Serena's abrupt about-face was a severe disappointment, particularly for the U.S. team, which had accorded her special treatment (and rightly so). Serena was scheduled to do a photo shoot in London right after Doha, meaning she didn't even have to join the team until a day or two before the balls started flying in earnest. It was a tough schedule, for sure; on the other hand, the travel wasn't horrific and the tie was, after all, a weekend affair against Italy, a nation that isn't exactly an international powerhouse, played on a forgiving outdoor clay surface. I thought it particularly galling that Serena pulled out of Fed Cup before she had even finished playing in Doha. I wrote Jill an email and said Serena certainly didn't look very hurt to me. Jill wrote back that I should see what bad shape Serena was in, how much treatment she needed, just to keep going. But I wasn't buying it. I knew Serena wasn't at death's door, and was certain she'd make her photo shoot. She just didn't want to go to Italy. At some level, I have no problem with those who choose not to play Fed or Davis Cup. But at least have the decency and honesty to come right out and say it doesn't work for me, I'm not interested. Instead, Serena kept everyone waiting, including the captain and teammates who were counting on her presence. And then she just bailed.
I wrote back to Jill: I guess that's the thanks we get for sending Mike over there.
She fired back haughtily: I didn't know there was reciprocity involved.
I replied, That's the point, there wasn't. We just did it on good faith, knowing that Serena had also committed to Fed cup. And this is what we get....
But it was pointless to nag the issue to death. If you don't want to play, say so. Don't yank everyone's chain. The thing that bothered me is that I had a suspicion that she had no intention of going, from the get-go. And it occurred to me that maybe she had said all those nice things about going to Italy to suck up to the USTA at the moment when the organization was part of the group debating what further punishment was appropriate for Serena's transgressions in that semifinal US Open match with Clijsters.
When the Grand Slam Committee finally did act on Serena's actions at the US Open, fining her $82,500 and placing her on a two-year Grand Slam probation, her reaction was that the decision was somehow "sexist." That if a male player had done such a thing, he would have gotten off with a slap on the wrist. But I'm still waiting for the incident in which a male player gets off lightly for physically menacing and threatening an official; there's an order of magnitude issue here, and it was discouraging to see Serena reach for that sexist card. Her outburst at the Open wasn't unforgivable, and it could have been resolved and forgotten if only Serena took ownership of her actions. It would have made it easier, to borrow an expression from Venus Williams, to "move on."
Instead, the whole episode only served to make Serena look worse and worse, which is too bad. She has a riveting, charismatic personality, and an enormous platform in the public arena. She has a great deal to give, if only she could forget about the taking.
The Era of Heresies