Women’s tennis has been far more interesting than the men’s game over the last decade and this is directly attributable to the contributions made by the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena.
As the number one female player in the world, Serena carried the Compton family’s banner into the women’s championship at Wimbeldon on Saturday, winning her fourth title at the All England Club against mega-underdog Vera Zvonareva. There are few if any accomplishments in the history of professional sports that rival the success these the sisters have achieved in a sport that often devours prodigies and spits them out.
Only twice in the last decade has a player not named Williams hoisted the championship dish above her head signifying victory in the world’s oldest tennis tournament. But despite their singular – or sisterly — greatness many, of those whom the media and other haters had wish would have toppled them have, well, flopped and or just faded.
You remember the “Swiss Miss,” don’t you? That would be Martina Hingis. Ring a bell? When the Williams sisters started cleaning the former number one ranked player’s clock, she resorted to playing the race card.
Sounding as if none other than Sean Hannity were her media coach, Hingis once told Time Magazine the Williams’ sisters have a lot of advantages because they can always claim racism.
One has to wonder if Hingis was on drugs at the time. Oops! Pardon me. Turns out she very well might have been. Hingis, once all the rage of women’s tennis when as a 16-year-old in 1997 she became the youngest women’s player in the modern era to win Wimbledon, tested positive for cocaine use and last October had a two-year suspension lifted for dalliances with the narcotic.
Hingis wasn’t the only player to reach from the bottom of the deck and pull out that race card in the Time piece. Legendary champion Martina Navratilova lodged this ludicrous statement.
“People have been afraid to criticize them because they don’t want to be called racist,” said Navratilova.
If you don’t know it, the thrust of the piece by Time was driven by an oft-used slant in sports reporting when the subject is African-American. This tired but accepted approach paints the picture of an African-American athlete not using all of his or her God-given abilities and instead using race as excuse for any slight or defeat. It creates an image of someone who has all the tools – and the Williams sisters do indeed have them all – but lacks the laser-like focus to maximize them.
The Williams sisters became perfect targets for this type of bogus claim, mostly because they didn’t play the lower-level tournaments. Instead they opted to go after the Wimbledons, French Opens and U.S. Opens.
This was portrayed mostly – wrongly so, I might add – as a result of their laziness. Rather, the Williams sisters did what every other red-blooded American, right-minded parent would want their children to do. They became well-rounded teenagers with interests outside of tennis.
For the Williams sisters there was continuing education, modeling and humanitarian work. In February of this year Serena visited the poverty stricken Makueni District southeast of Nairobi to build a school as part of her charitable works.
“It’s an honor to visit and open a school in Kenya,” Serena Williams said. “Education is important and it’s what led to Barack Obama being the president of the United States of America and actually having his father come from Kenya.”
Give the credit to mother and father, Richard Williams and Oracene. Now divorced, they took control of their children’s career. They’ll never be given credit for this, but clearly they saw what happened to other players who were pushed too hard by parents living vicariously through their children.
If you want to lodge criticism at Serena for her actions at the U.S. Open last year, when she lost her cool with an official that she thought had made an incorrect call, go right ahead. Those actions were inappropriate and she knows it. But she was be big enough to admit that this happened in the heat of battle, and the instant replay later indicated that Serena was indeed right.
But know that as their career’s wind down, Serena and Venus Williams have achieved more than any siblings in the history of sports. To find another sports rarity that compares to the Williams’ sisters one might suggest the brother-brother quarterback duo of Peyton and Eli Manning, both Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.
But that comparison fails the litmus test because Venus, Serena and Peyton have had hall-of-fame careers if they never play their sport again. Eli, not so much.
So the veiled criticism will continue to come, and the Williams sisters, as they always have, will likely remain above the fray. Unlike some of the other would-be-greats they will most likely retire on their own terms.
And when they are gone and interest in women’s tennis wanes, which inevitably it will, perhaps then their critics will realize what they had.