Janine Self says it is time to give Serena Williams a break and appreciate her for what she is: the best sportswoman on Earth at the present time. She may have stumbled briefly at the US Open, but the story of the tennis giant from Compton, USA, should be an inspiration to all women – and men.
Take one super-efficient sporting warrior, muscled, motivated, the meanest of machines. And a woman. Sorry to spoil it. From super-hero to misogynist heaven in the time it takes to doodle a couple of appendages on to the Y chromosome.
So let’s start again, with unarguable X-factor this time. Take one awesome, world-famous, history-making female athlete, probably the best sportswoman on the planet right now. Serena Williams cuts a striking figure whether pounding across a tennis court, or pictured on the front pages of a glossy magazine, all glittering nails, super-lash mascara and clunking jewellery.
She has the physique of an Amazon, which is a compliment; it is a good enough name for that online retailer, after all. Yet the sight of a well-proportioned, elite woman athlete still elicits all sorts of cruel comment from the keyboard idiots, the lowlife who crawl out of the social media swamp to vent in 140 characters.
It is one of sport’s great iniquities (marketing executives, hang your head in shame) that men are judged on their prowess on the field of play, wherever that may be, while women continue to be judged on their looks. No one thinks any the less of Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney or A.P. McCoy or Sir Bradley Wiggins just because they do not fulfil the role of archetypal ‘pin-up’. The wonderfully engaging former England striker Peter Crouch was once asked what he would have been had he not been a footballer and his answer was ‘virgin’.
Back to Serena Williams. She has had to wage war on two fronts, firstly breaking down racist barriers before even reaching the point where she had to tackle the sexist issues. Maria Sharapova ticks every Barbie-doll box, lucky her, and also happens to be half-decent on a tennis court when injury allows. Serena is different, but gloriously so. She dresses flamboyantly, and to her strengths, but some men appear to find that hard to handle.
There are lots of nasty people out there, who will still be chuckling at Serena’s failed attempt at the ‘Serena Slam’ at the US Open last week. So near, yet so far. No cigar. Hehehehe. Never heard of that Roberta Vinci bird though. Italian Vinci, world No 45, fulfilled the Bob Ford role at Flushing Meadows. Ford was a no-mark member of the famous James gang, a band of American outlaws led by the legendary Jesse. It was Ford who shot Jesse in the back.
So, step up and take a bow Signora Vinci, who at the age of 32 recorded her finest Grand Slam result and prevented Williams from holding all four titles at the same time. Serena had won 26 consecutive Slam matches in 2015 before she was up-ended by Vinci, deservedly so. Go back to 2014 and the run was 33 matches. Everyone thought that Steffi Graf’s 1988 achievement was about to be matched.
Tears followed, but that is now acceptable as far as men are concerned – Roger Federer and Andy Murray love a blub and no one holds that against them. Hands were wrung in the studio, pundits expressed their sorrow. Amid the post-mortems, Serena appeared calm, serene even, while inside she must have been screaming like a banshee.
It seems a lifetime ago that a teenage prodigy called Venus Williams arrived at Wimbledon, little sister Serena in tow, and under the close guidance of father Richard, who became a star in his own right. From the mean streets of Compton, USA, to the rarefied atmosphere of SW19, where women are still ladies and tea is taken from china cups. What a story, especially as the locker-room chat was as much about Serena as the willowy Venus, both of whom had barely competed on the circuit.
Longevity and tennis tend not to go hand in hand, although Serena and Federer are having their own say on that at the moment. Certainly, back then, the perceived wisdom was that Richard Williams’s two hot-housed tennis daughters would stick around long enough to make a bit of dosh, then they would be off.
They were different. In press conferences they spoke about studying fashion, what books they were reading, what it was like in their rented house close to the courts. They could be amazingly arrogant and really rather sweet, all in one sentence.
A decade-and-a-half on and Venus continues to defy ill-health while Serena continues to challenge the record books after overtaking her older sister. Surely it is time to appreciate her, properly.
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Article by Janine Self
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