The controversy intensified when Serena issued an official statement the following day through a public relations firm, admitting that she "handled the situation poorly." It was a self-serving statement, and while various officials were still trying to decide what further punishment to dole out, critics jumped all over the fact that nowhere in her statement did Serena actually apologize to anyone. On Monday morning, Serena released an "amended" statement, in which she did apologize, after, unbeknownst to most, her arm had been sufficiently twisted by interested and influential parties. Darren Cahill and I were scheduled to call the Monday men's final between Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro for ESPN, in case the network wanted to rebroadcast it almost immediately. I also had a long-standing commitment to speak at a charity luncheon put on by the Eastern Tennis Association earlier in the day. As the men's final was scheduled to start at around 4:30, I was in pretty good shape—until US Open tournament director Jim Curley's assistant Cindy called and asked me to host the women's doubles awards ceremony, preceding the men's final. It was a pretty standard request—the USTA likes to have its own people serve as award presenters, and two of my jobs are USTA positions. I had already backed out of one such commitment earlier in the tournament, owing to my obligations as a commentator. So I agreed to do it, but as I rushed down from the luncheon in Westchester County to do my turn, the wheels started turning in my head. Venus and Serena were almost certain to win the doubles. And I was a familiar face on live television, and to everyone in the stadium, as an ESPN journalist.
The way I saw it, I was duty bound to ask Serena about the repercussions of the Saturday night incident and its aftermath. If I didn't, it would impugn my integrity as a journalist. The awkwardness of my situation dawned on me. I called Jamie Reynolds, our ESPN coordinating producer, and explained my misgivings. If I were to go on live television to present the trophies and ask two or three questions, I would have to ask about the Saturday incident and its aftermath. Normally, my colleague Mary Jo Fernandez would have done the on-court interview and presentation, but she wanted no part of it. Mary Jo is the Fed Cup captain, and she wasn't willing to risk damaging her relationship with Serena by putting her on the spot—not with Serena having agreed to play the Fed Cup in a final against Italy later in the year.
I couldn't blame Mary Jo; if it had been Andy Roddick in the midst of a similar mess, I would have felt equal reluctance. Furthermore, ESPN was aware that some of us in tennis wear multiple hats, but they didn't want one of their people out there if the relevant questions were not going to be asked.