Serena Williams' grace helps us escape the banality of racism ... for a while
by William C Anderson
The Guardian (UK)
Thursday 9 July 2015
Growing up, my entire family used to sit around the television watching Serena Williams play tennis. We were always glued to the screen studying her every move with concern and dedication as if she was related to us. Any fictive kinship or close tie we felt to her was centered on her blackness in a sport we all played, but rarely saw ourselves represented in.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Williams reminisced about the significance Arthur Ashe, the first African American man to win Wimbledon and the US Open, held for her during her childhood. “Being African-American and when I was coming up in the late 80s, it wasn’t many African Americans playing, so it was like, you wanted to learn the history of all of them,” she said. “Reading stories about how Arthur wasn’t able to play when he was 12 motivated me because I thought, ‘Wow, because of what he went through, because of what he did I have an opportunity to play. I have an opportunity to be the best that I can be because of him.’ So because of him I’m going to try to be better for him.”
I felt the exact same about Williams as a kid. The experience of being a working class black kid in predominantly white country clubs playing tournaments and taking lessons was often awkward, to put it politely. It seemed as if I magnetically attracted the gaze of intrigued onlookers as the anomaly. The connection I felt to Serena and Venus Williams was racial, political, and economic. They are black like me, an identity that is, to me, both political as well as racial. They came from a working class background like I did. I was also “supposed” to be playing basketball (according to many people I encountered), but I liked tennis. And though some of my peers thought it was weird that the person to whom I related to most in my favorite sport was a black woman, I not only didn’t let go of my admiration for her achievements, I was forced to reconsider at an early age notions of traditional gender roles and racial expectations because of her.
I have been watching Williams compete again at Wimbledon yet again this year; she’s still regularly victorious and now she’s only two titles away from matching tennis legend Steffi Graf’s record of 22 grand slam titles. After winning the French Open last month, she may complete another “Serena Slam” – when you win all four major tennis titles in a season. Her focus and her determination consistently astonish audiences: Williams is good, she’s black, and she knows both of those things ... and the importance of her race on the court.
Her understanding of how race affects her professionally doesn’t just come from reading the histories of other African American players and the racism they endured, it also comes from her lived experience as a black woman in America. Williams has constantly had to confront racism throughout her career. Deplorable comments are hurled at her online, from officials and sometimes from sports commentators – every time she wins another match. Even her adversaries have resorted to racist stereotypes.
Despite the invective she must face to stay at the top, Williams continues to maintain professionalism and poise by often addressing the racism against her in a calm and assertive manner. Her actions to rise above the ignorance all but embodies “the talk” many black American children are given by concerned parents about being twice as good and not letting it – “it” being the racism you’ll inevitably encounter – get to you. While it’s not mandatory to react to ugliness with elegance, Williams exemplifies the art.
Serena Williams is crucial to black America because she provides an escape from what’s become the banality of racism through her performance of the fantastic; her exemplary skills are a sight for sore eyes during times of highly visible social inequality. Her black athletic exceptionalism reminds us of our survival and resilience; her black womanhood only underscores that she’s stronger and better than most – and keen to take what’s rightfully hers.
In this life, many of us should be open to what Serena’s playing has to offer us. Sometimes it’s best to win by serving up aces – don’t offer your opponent the chance to even engage. Whatever you do, don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not good enough to be there. Come in, win and leave with your head held high.
The Astonishing Greatness of Serena Williams
After winning her fourth consecutive Grand Slam title on Saturday at Wimbledon, the tennis star has become one of the most accomplished American athletes of all time.
Serena Williams of the U.S.A lifts the trophy after winning her Women's Final match against Garbine Muguruza of Spain at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, July 11, 2015. Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
by Matt Schiavenza
July 11, 2015
No major sport—with the possible exception of gymnastics or swimming—worships youth like tennis. The best athletes in basketball, soccer, football, and baseball tend to reach their peak in their mid-20s, an age when experience, physical strength, and wisdom converge. But the arc of a typical professional tennis career tends to resemble that of a pop star: Ascendant at 17, dominant at 21, washed up and finished by 30.
Serena Williams, too, was a teenage tennis prodigy, a precocious girl following her older sister Venus from Compton, California, to the sport’s greatest stage. In 1999, the 17-year-old Williams won her first Grand Slam title, defeating Martina Hingis at the U.S. Open. More championships would soon follow, and before long Serena was mentioned in the same breath as the sport’s greats. King. Navratilova. Evert. Graf. Williams.
But Serena, unlike the others, has forgotten to go into decline. On Saturday, the 33-year-old Williams defeated Garbine Muguruza 6-4, 6-4 to win her sixth Wimbledon title, concluding her 28th consecutive victory in a Grand Slam match. To the casual fan, another Serena victory has the shock value of a Meryl Streep Oscar nomination. But it’s worth pausing, if just for a moment, to consider just how remarkable Williams’ career has been.
--The 16-year gap between Serena’s 1999 U.S. Open win and Saturday’s Wimbledon championship is the largest in women’s tennis history. Muguruza, her Spanish opponent on Saturday, was five years old when Serena won her first Grand Slam title.
--Serena’s 21 Grand Slam victories is now the second most of all time since the Open Era began in 1968. Only Steffi Graf, the great German player who won 22 Slams in the 1980s and 1990s, has more. With four more titles, Serena would pass Margaret Smith Court with the most Grand Slam championships of all time, Open Era or not.
--Serena is the current champion of each of the four Grand Slam events: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. Should she win her seventh U.S. Open this September, she’d become only the second player to win each of the four majors in the same calendar year. (Graf accomplished the feat in 1988.)
--At 33 years and nine months, Serena became the oldest women’s tennis player to ever win a Grand Slam title, eclipsing Martina Navratilova, who won Wimbledon in 1990 when she was a month younger than Williams is now.
Even before Serena’s remarkable late-career surge, she was regarded as one of the best female tennis players ever to play. In the past year, however, she has transcended her sport and staked a claim as arguably the greatest American athlete of her era. Measuring dominance across different sports is an inexact science—how do you compare, for instance, a LeBron James to a Tiger Woods to a Serena Williams? But neither LeBron nor Tiger has yet matched Williams’ combination of dominance and longevity.
As she overcame some early jitters and dispatched Muguruza on Saturday, it became clear that Serena has not lost an ounce of poise, strength, agility, or skill despite her relatively advanced age. We aren’t just watching the greatest women’s tennis player of all time. We’re watching one whose greatest accomplishments, improbably, may be yet to come.
Wimbledon 2015: Serena Williams Defeats Garbiñe Muguruza and Closes In on Grand Slam
Serena continues dominance with sixth Wimbledon, 21st Slam title
by Jon Wertheim
LONDON – Three quick thoughts from the Wimbledon 2015 women’s singles final, where No. 1 Serena Williams defeated No. 20 Garbine Muguruza to win her sixth Wimbledon title and 21st Grand Slam title of her career.
A year ago, Serena Williams bowed out in the middle rounds of Wimbledon. It marked her third straight major loss and it triggered all sorts of speculation about her future. Since then? Calling Serena “dominant” fails to do justice to her achievements. It’s not simply that she has now won four straight majors encompassing 28 matches, including today’s final, a straightforward 6–4, 6–4 romp over Spain’s Garbine Muguruza. It’s how she’s earned the wins. On different surfaces and in different climates and on different continents. On days when she has dazzled and overwhelmed with her power; on days when she is far from her best and simply, defiantly won’t lose.
Serena Williams defeats Garbine Muguruza to win Wimbledon 2015'
by SI.com Staff
Today there wasn’t suspense and, save a small hiccup at the end, we had little dramatic tension. Still, Serena showed why she is ruling the sport. She played with poise. She showed off her pace, but also her precision. There was defense to leaven the offense. When Muguruza reeled off three straight games to close to 5-4 in the second set, Serena smothered hope and closed it out. Want to know what's a time violation? Serena is almost 34 now, 16 years removed from winning her first major. And she is as good as ever.
• The range of performance for first time Grand Slam finalists is a vast one. Some players are paralyzed by the occasion. Others play with a just-happy-to-be-here disposition. Every now and then, a player is blessed by a blissful naiveté and swings away. (See: Maria Sharapova in 2004.) Garbine Muguruza, a 21-year-old from Spain, started in category three, blistering the ball and sprinting to a 4-2 lead. Serena has won 17 straight three-set matches—another from the comical bits of empiricals—but at a minimum, we had a competitive match on our hands. Then Serena emerged, Muguruza was rendered an onlooker. At one point Serena won nine of ten games, turning 2-4 into 6-4, 5-1. “She makes it look so easy,” a fan caught on camera was seen mouthing.
Muguruza then gave us a glimpse of both her gifts and her make-up, winning three games before capitulating. She came here as a borderline top 20 player with promise. She leaves as a borderline top tenner destined for stardom, potentially greatness. But today, she became the 21st opponent to be Serena-ed in a major final.
• In early June, American Pharoah headed to the Belmont Stakes in Long Island, hoping to achieve the sport’s ultimate box set, the Triple Crown. Now we have Serena Williams heading to same area code to achieve tennis’ ultimate quest. Seeking to insulate herself from additional pressure, Serena refused to answer questions about the Serena Slam this week. We can also imagine the hype and attention that will precede her coming to New York.
Serena Williams and the Fear of a Dominant Black Woman
by Tomas Rios
July 10, 2015
The Daily Beast
Serena Williams is shattering every record in tennis this year. Why isn’t she being paid like the women she is dominating in the process?
Serena Williams is on the cusp of cementing herself as the best, most dominant athlete of her generation, regardless of gender. At the age of 33—ancient by the norms of tennis’s attritive nature—Williams is by far the top-ranked player on the WTA tour and bested 20th ranked Garbine Muguruza in straight sets to claim the 2015 Wimbledon title.
That means she now holds all the Grand Slam titles in tennis and will enter the 2015 U.S. Open with a chance to complete both a calendar year Grand Slam and tie Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles in the open era.
It’s an awe-inspiring accomplishment in the making, but one that will do little, if anything, to change the fact that Serena Williams’s legacy will be decided in the context of a society that has institutionally oppressed black women. This institutional oppression manifests itself across a broad spectrum of data.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that black women earn $100 less per week than white women. Black women have a median wealth of $100 compared to a median wealth of $45,400 for white women, according to the Center for Global Policy Solutions. A study by the Sentencing Project finds that black women have a 1 in 19 lifetime likelihood of imprisonment, while the same measure stands at 1 in 118 for white women. There’s even a gap in life expectancy between black and white women. The data we have all points to the conclusion that black women are institutionally oppressed and disadvantaged.
And one would need only to glance at the history of bankrupt accusations and bullshit levied against Williams for proof of how that oppression and its associated stereotypes play out in media. There was the time tennis great Chris Evert wrote an open letter to a then-24-year-old Williams chiding her for a supposed lack of commitment while Williams was battling through injuries.
“Despite quintupling Sharapova’s prize money and holding an 18-2 career record against her—including 17 consecutive wins head-to-head—Williams makes half of what her pseudo-rival manages in endorsements.”
There was also the time another tennis great, John McEnroe, baselessly accused Williams of allowing her father, Richard Williams, to fix matches between her and her sister, Venus.
Then there was the time Jason Whitlock (who is black, himself) wrote of his sexual attraction to Williams while comparing her to various animals, equating her to Paris Hilton, and repeatedly implying she was eating too much to ever topple the Grand Slam record she might tie this weekend. Whitlock was also one of many who criticized Williams for busting out a crip walk after winning Olympic gold, the underlying accusation being that Williams had somehow disrespected a hallowed institution by performing a brief celebratory dance.
There are plenty of other examples to cite, but you get the point: The mainstream depiction of Williams often hinges on depicting her as amoral, lazy, disrespectful, and animalistic.
Clearly, this isn’t just another case of a big-name athlete making for an easy target. No, because Serena Williams is a wildly successful black woman in a white-dominated sport, she occupies a fraught space both within the sport itself and the society actively informing our perceptions.
“American racist tropes tend to be constructed in ways that render black women one-dimensional,” says Mikki Kendall, a writer and cofounder of HoodFeminism.com. “So when Serena refuses to be the kindly self-effacing Mammy, the over-sexed Jezebel, or the harridan Sapphire, media organizations don’t know how to handle her. She is beautiful, strong, successful, and presents a model of femininity that is very familiar to black American communities, even if it is the antithesis of white expectations.”
The idea that Williams transgresses against feminine beauty norms, particularly within the context of tennis, is readily proven. After all, the common mental image of a women’s tennis player is white and lithe, in perfect harmony with Western ideals of feminine beauty, while Williams is black and built like a powerlifter. She is an unprecedented affront to our collective notion of the beautiful female athlete.
The cost of this transgression can be seen in Whitlock’s creepy sexualization and demonization of Williams’s body, a self-contradictory tactic that betrays a deep discomfort with Williams’s expression of femininity. Another more readily measured cost can be seen in the fact that Maria Sharapova—the 4th-ranked player in the world—is the highest paid athlete not just in all of women’s tennis, but in all of women’s sports. Naturally, Sharapova is tall, blond, and slender, a paean to the Western beauty ideals that net her endless endorsement opportunities regardless of her on-court performance.
Meanwhile, despite quintupling Sharapova’s prize money and holding an 18-2 career record against her—including 17 consecutive wins head-to-head—Williams makes half of what her pseudo-rival manages in endorsements. The racist notions of feminine beauty playing out here are as subtle as a forehand to the throat.
Further, because Williams’s body is itself so unfamiliar in a mainstream Western context, there is the sense that, like so many other black athletes, she has been gifted an unfair genetic advantage. This serves to obfuscate the fact that all elite athletes have some natural advantage of some sort while also minimizing the sacrifice and dedication it takes to become an elite athlete regardless of natural advantage.
In Williams’s case, not even her life story—one that aligns perfectly with the narrative of the American dream and has seen her represent the U.S. on some of sports’ most mythic stages—grants her the humanity she is so routinely denied.
“It’s weird, here you have Serena who won an Olympic gold medal representing the U.S. and has this rags-to-riches story, but it hasn’t helped her in the way it has helped prior black female athletes,” says Lou Moore, a history professor at Grand Valley State University who specializes in U.S., African-American, and sports history.
“Especially in the post-Civil Rights era, black female athletes representing the U.S. have been held up as examples of our progress,” he says. “But in Serena’s case, dominating a traditionally white, middle-class sport hits on American racism and sexism in such a way that it overrides the usual narrative.”
In that sense, it’s surprising that Williams’s story of picking up a tennis racquet in Compton and ending up the greatest women’s tennis player of all time hasn’t been turned into a homily on Americana.
“If Serena were smaller, lighter, and less connected to her roots she would probably be more popular,” says Kendall. “But racism means that many Americans look at her refusal to be ashamed of coming from the inner city, her rejection of European beauty aesthetics, and her spectacular record and see a negro that doesn’t know her place.”
In the strictest sense, Williams indeed does not know her place. She is a black woman dominating a white sport and that triggers the fear essential to the efficacy of racism and sexism. It is no secret that white men have owned most every sector of Western society for centuries now, and any progress made on that front has come with, at minimum, the overt vilification of those leading the fight.
And while Williams’s career will always be inextricably linked to the racism and sexism weaponized against her, there is a comforting fact at the core of this discussion: Serena Williams has already won. She has the trophies to prove it.
Serena Williams Marches On
Serena Williams will play Gabrine Muguruza Saturday in the Wimbledon women's final. Here are some of the 33-year-old's amazing statistics:
Grand Slam titles: 20
Grand Slam finals: 24
Career titles: 67
Career prize money (going into Wimbledon): $69,676,428
2015 record: 38-1
2015 titles: 3
Sets dropped in 2015 Wimbledon: 2
Aces in 2015 Wimbledon: 69
Serena Williams beats Maria Sharapova to reach Wimbledon final
July 9, 2015
Serena Williams beats Maria Sharapova to reach Wimbledon final
LONDON: Serena Williams is just one win away from another Grand Slam milestone.
The top-ranked Williams maintained her 11-year dominance over Maria Sharapova, beating the Russian 6-2, 6-4 on Thursday to reach her eighth Wimbledon championship match and 25th career Grand Slam final.
In beating Sharapova for the 17th straight time, the five-time Wimbledon champion won her 26th consecutive Grand Slam match and is now going for a fourth straight major title -- a "Serena Slam'' - ..
...Actually as the Serena vs. Sharapova financial meme so brazenly demonstrates, contrary to the traditional African American proverb that one has to be "twice as good to get half as much" the truth is one clearly has to be FIVE TIMES AS GOOD to get half as much. Thus the hallowed racist myth that the treatment of black workers generally (which indeed includes professional athletes) is based in and strictly predicated on the sacred principle of MERIT alone is once again exposed for all the world to see as the huge self serving LIE that it is and always was...Stay tuned...
by Judd Legum
July 9, 2015
Serena Williams crushed Maria Sharapova in the semi-finals of Wimbledon on Thursday. The 6-2, 6-4 thrashing was Williams the seventeenth straight victory over Sharapova.
It has been 11 years since Sharapova last beat Williams. Since that time, Williams has won an incredible 14 Grand Slam titles. Williams has won 20 overall, nearing the all-time record of 24 set by Margaret Court in 1974.
Sharapova has 5 Grand Slam titles. She has lost to Serena in a Grand Slam final three times.
Of late, Williams has been particularly dominant. If she is victorious in the Wimbledon final it will be her fourth straight Grand Slam victory. (The accomplishment is known as the “Serena Slam” since she achieved the feat in 2003.)
But it is Sharapova, not Williams, who makes the most money. In 2014, she was listed as Forbes highest paid athlete, earning $24.4 million. Serena earned $22 million.
The differences is endorsements. Sharapova earned $22 million in endorsements along and just $2.4 million in prize money. Williams, dominant on the court, took home $11 million in prize money but just $11 million in endorsements.
Serena Williams is the most dominant female athlete of our era and perhaps any era. So why isn’t she earning more in endorsements?
Kevin Adler, a marketing expert, suggested there is a double standard for male and female athletes. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a popular male athlete who doesn’t also have physicality and sex appeal. But that comes second to winning for guys, whereas for female athletes, looks come first,” Adler told Women’s Wear Daily in 2013.
This isn’t to suggest that Serena Williams is not attractive. But perceptions of her body are frequently overlaid with racist stereotypes. Sharapova, by contrast, is blond, thin, leggy and has worked as a model. In the eyes of corporate marketers, that is apparently valued more than on-court performance.
by Kurt Badenhausen
Williams has established herself as arguably the most dominant player in the history of women’s tennis during her two-decade career. But for all of her brilliance, she has looked up to Sharapova when it comes to endorsement earnings since Sharapova was dubbed the “It” girl after her 2004 Wimbledon victory. Much has been made of the disparity, and Sharapova’s 10-year run atop the world’s highest-paid female athletes. Race, corporate bias, likability and beauty are all part of the discussion in why Sharapova earns almost twice as much as Serena from endorsements and appearances, despite only one-quarter the singles Grand Slam wins.
One big winner of the match already is Nike NKE +0.16%. The $30 billion-in-revenue sports giant has had both women under contract for more than a decade.
Here are some of the numbers that define the two stars.
1: Williams has been the No. 1 player in the world for 247 weeks during her career, which ranks fourth all-time. Her current 124-week run is the third longest in women’s tennis. Sharapova has held the top spot for 21 weeks in her career.
4: Sharapova’s current world ranking.
5: Career Grand Slam titles for Sharapova. Her 2012 French Open win made her just the 10th women to win all four major tournaments during her career. The win triggered lucrative bonuses from sponsors Nike and Head.
13: Straight years with a singles title for Sharapova, which is the fourth-longest streak in the history of women’s tennis.
17-2: Serena holds a decisive edge in their head-to-head matchups.
20: Grand Slam titles for Williams, which is four behind Margaret Court’s record.
31: In 2013, a then 31-year-old Williams became the oldest top-ranked female tennis player ever. Now 33, Williams is five years older than Sharapova.
35: Career titles for Sharapova. Williams has 67.
85.5%: Career winning percentage for Williams vs. 80.6% for Sharapova.
3 million: Bags of candy sold by Sharapova’s line of candy, Sugarpova. She launched the brand in 2012 and sales doubled in the most recent fiscal year.
$24.6 million: Williams’s earnings between June 2014 and June 2015, including $13 million off the court from appearances and partners Nike, Wilson, PepsiCo PEP -1.07%, Chase and Audemars Piguet. She ranked No. 47 on Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid athletes.
$29.7 million: Sharapova’s earnings between June 2014 and June 2015, including $23 million off the court from appearances and sponsors Nike, Head, Samsung Electronics, Evian and Tag Heuer. She ranked No. 26 among the highest-paid athletes.
$69.7 million: Career prize money for Williams, which is double Sharapova who ranks second all-time.
$1.3 billion: Value of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, which Williams owns a small sliver of.
News & Commentary
10 Serena Williams Wimbledon Facts
by Susie Arth
June 25, 2015
We've got 10 facts to help you get your mind around everything Serena WIlliams has accomplished in her storied career at Wimbledon.
1. It's a first!
This year marks the first time Serena Williams has come into Wimbledon as the defending champion of the Australian Open and French Open. In 2002, Williams won the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open after an injury forced her to miss the Australian Open. She went on to complete the Serena Slam at the 2003 Australian Open.
2. Cashing in
Serena Williams has won $8,275,252 in her singles career at Wimbledon. Five of her 20 major singles titles have come at the All England Club.
3. All-around winner
In addition to her five singles title at Wimbledon, Serena Williams also has won five doubles titles (all with sister Venus) and one mixed doubles title (with Max Mirnyi).
4. Playing the percentages
Serena Williams' winning percentage at Wimbledon is .878. Her best winning percentage at a major is at the US Open, .898. Next is Australia at .883. The French is last at .830.
Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images
Venus Williams is the only player on the planet to have more than one win over Serena Williams at Wimbledon.
5. Sister, sister
Serena Williams has lost 10 singles matches in her career at Wimbledon. Only one player has two wins over Serena at Wimbledon, sister Venus in the 2000 semifinals and in the 2008 final.
6. Upset special?
Of Serena Williams' 10 singles losses at Wimbledon, two have come against unseeded players (Jill Craybas and Virginia Ruano Pascual) and two against players seeded in the 20s (Alize Cornet and Sabine Lisicki). Serena has fallen to an American opponent four times (Venus twice and Craybas and Jennifer Capriati once), the most of any country. France is second with two (Cornet and Marion Bartoli).
7. Justice served
Serena Williams holds the record for most aces in a single Wimbledon. In fact, she's held it a few times. In 2008, she served 57 to tie Alexandra Stevenson. In 2010, she had 89 en route to the title to stand alone. In 2012, she served 102 to break her own record and once again won the title.
8. Looking out for No. 1
This will be the sixth time that Serena Williams is the No. 1 seed at Wimbledon. She has won the title as a No. 1 seed twice before, in 2003 and 2010. Her overall singles record as the top seed is 25-3.
9. Trophy time
With another championship, Serena Williams would tie Blanche Bingley, Billie Jean King and Suzanne Lenglen with six Wimbledon singles titles. Martina Navratilova has won the most with nine. Helen Wills Moody won eight, and Steffi Graf and Dorothea Lambert Chambers won seven. As for the men, only seven-time champions Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and William Renshaw have more than Serena.
10. Setting it up
Serena Williams lost five sets on her way to the French Open title earlier this month. In her five runs to the Wimbledon title, she has dropped a combined seven sets. Twice, in 2002 and 2010, she has won the Venus Rosewater Dish without dropping a single set.