Serena lost a match but won the world

Serena Williams_t149792904_620x350Talk about Straight Outta Compton.
Because to even begin to understand the magnitude of Serena and the remarkable accomplishment that has been her life, you have to go back to the city of Compton, that grubby southern California location known mostly for its status as a ghetto, with all the accompanying attributes on full display. Compton, at the time the Williams sisters grew up there, was without a doubt the kind of neighborhood most would be more than happy to be Straight Outta.
The other thing to consider, when considering how to accurately measure a Serena – or her sister, Venus – was the near-blinding whiteness of the sport of tennis into which the black-as-Compton clan stormed like a Hurricane Katrina, only a bit more angry and a lot more focused. While it wouldn’t be at all fair to characterize everyone involved in the sport at that time as white racists, the sheer volume of recorded evidence of the naked racism Serena and her family had to endure would make it fairly difficult for anyone who considers themselves reasonable and fairly intelligent to dispute. Tennis wasn’t just a white sport, it was a rich white people’s sport, and a black-as-Compton family like the Williams crew didn’t quite fit. Until Venus and Serena made themselves fit. Made us fit.
But many of you reading this piece already know much of the often-told story that has now become the stuff of legend. A determined father named Richard whose faith in the abilities of his young daughters was certainly far bigger than the size of a mustard seed. Because before there were white folks who laughed and jeered, there were also more than a few vocal doubters from the ‘hood as well who thought Richard had to be out of his mind to think his little dark-skinned girls were going to become tennis pros. But the faith of Richard Williams didn’t just move mountains, it stomped them into dust. And it shut up a whole lot of folk in the process as a bonus.
So now here we are today wondering how what happened on Friday could have happened. Serena was on a warpath, and then she came up against someone named Roberta Vinci, a 300-1 underdog who had never beaten Serena and who had never made it this far before. Nobody at all considered Vinci even the slightest bit of an impediment. Experienced tennis watchers and Serena watchers predicted that if Serena was at all going to fall off track on the way toward Grand Slam dominance, her faltering would come in the earlier matches. Not at this late point.
But it did happen at this late point. And we’re all wondering …but how…?
Serena’s loss to Vinci is being called possibly the most momentous upset in tennis history, and maybe even one of the most momentous defeats in all of sports history. And yet…
“Serena is obviously one of the greatest tennis players ever, possibly the greatest. Her competitive drive has been placed in the same echelon as that of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. She imposes in her sport the intimidating physical dominance LeBron James possesses in his. Her peers know this,” said New York Times sports columnist William Rhoden, who went on to quote Bethanie Mattek-Sands, one of the players whom Serena vanquished earlier in the week on the way to what so many thought would be her inevitable historic Grand Slam victory.
“Serena’s broken a lot of barriers as far as men and women and gender-related issues,” said Sands. “Does she deserve to be called just the best athlete, period? I think so. I don’t know if she would say it, but I think a lot of fellow athletes would agree with that statement.”
What is notable about Rhoden’s and Sands’ independent assessments of Serena’s formidable skill set is that they are not only comparing her to other female athletes, but to legendary male athletes as well. Serena is becoming recognized as not simply one of the best female athletes of all time, or one of the best tennis players of all time, either one of which would certainly be enough. But no, Serena is now being acknowledged by some as one of the best all-around athletes of all time. Male or female. Gay or straight. White, or black.
The best.
But Rhoden and Sands aren’t the only ones to be making this observation, controversial as it may be. Consider this from Ian Crouch of The New Yorker, who wrote this of Serena almost exactly a year ago on Sept. 9, 2014, after Serena had won the U.S. Open for the sixth time – and the Grand Slam for her 18th time:
“This week, as the sports world repays our slavish attention with more lousygrotesque news, it’s worth noting that, on Sunday, the greatest American athlete in a generation (italics mine) won the U.S. Open, again, for the sixth time and the third year in a row.
“Serena Williams’s victory over Caroline Wozniacki puts her in rarefied company in the history of women’s tennis. It was her eighteenth Grand Slam singles title, tying her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. (The pair welcomed her to the club by giving her an eighteen-karat gold Tiffany bracelet.) Even before Sunday, Evert had said several times that Williams is the best woman ever to play, despite the fact that she remains four major titles behind Steffi Graf (who, the argument goes, faced lesser opponents), and six behind the all-time record holder, Margaret Court (who played before the modern open era). Williams has been to twenty-two Slam finals and has lost only four times. At thirty-two, she is less than two months younger than Roger Federer, who is considered to be playing in the near-twilight of his career, and the oldest player to hold the women’s world No. 1 ranking. After the match, Evert said, ‘People kept asking Serena the last year, ‘How’s it going to feel to be in the same company with Martina and Chrissie?’ and I’m thinking to myself, Well, I’m the one who’s honored to have Serena in the same sentence.
“Forget tennis for a moment, though: when I say the greatest athlete in a generation, I mean the greatest in any sport. Sorry, LeBron. Sorry, Tiger. Sorry, Derek. For fifteen years, over two generations of tennis, Williams has been a spectacular and constant yet oddly uncherished national treasure.”
Vinci won a single match against a remarkable opponent, and she certainly deserves every bit of credit for the match that she played. She played the game of her life and she deserves all the applause and acclaim that comes with that laudable effort.
But when it’s all said and done, Roberta Vinci won a great match on a single day. Serena Williams won the entire world over the course and career of a lifetime.

About Post Author

From the Web

Skip to content