Full disclosure: I have not always been a Serena fan.
Not because she’s “manly”.
Not because she’s “classless”.
Not because she’s “hood”.
My ambivalence towards her was purely sporting. It always seemed like she wasn’t quite living up to her potential. And now I realize that was churlish.
She went through a few years of injuries which would have ended most careers. And those injuries, and her recovery from them, seemed to revitalize her.
She came back stronger. She came back with a fierce determination. She came back with a renewed love of her game.
She came back to dominate a sport in a manner which no other athlete has.
Jordan hasn’t. Mayweather hasn’t. Tiger hasn’t.
What Serena has done in the past few years, and seems bent on doing for a few years more, is nothing short of miraculous. We haven’t seen the like in modern sports.
Just shy of her 34th birthday, at age at which the hunters from “Logan’s Run” should have already done their business, she is playing better with every match. No one can stand against her. When she loses it’s headline news, because it seems as if she’s forgotten how to lose. I came to the realization earlier this year that she has a chance to be a competitive force on the WTA into her late 30s – early 40s. And by “competitive”, I mean that she’ll still win Grand Slams.
Any other athlete would be lauded, rose petals would be strewn before her feet, she’d be lionized.
But not Serena.
Much like our first black President, nothing she does is ever good enough. As at the beginning of this essay, she looks different, or acts differently, or is classless, or is “hood”.
Like Barack Obama, her accomplishments have to be derided and denied. She has to be taken down several pegs. She has to be put in her place.
She is the most dominant athlete in any sport. Yet her “rival”, Maria Sharapova, makes much more money than her in endorsements. The reason is obvious.
Serena Williams stormed into a sport which had known only two great black players – Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson – from the public courts of Compton, and refused to play by the established rules. She didn’t change who she was. Her joy shook the world when she won, as did her anger when she lost. She doesn’t suffer fools. She doesn’t hide behind a polite, bland facade. She is who she is.
And that, of course, is not allowed. Her femininity has to be questioned. Her very humanity has to be brought into ill-repute. She and her sister didn’t play at the Indian Wells tournament for a decade because of the racist abuse heaped upon them. She is, in the end, human. Prick her and she bleeds.
Serena should be the most highly paid woman in tennis. She’s not. Other, “prettier” faces get the endorsements. She’ll just have to satisfy herself with being peerless, with reminding all those pretty faces that they can’t stand against her in the one arena where it matters, and that long after their names have faded into dust, hers will stand in the record books.
That is, in the end, the supreme consolation. The judgment of history.