The impact of Serena Williams’s meltdown at the U.S. Open this summer, along with the subsequent press about her possible ban from future Grand Slams and the hefty fines she’s been forced to pay out, not only caused shockwaves in the tennis world, but also ripples in the general sports world and for those who don’t even follow or play the sport.
I say this as in recent conversations with friends who don’t follow tennis, they have all mentioned to me hearing something about the “Serena Incident” at some point. When I’ve asked them what they think about it and her, most of them say that it was probably due to the pressure of the moment and not that big a deal.
Now again, I’m not condoning what Serena did, but as I’ve stated in earlier posts, I don’t think Serena would have gotten as much heat for this if she had dropped the f-bomb at a small clay court event as opposed to live on primetime national television. What does interest me is the idea that Serena’s meltdown may have, even briefly, increased awareness of tennis to the public at large.
The current media obsession with Tiger Woods and his “transgressions” will certainly consume the general and sports media for sometime. Sex scandals trump all scandals as far as the media is concerned. Serena’s “scandal” was on-court but has added another layer to her persona which she may or may not shrug off. Tennis has certainly had its share of champions “you love to hate” i.e. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors and Serena may have crossed into that group.
If Serena’s meltdown actually gets more people to watch tennis on tv, even if it’s just out of curiosity to see if she might lose it again, in the long run, it could help the sport gain new viewers. It will probably take Serena all of next year to live down her new reputation, and some carefully planned PR mea culpas will help, but as the old saying goes, bad publicity is better than no publicity.