Serena Williams 2012 Wimbledon Champion: A Retrospective

Posted: July 7, 2012 in ALL II
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Selfishness in life is often one of the most frequently cited flaws among people in the world.  Certainly the case in America.  Selfish people tend to be lambasted; the selfish athlete becomes a lightning rod of controversy, with self-absorption the primary cause of their losses (when they lose) and a convenient flaw over looked when they win.  Serena Williams is motivated not by her stated desire to be the greatest player of all time, not by some quest to make the most money possible, and not by an abstract love for the game.  Serena Williams is motivated by selfishness.  She lives for, loves, and cherishes the spotlight and attention singularly on her.  The high point of Women’s tennis over the past decade came when Serena and Venus (my favorite women’s player of all time) competed in Grand Slam finals.  Serena enjoyed these events but her highest of highs comes when there is only her taking in the limelight.  Her story of triumph tying her ailing sister with five Wimbledon crowns.  Her story of overcoming adversity from near death a year ago and winning beyond 30 years old.  Ultimately seeing Serena win made me happy on the inside as she took in the singular sporting world’s attention on her and reminded us of her childlike nature by revealing that warm smile often hidden behind her unprecedented power.

As many people know, I don’t like Serena Williams.  I always preferred Venus’ style, her class, her attention to broader issues in the sport (leading the charge for equal pay in Grand Slams), and most of all ability to acknowledge other greatness.  Serena, by contrast, could not fathom someone better than her.  Even as Justin Henin beat her and her sister, Serena chalked it up to luck, individual poor play, or focus.  Serena could never say Henin was better for those 14 months.  It never sat well with me, probably because I saw Rafa Nadal begin to encroach on Roger Federer’s terrain and after exhibiting the same traits as Serena, he could not dodge the facts.  Nadal was another elite player who had his number.  It is truly unfair for me to continue to harbor such ill will towards her.  Her selfishness is as necessary as Jordan’s “killer nature,” Tiger’s uncompromising disgust for anything not first, and Federer’s stubborn arrogance hidden behind a façade of Swiss-ness and humility.  Serena now has 14 major championships.  Venus ended with seven.  In my heart I know my disdain for Serena began when she immediately ended the rule of the “Williams Sisters” by ending the dominance of Venus.  Serena took control of the non-slam head-to-head, the Slam head-to-head record, developed a better backhand and finished it off by replacing Venus as the greatest server on the tour.  Serena’s attitude is the same thing I like about other prolific athletes and with Venus effectively mitigated to a pity party, her unmatched and unquestioned talent can reign supreme.

As I reconcile my once legitimate now increasingly inconsistent reasons for disliking Serena, I wonder why other’s do not like (dare I say do not appreciate) what Serena is doing in tennis.  In an era where American tennis is marked by minor peaks on the Men’s side (Isner? Fish? Harrison? Roddick is done by the way) and absolute disarray on the Women’s side (Melanie Oudin? Sloan Stevens?), Serena should be heralded as a Goddess.  That is has not been the case in the eyes of many with the first explanation being race.  I simply don’t buy that explanation because during the mid-2000s, she did get the type of praise I expected.  Serena’s downturn happened after the infamous 2009 U.S. Open tirade.  That represented some sort of last straw in the minds of many fans who took offense, in my opinion, to Serena destroying the way athletes “should” act.

Serena’s selfishness does not change the fact that she frustrates fans who

want to love dominance.  Some racially motivated commentators tried to take down El Tigre, a person of color who went into a predominantly upper class, white sport and dominated to the happiness of many who liked his new exuberance to an old game.  Serena entered the along the same path though probably endured less hardship at the beginning as she was female and Tiger was male.  Nonetheless, Tiger gave his all to the game of golf and persistently did his all to destroy everyone in his path.  Serena, although she claims she is most comfortable on the tennis court, does not love the game.  Her outward interests on pursuing other hobbies (fashion) or doing things more interesting to her at the time (being a celebrity) often run up against fan’s ideas of great athletes.  At 14 majors, she is clearly the best player in the World when healthy.  But everyone is left to wonder what could’ve been if she didn’t get bored – if she would be winning her seventh Wimbledon instead of five, if she would be winning her 20th grand slam leading to a more meaningful GOAT discussion, if she would have saved women’s tennis from its precipitous collapse in the hands of shaky number one’s who collapse under the pressure of being the best in the business.  Serena Williams, for better or worse, lives life her way.  She is a combination of Shaq and Charles Barkley: she is not a role model, will live her life the way she wants, is physically dominating and yet we are left with questions of what could’ve been if she was all in, all the time.  Eventually Serena will get the admiration she deserves.  Her Wimbledon title is a first step: the happiness, the redemption, the satisfaction of greatness returning to the top.  If she does stay focused and healthy (she won’t be able to disappear and reappear at will and continue to destroy opponents at will and demand top spots for international competition) she will quickly conjoin true tennis fans with people looking to herald greatness.  Serena Williams is back atop the tennis world and like another much maligned great who occasionally speaks his mind: “It’s about damn time.”


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