The Dire Need To Protect and Defend the True Legacy of Serena Williams's Extraordinary Tennis Career and the Proper Recognition of the Modern African American Athlete
It was only a matter of time. I knew in my bones as did many other tennis observers and fans--especially African Americans-- that the most patronizing, dishonest, and deadly expressions of American racism and sexism would immediately rear their ugly heads as soon as it became crystal clear that Serena Williams was on the very cusp of being appropriately recognized and feted as the greatest player in the history of women's tennis--and VOILA! that horrific revisionist BIG LIE moment is already here. Seemingly supportive and yet equally sly, deceptive articles like the one below shamelessly pretend that Serena--who has been a professional tennis player for 15 years now and has absolutely dominated the sport for the past decade (she won 13 of her 16 career grand slam singles titles prior to June of 2012)--has somehow suddenly developed a more "balanced and nuanced game" in the past calendar year that is fully superior to the previous "shock and awe power and athleticism" of her entire career up until she lost in the first round of a Grand slam tournament (at last year's French Open) for the first and only time in her career in May 2012. Incredulously we are now being led to believe by a very large swath of the lily white tennis media that until Serena met and began working with her current French coach (the previous 14 years in which Serena won those 13 slams I mentioned earlier she was coached by her parents who not only introduced her to the game at the age of 4 but taught her most of what she knows of tennis to this date!). Yet we are now being told that because of the ineffable wisdom and guidance of her new European coach and a "new" (re)dedication to the sport that Serena is only now doing something dramatically different from what she's been doing since she absolutely shocked the smug, complacent, and racist/sexist tennis world--especially in the United States--back in 1999 when as a 17 year old who had only been a professional for ONE YEAR and defeated the then number one ranked player in women's tennis (Martina Hingis) to win her first Grand Slam tournament at the U.S. Open.
But this is not the only thing wrong with the present utterly false narrative being circulated by the media and a disturbing number of especially white American "fans" now that it's obvious that Serena will very shortly surpass the number of Grand Slam titles won by the top two female American players in the historical pantheon of the sport (Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova who each won 18 slam titles during their careers) on the very short list of the five major women tennis players in the modern Open era (1968-present). So while it's depressingly clear that a deluge of these false "new narratives" will soon attempt to dominate and distort the actual historical record of Serena's extraordinary career and endless accomplishments, it's also clear that we must diligently challenge and ultimately defeat this conscious and unconscious bigotry whenever and wherever it asserts itself. We owe the great iconic Serena Williams (and her greatly underrated older sister Venus as well) at least that much...Stay tuned...
How Serena Williams’s Game Is Growing
By GEOFF MACDONALD
New York Times
Serena Williams may be the best women’s tennis player in history, and she’s improving before our very eyes.
Her straight-sets victory over Maria Sharapova for her second title in the French Open (she last won in 2002) signals a renewed commitment for Williams. Her game has grown more nuanced and balanced, and she ran through the field while dropping only one set, to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals.
What was most impressive about Williams was the sheer variety of shots in her arsenal. For years, she won with powerful serving and fearsome ball striking off both sides. It was brutally effective, the tennis equivalent of shock and awe. But her game could implode on the occasional bad day. A year ago at Roland Garros, Williams lost in the first round to Virginie Razzano, beating herself with countless unforced errors. She looked miserable on the red clay, at war with both herself and the humbling surface.
But against Sharapova, a player who looks to take control of the point from the first strike, Williams showed her much improved ground game. Rather than go for a winner on the first or second ball, she used spin and height and change of direction to outmaneuver her taller, less agile opponent.
Williams’s magisterial serve was still dominant, and she was not afraid to go toe to toe and slug it out with Sharapova, but what struck me was her willingness to slide and defend, to run wide and play a looping topspin shot to restart the point. She was playing a much more complete game than she did a year ago. Yes, she still ripped winners off both sides, but she also used touch like a seasoned clay courter.
On one point early in the second set, Williams played a feathery forehand drop shot up the line, then closed with perfect timing as Sharapova slid into a backhand chip up the line. Williams anticipated beautifully, then played a lob volley over Sharapova’s head. The knowledgeable French crowd murmured appreciatively at the softly devastating shot.
The change in Williams’s approach to tennis bodes well for the future of the women’s game. She has raised the bar for her competitors, not only with her sublime play, but with her willingness to change, to adapt and learn new ways to play. In the past, I had the sense that Williams chafed at the burden of being so prodigiously talented. The weight of the crushing expectations placed upon her seemed to sap the joy out of the game for her. I think that’s why she played a sporadic schedule for a few years.
Tennis was a business, she was darn good at it, but it was also a tough and lonely life. To see her play with a sense of fun and creativity breathes life into the women’s game, which has paled in comparison with the men’s game in recent years.
Just as Roger Federer lifted the men’s game out of its monotonous, power-serving doldrums with his all-court athleticism, daring and artistry, the evolving Serena Williams can raise the level of the women’s game to similar heights. But for tennis fans, it’s simply wonderful to see her enjoying the game that she’s given so much to.
Serena Williams: Her Place In History
June 10, 2013
PARIS, France - Serena Williams' triumph at the French Open didn't just represent the No.1 player in the world solidifying her status at the top of the sport, it represented one of the all-time greats getting greater. So what did the American accomplish in Paris the last two weeks? Here's a rundown...
~ She now has 16 Grand Slam titles, the fourth-most in the Open Era (after Graf, who has 22, and Evert and Navratilova, who are tied at 18)
~ Her 16 Grand Slam titles are almost as many as all other active players combined (20)
~ She is one of four women in the Open Era to have won multiple titles at each of the four Grand Slams (Graf won each four or more times, while Evert, Navratilova and Williams have two or more of each)
~ She now has 236 Grand Slam match wins, the fourth-most in the Open Era (after Navratilova, Evert and Graf, who have 306, 299 and 278, respectively)
~ She is the fourth woman in the Open Era to reach 20 Grand Slam finals (after Evert, Navratilova and Graf, who reached 34, 32 and 31 respectively)
~ At 31 years and 256 days, she is the oldest French Open champion in the Open Era (the previous-oldest was Evert at 31 years and 169 days)
~ She is the third woman in the Open Era to win three Grand Slam titles in her 30s, after Court and Navratilova (no woman in the Open Era has won four or more Grand Slam titles in their 30s)
~ She is the eighth woman in the Open Era to have won multiple French Open titles (after Evert-7, Graf-6, Henin-4, Seles-3, Sánchez-Vicario-3, Court-3 and Navratilova-2)
~ She has now won nine WTA clay court titles, tied for second among active players with Venus (Medina Garrigues leads all active players with 10 WTA clay court titles)
~ She has now won 31 straight matches, not only her career-best winning streak but also the third-longest winning streak of the millennium (after Venus' 35 from 2000 and Henin's 32 from 2007-2008)
~ She lost just 29 games in seven matches en route to the title, the equal-fewest she has ever dropped en route to a Grand Slam title (she lost 29 to win the 2002 US Open too)
~ She is now 40-1 on clay since the start of the 2012 clay court season (the only loss coming in the first round of last year's French Open to Razzano)
~ She is now 91-4 since the start of April 2012 (the only losses coming to Razzano at the French Open, Kerber in Cincinnati, Stephens at the Australian Open and Azarenka in Doha)
~ She now has a WTA-leading 43 match wins on the year (Sharapova and Errani are next with 36)
Serena Williams beats Maria Sharapova in powerful, noisy French Open final
By Nick Zaccardi
PARIS — Three thoughts off Serena Williams’ 6-4, 6-4 win over Maria Sharapova in the French Open final …
1. Serena Williams won this tournament because of consistent dominance. Saturday’s scoreline suggests that, like all of Williams’s matches these two weeks, there was little doubt over the outcome. That’s not totally true — Williams was broken on her first service game — but the feeling throughout was Sharapova was fighting an uphill battle. A pretty unwinnable one, too. Williams broke Sharapova three times in the first set and again in Sharapova’s second service game in the second set. She stayed on course to close it out in one hour, 46 minutes, dropping to her knees after match point, overcome with emotion on the Court Philippe Chatrier clay.
The difference was succinct: the serve — Williams’s was too powerful, Sharapova’s too erratic. Williams captured her 16th major singles title (and second French Open, 11 years to the day after her first, over sister Venus) by mowing through a women’s field in a little over eight hours on court. Only 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova took a set off Williams, and Sharapova was the only other player to even break her serve.
It’s hard to believe Williams went out in the first round here last year. She’s lost just three matches since and is on a 31-match winning streak. She’s in better form (compared to her peers) going into the grass-court season than at any point in her career. What, if anything, can stop her from lifting a sixth Wimbledon next month? To quote Williams from before the French Open began, “the lady in the mirror.”
2. Sharapova put up a better fight than many thought she would. Few gave the Russian a chance, given she hadn’t beaten Williams in nearly nine years, losing their last 12 meetings (and winning just one set in their last nine). And Sharapova’s quick demise seemed apparent after the first three points, when she went down love-40 on her serve, being bullied around by Williams as usual.
But Sharapova fought back this time and even took an early break. Her come ons to winners ratio was nearly 1:1. She showed — quite audibly — she was not intimidated. Her Achilles heel first serve, however, could not hold up in gusty conditions. Williams had break chances on each of Sharapova’s first three service games. Sharapova landed fewer than half of her first serves in the opening set, a 51-minute affair when she came pretty close to matching Williams stroke for stroke from the baseline.
Many recent women’s finals have the reputation of being duds, unsettling appetizers for the following day’s men’s final. But this was certainly competitive in comparison and could end up being more memorable than Sunday’s final between Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer.
This was the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 in a women’s major final at Roland Garros since 1995 (Steffi Graf d. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario) and the first in any major since the 2004 Australian Open (Justine Henin d. Kim Clijsters). The state of the women’s game didn’t change Saturday — it’s still Williams, then Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, then the rest — but Sharapova made Williams work for it. Again, better than expected.
3. Is Williams the best player of this generation — man or woman? She won her 16th career Grand Slam singles title, moving her two behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for a share of fourth all-time among women. She’s still eight majors behind record holder Margaret Court, who raked in 11 Australian Open titles against less than stellar competition. That record is almost surely insurmountable.
Of more realistic note, she’s now only one behind Roger Federer’s men’s record. Federer and Williams were born within seven weeks of each other in 1981, so it’s natural to compare the two most accomplished players of this century.
Williams missed at least one major every year from 1999 to 2006 (save 2001) and then three straight in 2010 and 2011 after she stepped on glass in a restaurant, suffered a pulmonary embolism and had complications from surgery. Federer, meanwhile, has played every single major since 2000. During that time, we’ve seen the pendulum swing from a deep field of WTA stars to a golden era of the men’s side. Federer had little competition at the beginning of his run, and now Williams stands alone.
Federer struck out in the quarterfinals here and it’s arguable whether he can win another major. It would be stunning if Williams’s trophy case doesn’t grow. She looked better at the 2013 French Open than at the 2002 French Open. A scary thought considering she’s the oldest-ever No. 1. There’s no doubt Williams has aged better than Federer. If trends continue, there will be no doubt who had the better career, either.
The Triumph of Serena Williams
by Jason Gay
June 9, 2013
Wall Street Journal
Microwave pizza takes longer than the tennis matches of Serena Williams. It feels a little excessive to refer to these engagements as "matches," considering that most of them consist of Serena Williams arriving, and then, on the opposite side, an unconditional surrender. Williams's semifinal versus Sara Errani in the French Open the other day lasted 46 minutes—that's about 1½ episodes of "Seinfeld"—during which Williams won the first set 6-0, the second 6-1. Errani, a finalist at the French in 2012, hit only two winners in the whole deal. This is the part where I'm supposed to remind you that we're talking about the semifinal of one of the most prestigious tournaments in the game, in which the athletes who reach the semifinal are presumably, you know, pretty good. And yet Williams, the No. 1 women's tennis player in the world, breezes through her competition faster than you or I get through airport security.
For Saturday's French women's final, Williams met the No. 2 player in the world, Maria Sharapova. Normally it is a big whoop when two top players meet in a Grand Slam—think of the rapture that met Friday's men's semi between eventual champion Rafael Nadal and No. 1 Novak Djokovic—but there was little pre-match suspense for Serena v. Maria. Sharapova, the winner of four grand slams, had not beaten Williams—anywhere, on any surface—in nine years, a run of 12 matches. In August, Williams steamrolled Sharapova in the gold-medal round of the Summer Olympics, 6-0, 6-1, making Sharapova look as if she were playing with a spatula. Entering the French final, Williams had won 30 consecutive matches, the longest winning streak of her career. At the moment, there is not an earthly gap between Williams and the rest of the elite in women's tennis. Serena is her own planet.
Sharapova did better than most people expected Saturday, which is a weird thing to say, because she lost in straight sets, and was the defending champion. But this is how things are at the moment for the field versus Serena Williams. The losing is assumed. The goal is dignity. Win seven or eight games. Survive more than an hour. Sharapova did both of those things in a 6-4, 6-4 match that lasted a solid one hour, 46 minutes—a respectable 3½ Seinfelds—and she was showered with praise. When Williams is focused and her best physically, the outcome is not in doubt. Already among the greatest tennis players of all time, Williams is playing the tennis of her life.
It was different last year in Paris. Williams lost in the first round at the French, the first time she'd ever lost in the opening round of a Grand Slam, falling in three sets to Virginie Razzano. Overall Williams hadn't won a singles title at Roland Garros in 11 years, not since her 2002 victory over her big sister Venus. But the early exit in 2012 seemed to rally Williams, who had recently begun working with a new coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. She ripped through the summer, winning Wimbledon, Olympic gold, and the U.S. Open. Since last year's French defeat, she is 74-3. Here's your tennis analysis: That is awesome.
Williams revamped her game for this tournament—as always, she was physical and pounding, but now there was better fitness and lateral movement along that dusty red limestone. Of course, Williams doesn't out-finesse anyone; she overwhelms. She lost one set in Paris. If there was a moment that encapsulated Saturday's final, it arrived at 1-1 in the second set, with Sharapova serving at 30-30. Sharapova struck a nasty forehand down the line to Williams's left—a put-away shot that most opponents would have netted or missed altogether. Williams managed to slide and stretch to get a racket on it, but then she put a little something extra on it as well, flicking a backhand return that was almost rude in its angle. A couple of strokes later, Sharapova lost the point. In the aftermath, the NBC analyst John McEnroe was still awe-struck that Williams had managed to chase down Sharapova's forehand.
"Against anyone else, that would have been a winner," McEnroe said. "That's the difference."
Women's tennis gets a bad rap for its lack of rivalries and competitiveness, and this is partly true and partly untrue, but at the moment Serena Williams is the greatest show in the sport, on either side. Nobody dominates like she does, not even Nadal, who rolled to his record eighth men's title 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 over David Ferrer on Sunday in a match that will be remembered more for the flare-carrying protester who crashed the court before being tackled by dapper French security. At 31, Williams is just a couple of years removed from a blood clot in her lung she says she was lucky to survive, but she has relocated her prime, and added on a jet pack. Her French title is her 16th major tournament singles title of her career (she also has 13 in doubles and two in mixed doubles), putting her two behind both Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. She might get those by the second week of September.
Williams has at times struggled with her composure, which she's acknowledged, but it also used to be fashionable to give her a hard time about her perceived lack of engagement, as if the idea that a professional tennis player with non-tennis interests was somehow bad for the sport, a complaint that always seemed to be abruptly dismissive of Williams's hard work. But it's become clear that Williams's ability to navigate in and out of the game has contributed to her staying power. Tennis does not have to be the end-all be-all, even for someone who plays it better than anyone. But don't for a minute question the commitment of Serena Williams, not the Williams who spoke French in her trophy ceremony Saturday, not the Williams who climbed her way back to the top of a game she obviously loves. She is happy, she is hungry, she wants more. If you have the misfortune of facing her in the next few months, I got nothing for you. Good luck.
PARIS (AP) -- Two hours before her French Open final, Serena Williams practiced on center court, the stands deserted as she whacked one winner after another to the distant sounds of a brass band playing on the plaza.
When the music stopped, the seats filled and the match began, Williams went on defense, relentlessly chasing down one shot after another to defeat familiar foil Maria Sharapova. With a 6-4, 6-4 victory, the No. 1-ranked Williams won her first French Open championship since 2002.
''Eleven years,'' Williams said in French during the trophy ceremony. ''I think it's unbelievable. Now I have 16 Grand Slam titles. It's difficult for me to speak because I'm so excited.''
Then the national anthem played for the first American singles champion at Roland Garros since Williams' previous title.
Williams whacked 10 aces, including three in the final game, and the last came on match point at 123 mph - her hardest serve of the day. She then sank to her knees, screamed at the sky and buried her face in the clay.
The victory completed her rebound from a shocking loss to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano in the first round at the French Open a year ago. Since that defeat she's 74-3, including titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the London Olympics and the season-ending WTA Championships.
Both finalists swung with their typical aggressiveness from the baseline, but Williams' superior serve and defense proved the difference. She silently ran side to side whipping groundstrokes with little apparent strain, while Sharapova often found herself lunging after the ball to stay in the point, with each shot accompanied by her familiar shriek.
When Williams once summoned a grunt herself to match Sharapova's volume and pound a winner, the crowd responded with a laugh.
Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros last year, but she's still looking for a breakthrough against Williams, who has won their past 13 meetings since 2004.
''I played a great tournament and I ran into a really tough champion today,'' Sharapova said.
Lately Williams beats everyone. She extended her career-best winning streak to 31 matches.
At 31, she became the oldest woman to win a major title since Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon in 1990 at age 33. Her 11-year gap between Roland Garros titles is the longest for any woman.
Williams, who has a home in Paris, is already thinking about winning again next year.
''I love Paris,'' she said. ''I spend a lot of time here. I live here. I practice here. I think I am a Parisian.''
Williams also congratulated Sharapova during the ceremony.
''She played a beautiful final,'' Williams said in French. ''She's a great champion. I hope to be with her again next year.''
''Merci beaucoup,'' Sharapova responded with a laugh.
In an all-Spanish final Sunday, Rafael Nadal will try to become the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event when he plays first-time major finalist David Ferrer.
The women's final, the first between No. 1 and No. 2 at a Grand Slam tournament since 2004, wasn't as close as their rankings. It has been 12 years since the most recent three-set women's title match at Roland Garros.
Playing in hazy, warm weather, the finalists took ferocious swings from the start. With fans perhaps fearful that Williams would win quickly, they began shouting encouragement toward Sharapova after she lost the first two points.
She overcame four break points to hold in the opening game and led 2-0 before Williams began to assert herself. It took Williams 17 minutes to win a game, but then she swept four in a row.
After Sharapova took the next two for 4-all, Williams surged at the end of the set, taking the lead for good by winning eight of the final 10 points.
Sharapova had to dig in again to hold at the start of the second set, fending off five break points, and it was all downhill for her from there. Williams easily held serve all the way to the finish.
She improved to 16-4 in Grand Slam finals. She leads all active women with her 16 major titles and is sixth on the all-time list. Margaret Court holds the record with 24.
Williams improved to 43-2 this year, including 23-0 on clay. Now comes the switch to grass, and she'll be a heavy favorite to win Wimbledon for the sixth time.