I had an odd relationship with tennis player Serena Williams while I was in middle school. To begin with, I was a little afraid of her. I got shivers from the way she looked at her opponent in the split second before she hurled the ball for a serve.
Her assured stride onto the court sent shivers down my spine. And every now and then, the uproar that greeted her winning shot made me leap out of my seat. Nonetheless, she was the one I channelled whenever I played tennis.
When I approached the net, I pretended to be her, and I also pretended she was in my box, offering me guidance. She was the lady in sports who always drew my attention, even during the times when people doubted her ability to return.
At the same time, I never felt comfortable expressing my admiration for her. There was always something that kept me from addressing her as my favourite player. When Serena Williams was selected Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year, I reverted to my adolescent self.
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That is, I became overly emotional; I cried and laughed, then shrieked and cried some more, until I was a jumble of twisted sentiments on my unmade bed. In many respects, her victory was a momentous triumph for the history of sports, not just tennis, but there was something about the news that felt extremely personal to me.
When I saw her on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a flood of memories rushed through my mind. I remembered how everyone talked about her when I was a kid — my tennis-obsessed parents, fellow tennis players, and random neighbours who rarely liked to watch US Open.
They were all in accord; she was fantastic, practically unbeatable, her defensive play was unrivalled, and so on. But there was always a catch at the end of these statements: “She’s fantastic, but… does she have to be so rude?” “That was incredible, but have you seen how nasty and masculine her physique is?”
“Nobody can compete with her! But she’s not really endearing.” When people talked about her, I saw that they compared her “crappy attitude” to other players like Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova — two light-skinned, light-haired, skinny ladies who appeared to have gracious and proper levels of sportsmanship in comparison to Serena.
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It’s no surprise that I felt strange about pledging my allegiance to her. Nobody in my tiny Southern village seemed to like her, no matter how successful she was. And there was no room for someone like me to speak up about it.
These memories are, first and foremost, a stark reminder that there is a race problem in tennis. Did you know it’s the world’s fourth most popular sport, trailing only soccer, cricket, and field hockey – and that it’s primarily dominated by white players? Only three non-white guys have won the Grand Slam in the last 90 years.
American Arthur Ashe and French Yannick Noah were both black, and American Michael Chang was Asian. Only one black man has competed in a Grand Slam final in recent years. In reality, there are currently only three nonwhite players in the men’s top 50 draw.
Women fare no better: aside from Serena and her sister Venus Williams, who has won seven Grand Slams, there are only two black women ranked in the top 50: Sloane Stevens and Madison Keys. The only female Asian player we’ve seen recently in the game is Chinese native Li Na, who is now retired but just won two Grand Slams.
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None of this is surprising given that tennis has always been regarded a sport for the wealthy. It was originally considered a “posh” sport, with participants running around the court in cardigans. Look at all the folks who present the gleaming trophies and sit in the primetime box seats at every big event — you know, the ones who pay the whole thing and make the decisions. They’re usually all aged white men.
Of course, this implies Serena has faced some real racism during her career. Richard Williams, the Williams’ father and coach, has spoken out about a 2001 event at Indian Wells, California, in which Serena and Venus were booed by the crowd.
According to Richard, one man even yelled at him and Venus, stating he wishes time could be reversed to the 1970s, when they would have skinned her alive. Serena declined to play at Indian Wells for the following fourteen years as a result.
The abuse has only gotten worse over time, especially with the development of social media. At the time of 2022 French Open, Serena was the aim of continuous racist insults on Twitter, where she was denoted to as a “gorilla.
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This is just one of the many direct racial labels threw at her. Many commentators and fellow white tennis players have done the same, claiming that her incredible athleticism is merely due to her male, aggressive physical shape, which, it is often implicit, is a product of being black.
That kind of horrible, racist remarks about Serena felt unavoidable to me when I was younger. Serena was once described as “beastly” by my tennis instructor. Serena was christened “Black Beauty” by a player on my high school team who had a really spectacular kick serve, and everyone thought it was rather amusing. Both of these people were white, as were those who agreed and laughed.
Many of those who witnessed Serena accept Sportsperson of the Year had never heard of these instances. They have no knowledge of Serena’s ongoing bigotry since when she is highlighted in the media, she is usually portrayed as a villain.
Serena Williams was penalised for a foot fault during a key second serve against Kim Clijsters in the US Open quarterfinals in 2009. Serena challenged the call, but the umpire upheld it. Upset, Serena smacked her racket on the ground (as almost every male tennis champion save Rafael Nadal has been captured on camera doing) and yelled at the judge.
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As a result, she was portrayed as a woman who was “unhinged” and put on a “shocking exhibition of hatred” – terms used not by a writer on a modest site, but by Liz Robbins in The New York Times.
Serena was called out again during the 2011 US Open final for arguing with the umpire. The umpire had given Serena’s opponent, Sam Stosur, a critical break point because Serena’s triumphant yell had appeared to distract Stosur.
Serena refused to back down, like she had done two years before, and videos of the altercation went viral. Journalists and fans alike were outraged by her “ugliness” and “disrespect.” According to one Vanity Fair piece, her actions were “terrible for the image of the sport.”
Having witnessed all of this from the sidelines over the years, I was moved to tears when she was named Sportsperson of the Year. Serena is undoubtedly the best athlete of our generation, and she’s finally getting the kind of public exposure she deserved a long time ago.
More importantly, her victory is about far more than her 2015 record (an incredible 53-3) and her 21 Grand Slam victory record. This victory is for all women of color, and she is a champion for all of us.
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Serena’s best quality and possibly the most horrifying to my tween self is that she is absolutely, wholly, 100 percent unapologetic. I’ve never seen her waver, even in the face of harsh prejudice, excruciating bodily pain, or heart breaking loss.
I’ve never seen her break down in the face of nasty statements from hateful people. Instead of playing the character that the media wants her to play — the powerful, opinionated woman who is a bitch — she doesn’t hide anything about herself, on or off the court.
Yes, Serena can irritate people from time to time. But, throughout adolescence and adulthood as a minority, I’ve found myself in innumerable instances when I’ve had to defend myself in ways that white people of privilege could find insulting.
Because being a member of a marginalised community means you can’t afford to be polite and behave all of the time. That privilege has been taken away from you by the world.
This Is All About The Serena Incredible Career
Claudia Rankine, a prominent poet and playwright, wrote an article about Serena Williams in The New York Times earlier this year that focused on her incredible career and what it means for black communities and black excellence.
That is why I will never be silent about my support for her again. She encourages women everywhere to stand up when the time comes, and to be strong when everything appears to be crumbling around them.
So, how do I feel about her right now? That’s for sure, I don’t have any conflicted feelings. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still a little intimidated by her, but it’s no longer terror. It’s a huge acknowledgement and genuine respect for her strength.
What Seed Is Serena Williams In 2022 US Open?
Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, will compete in her 21st US Open as an unseeded player. In her first round match, she defeated Danka Kovinic, an opponent she had never faced before. Williams will face No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round.
Who Is The Best Among Venus Or Serena?
Venus Williams has won a total of 49 singles titles in her overall career, while Serena has bagged 73. The Williams sisters are the only women to have competed in four consecutive Grand Slam finals during the Open Era, from the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian Open.
Who Had The Most Success? Venus Or Serena?
In her career, the 40-year-old has 73 singles titles against her sister’s 49. Venus won 22 WTA doubles titles, while her younger sister also has 22.