Serena Wins Twice At Wimbleton!!!

As I watched Serena Williams in the Women’s final yesterday, it was hard to tell that just a year ago she had almost lost her life due to a blood clot after foot surgery. Her strength of both body and mind, and her skill at placing the ball at impossible angles belied the fact that a short while ago living was the best she could hope for, forget playing tennis and forget winning a Major. Just 2 weeks ago at the French Open she lost in the first round. The tennis world was stunned, and I am sure the other players were relieved at not having to go through her to get to the title. Much ado has been made about Serena and Venus not only for their race and body type (Serena) but for their unconventional approach to the sport. Throughout their careers both have played far less tennis than other top players. In fact, during their heyday when they dominated the sport they played half the tournaments as their counterparts, with better results. They were admonished by their elder sportsmen for “not taking it as seriously as they should”. They were not the single minded, myopic players of old. Instead they chose (at their parents urging) to pursue higher education (academic, fashion and beauty) started clothing lines, an interior design company (V Starr interior Design, Eleven) and even acting, and not only became personalities on the court, but off the court as well. Their “Tennis is not my life” (or not my WHOLE life) attitude rankled people because never before a player, let alone two players (siblings) had such a seemingly laissez faire approach to the sport and still managed to win. If in fact they were not so successful it might not have been an issue, but it seemed a slap in the face to those who had to work 3 times as hard to be a strong and acquire the stamina to keep up and try to bet them. They changed the Women’s game, upping the ante with serves at 140mph equal and better then some of the male players (Ivo Karlovic holds the male top serve at 155mph) . In their early days their success was all chalked up to their brute strength, and that did have a lot to so with it. They out muscled most of the other players but the way commentators talked about them made them sound like beasts (black beaded beasts) little was ever said about their skill, when they won it was because they steamrolled over their opponents.In the late 90’s when they began to put pressure on Martina Hingis (at the time the number one seed), commentators spoke of her game in terms of  skill and intelligence, her angles and how she forced her opponent to make errors. When the Williams sisters started to beat her they made it sound like they were Goliath and stomped her down with brute force. Little was ever said about the fact that along with the power, they actually knew  how to do more that whack balls to the other end of the court. True they had a lot to learn, but to was a reduction, and easy excuse, and it seemed (perhaps because I am Black, and American, and there is a history of racism in this country that I am sensitive to) like there were subtle implications to racial genetics….

Then tragedy struck and kept striking, the death of their sister, injury, their parents divorce, illness- tragedy both emotional, spiritual and physical leveled the playing field. It not only took their bodies out of the game it took their minds, their hearts away. Others began to win. I am of the opinion that in times of crisis when things are out of control it is human nature to go back to a place, a thing that grounds you, a thing that you have power over. This is the root of most eating disorders, it’s not about weight per se but about controlling the body by controlling what goes into (or out of) it. This is what Tennis seemed to be for the sisters. Something familiar, something they could control, direct, something that made them feel powerful, it was home. Whenever they emerged from a “life hit” they went back to the courts with a new found focus and determination and when they showed up, they would win. This fortitude was the thing that gained a deeper respect from the Tennis world. After they had been proven to be beatable (albeit with a handicap) but their ability to dive in and comeback made their winning palpable. When they came back they would talk about their love for the game, and how they were completely focused on it and winning, and that is what the Tennis world wanted to hear, utter devotion to the Sport. All or nothing, titles were earned not by just what you did on the court, but by how you lived your life…dedicated to the game…

Serena has always been the more controversial of the two, the baby, spoiled and self centered. She had the freedom to act out in ways Venus could not. Venus was the example, she is tempered and levelheaded, careful with her words and attitude. She is not flashy or arrogant, she is the smoother, protector…(but I have a feeling that behind closed doors she too has a lot to say). Serena on the other hand will let folks have it! She doesn’t care who you are she will go in, on the press, commentators, and yes infamously umpires. Although sometimes I think she goes a bit too far, I have to say that when she does give a flippant response, or shows her irritation, (often at herself) I get it, it might not be “right” or “courteous” but it is authentic, it is human. No one can image the stress that it takes to be in those situations and one of the only, and having the pressure to be a “perfect representation” of not only a “Sportsman” but an African American. Sometimes you just want to be you. And like a pro, she as taken her lumps from it. She was banded from the US Open and fined several times and she is learning (hopefully).
(here she is talking about not being ranked #1 after winning 3 majors…around 1:00)it may be wrong but you know what she’s saying…

I was moved to see a more sensitive and vulnerable side of her after her Singles win at Wimbleton. It was only then that I was reminded of how far she had come to hold that silver plate. There is a great sweetness about her, a tenderness, you can see the “baby” in her, but there is also the other side of the coin and she gets slammed for it in a way that McEnroe never was. He was a major arrogant ass and people…not so much loved him for it, but they accepted it, they expected it. In fact I can remember watching matches and waiting, almost hoping there was a bad call so I could see him blow up. But then again he is a man…

The thing that I think people never take into consideration is what these two women of color had to endure (thank god they had each other). Where they were not the first to arrive (Althea Gibson, Zina Garrison) they were the first to dominate, and at a very young age. The isolation that Venus must have felt being the only before her sister joined her and became a force must have been unbearable. One can only image the snide comments made under people’s breaths, the tension in the locker rooms, and the pressure of “representing” your whole race with a racket Do you recall when McEnroe challenging them to a grudge match in 2000? What was that about? Why was he so mad at two little girls?

And never once did they speak a bad word about anyone, and not until they were adults did they start to be more expressive Serena more so, Venus is ever the diplomat. You can say what you want about their Father Richard Williams, but he and Oracene raised those girls right! You can call him crazy, arrogant, or foolish, but he ain’t never lied! He said they would be number 1 and they were, he said they would dominate the sport and they did, and in the early days when he spouted off at the mouth, his daughters said little to nothing. Their job was to play, his to protect. And maybe that was the plan, he laid down cover fire so that they could make their way, he was their voice… I don’t know that’s what I image….

In a post celebratory glow I was hunting for clips and came across this 2008 video of Andy Roddick imitating both Serena and Novak Djokovic. As Serena he stuffs towels down is pants and shirt to mock her body and at the end does a booty shake… I felt the heat rise up my neck, but I thought watch the rest see what he does as Djokovic. Well, he proceeded to imitate his long ritualistic preparation to serve…hummm after seeing that I felt justified to feel offended. He (like a punk– sorry but that’s how I feel) went after her body and her race. I have never seen Serena bounce her booty on the court (now there was a video out there of her bouncing it in her hotel room but we don’t have to go there…) Why go for her body? Well I guess that’s because he couldn’t imitate her serve, and he CERTAINLY COULDN’T IMITATE HER WINS!!!  (the Williams sisters may hold their tongues but I certainly don’t have to) take a look…(I never really was a fan, but now I just think he’s an ass)

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