I can’t quite remember when exactly, I watched my first tennis match and fell in love with this sport, but I do know it was during the Pete Sampras/Andre Agassi/Steffi Graf/Lindsay Davenport era.
I was a teenager and admittedly, I used to crush on Pat Rafter, so I used to look forward to the Australian Open in particular! It was the first Grand Slam of the year and Pat Rafter is Australian :). I rarely followed the women’s game – it was all about the men’s and those epic 5-setters. Especially when one Roger Federer arrived and started beating Pistol Pete; I knew it was a changing of the guard in the men’s game.
However, it was not until one young, tall, slender, very talented black girl came on the scene, that I really started to take an interest in the women’s game. Queue one Venus Williams. The first thing noticed was that she was black. That may sound odd, as I am indifferent to the colour of a sportsperson’s skin, but before Venus, I’d never seen a black woman play pro tennis before.
Soon after, came Serena. Venus had a few years of being the better player, until Serena became unmatched. Then queue the numerous Williams v Williams finals and doubles wins. The Williams Sisters started to win everything! Then Serena started to win everything! I remember getting excited to watch both sisters play, especially after finding out about how they came to be pro tennis players, having grown up in Compton and being coached by their father.
Their game was like no other I’d seen in women’s tennis – powerful, precise, athletic and graceful. Plus, they were black! Then came the media onslaught; accusations of match-fixing between the sisters, doping allegations, derogatory comments about their physique, Serena’s in particular. This made me so angry, because I am certain that had their skin been of a lighter hue, they would not have endured so much negativity from the media.
Serena in particular had a hard time with the media, which made me love her even more because it seemed the more negativity and ridiculous rumours thrown at her, the more she won! She let her racquet do the talking for her. I admired her tenacity and grit.
Of course, Serena has had her moments; but she is only human. Being constantly questioned about just how much you love your sport or whether you still have any desire to win must get old. You only have to look at her record as evidence of how much she (and Venus) loves this sport.
Watching Serena win her 23rd Grand Slam yesterday and set a new Open Era record, inspired me immensely. She has shown that, the best way to answer criticism is to let your talent speak for you. Show up consistently, put in the hard work and it will pay off.
Until now, there was always that comparison with other players, questions and naysayers over where she was the Greatest Of All Time. All of that was put to bed yesterday – Serena is the undisputed GOAT.
What makes it even more sweeter is that she played the final against Venus, who beat several top ten players en-route to the final. Even after all these years, the Williams Sisters still dominate women’s tennis. I’ve been watching them play since I was a teenager and I’m now almost mid-thirties – who else has had a career spanning three decades in this sport? Who else, at 36, has made it to a Grand Slam final after long term injury and illness?
I sincerely hope that, having now surpassed Steffi Graf’s record and made history, Serena is given the respect and recognition she has, for so many years, deserved. But even if she doesn’t receive it, you can bet she will continue to do what she has always done and let her racquet do the talking.
Bravo Serena – you are a tremendous athlete, inspiration to many and truly, the Greatest Of All Time!