.
Grand Slam administrator Bill Babcock's ruling was released Monday, and he said Williams faces a "probationary period" at tennis' four major championships in 2010 and 2011. If she has another "major offense" at a Grand Slam tournament in that time, the fine would increase to $175,000 and she would be barred from the following U.S. Open.
"But if she does not have another offense in the next two years, the suspension is lifted," Babcock said in a telephone interview from London.
He said Williams is handing over $82,500 right now to the Grand Slam committee, already far more than the previous highest fine for a Grand Slam offense. In 1995, Jeff Tarango stormed off the court at Wimbledon and accused the chair umpire of showing favoritism to certain players in exchange for their friendship. Tarango was fined a total of $43,756, which was reduced to $28,256 on appeal, and barred from Wimbledon the next year.
Williams lashed out at a lineswoman after a foot-fault call at the end of her semifinal loss to eventual champion Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open in September. It was a profanity-laced, finger-pointing, racket-brandishing display in which Williams approached the official with what U.S. Open tournament director Jim Curley called at the time "a threatening manner."
"I am thankful that we now have closure on the incident and we can all move forward," Williams said in a statement released Monday by her publicist. "I am back in training in preparation for next season and I continue to be grateful for all of the support from my fans and the tennis community."
She earned $350,000 by reaching the U.S. Open singles semifinals, part of her more than $6.5 million in prize money in 2009, a single-season record for women's tennis. Her career prize money tops $28 million.
The American is an 11-time Grand Slam singles champion and ended the 2009 season at No. 1 in the WTA rankings.
Williams' outburst drew a $10,000 fine from the U.S. Tennis Association in September – the maximum onsite penalty a tennis player can face. But because it happened at a Grand Slam tournament, Babcock was charged with investigating whether further punishment was merited.
He concluded that Williams violated the "major offense" rule for "aggravated behavior." The Grand Slam committee – with one representative from each of the sport's four major championships, including USTA president Lucy Garvin – approved his decision Saturday.
"As a voting member of the Grand Slam committee, the USTA agrees with the additional penalties levied against Serena Williams for her on-court behavior during her semifinal match at the 2009 U.S. Open," the USTA said in a statement released to the AP. "The USTA looks forward to Ms. Williams competing in the 2010 US Open."
Babcock said a "major offense" under Grand Slam rules is "any conduct that is determined to be the 'major offense' of 'aggravated behavior' or 'conduct detrimental to the game.'" There is no specific definition of what sort of actions constitute a "major offense."
He said the highest possible fine that Williams could face – $175,000, if she violates her Grand Slam probation – was chosen because it is the difference in winnings between reaching the quarterfinals and semifinals at the U.S. Open. The $10,000 Williams already was docked by the USTA will be counted toward that total; that's why she is paying half of $165,000 now.
During the Sept. 12 match at Flushing Meadows, the foot fault – a call rarely, if ever, made at that stage of such a significant match – resulted in a double-fault for Williams, moving Clijsters one point from victory.
Williams paused, retrieved a ball to serve again and then stopped. She stepped toward the official, screaming, cursing and shaking the ball at her. Williams was penalized a point. It happened to come on match point, ending the semifinal with Clijsters ahead 6-4, 7-5.