The Power of Serena Williams
Feature by Jyqa Patano
Over the past year, Serena Williams has suffered her fair share of losses. There are on-court battles and there are those that transcend the four corners, and simply calling an out doesn’t always mean that there’s always a point to be won.
After her Grand Slam loss during the US Open, it was difficult to avoid the news of her apparent indignance and lack of sportsmanship following an argument with the umpire.
What should have been memorable was Naomi Osaka and her first win against her idol for a championship title; instead, Williams’ younger opponent felt the need to apologise for not living up to the outcome that the crowd expected. In a show of support, solidarity and sportsmanship, Williams put her arm around Osaka’s shoulders as the awards and speeches were given and pleaded the crowd not to boo the winner off of her victorious moment.
What remains rarely reported is her repeated insistence for an apology. Williams’ issue was not with the umpire’s actions, but the principles and the integrity of her character that the umpire insulted. The matter was further inflamed when Herald Sun published and subsequently defended cartoonist Mark Knight’s caricature of the tennis player that held clear racist and quasi-sexist undertones, portraying her as the ‘angry black woman’ posited against a more peaceable umpire who has to ask her white, blonde opponent to seemingly let the ‘cheating’ incident go – misrepresenting the scenario and further attempting to tarnish her character as a sportsman, a woman, a mother in the process.
Serena, however, rises above all this and comes out all the better and all the more improved.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) reports that, since turning 30, she won 10 Grand Slam titles, bringing up her total to 23 Grand Slams – three more than big names in male tennis such as Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – and closing in on Margaret Court’s record of 24. She is a hero and a role model to her younger peers in the sport such as Naomi Osaka.
Her 2018 season saw her falling short twice of a Grand Slam title. Recuperating after childbirth was never going to be an easy road right off the bat. She lost her major championships at Wimbledon and the US Open, even though she practically steamrolled through her competition in the lead-up, according to ESPN. As D’Arcy Maine noted, it seemed that she was “playing for so much more than herself” in her return to the court at Indian Wells – her first since giving birth to her daughter, Alexis.
Her character is an outstanding example of grace and strength in the face of loss, using any feeling of disappointment as reason to be thankful of the experience and motivation to do better when the opportunity presents itself. Of her 2018 season, she said in an interview with The National, “I have to say I always expect the best from myself, but reaching two grand slam finals back to back was beyond my expectations.”
She is well on her way to reaching beyond any expectation in the sport and continues to push for more outside the courts. In 2017 she called for equal pay between the men and women of tennis, particularly stating in a personal essay published in Fortune Magazine that the gender pay gap “hits women of colour the hardest”. To put it into perspective: out of all the international championships, only the US Open and Australian Open have offered the same prize money for the champions in their respective categories.
In the last year, the Williams sisters called for the male sportsmen to join the fight for equal pay. Federer expressed support for the idea: “Sometimes maybe the men’s game is a bit more popular, sometimes the women’s game. I think we should always help each other as players regardless of who’s more popular at the moment.”
There is no doubt that Serena Williams is one of the biggest movers and shakers of the tennis world, advocating for causes and people bigger than herself. She will surely make her mark in history as one of the most influential women of our generation, one serve of grace, integrity and strength at a time.