Serena Williams: Dominant, targeted
June 10, 2015 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Like It’s 1999: On Serena Williams’s Dominance and the Passage of Time It’s so rare, in tennis, to watch a player really grow up. I don’t mean “mellow out” or “stop partying” or whatever grow up usually means in sports; I mean develop a fully adult self...
Every Serena Williams win comes with a side of disgusting racism and sexism In the moments surrounding her win, Williams was compared to an animal, likened to a man, and deemed frightening and horrifyingly unattractive. Previously
posted by OmieWise (59 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
That 2013 French Open was a thing of beauty. A thing of raw precision and power.
posted by Rubbstone at 7:45 AM on June 10, 2015


People suck. Serena is awesome.
posted by Foosnark at 7:48 AM on June 10, 2015 [14 favorites]


serena's most recent french open was incredible to watch. her speech to the crowd, and then her post match interview were so good too. i want to find a torrent or something of it so i can rewatch the whole thing.
posted by nadawi at 7:53 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


"She is like some marvelous water bug,"
Wow.
posted by clavdivs at 7:57 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I got a promo tennis history DVD in a pack of tennis balls. It had video of women from the 50s and 60s playing. Then it had Serena. Holy insanity, it's a different game. Her level of power and athleticism is hard to fathom.
posted by cccorlew at 8:00 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, leading off the article supposedly praising/mythologizing her with a "marvelous water bug" simile is kind of a backhanded compliment, if nothing else.
posted by blucevalo at 8:06 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


for a few days i've been considering posting an ask.me where i ask for writing/speaking/art about serena written specifically by woc, with a focus on black women. these two articles are perfect examples why it's something that i'm seeking out.
posted by nadawi at 8:08 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Love Serena, thanks for the post!

(She had the flu and STILL won a Grand Slam?! I can't even walk three feet when I have the flu.)
posted by Melismata at 8:18 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I want to like Serena. She is obviously is the best female player ever. She has to put up with more crap because she's black.

Just have a hard time doing that since her rest break tirade during the 2011 US Open Final. One person tried to defend her behavior by saying McEnroe use to do the say thing. I do not like him either for the same reason.

Heat of the moment outburst, no problem. Extended ranting at the judges just looks like a spoiled brat.
posted by KaizenSoze at 8:20 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is so easy to take for granted just how good Serena has been for so long. I remember her winning her first US Open title in 1999 (which was something of a surprise if I remember correctly; her sister is the one I recall being promoted as the next big thing). Just personally, thinking about all of the changes that have occurred in my own life since then (at the time of the first US Open win I was in my mid-20s living with a buddy in a bachelor pad; I hadn't even met the woman yet who has now been my wife for 12 years), to say nothing of all of the changes in the world since then (pre-9/11, for example). Who would have thought 16 years later she'd still be dominating the game? It's remarkable.
posted by The Gooch at 8:24 AM on June 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


> Holy insanity, it's a different game.

This is true of a lot of pro sports; footage of hockey games as recent-ish as the early '90s looks like high school games compared to the much bigger*, stronger and faster players of today.

* part of this is the bulkier pads they wear, but still
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:28 AM on June 10, 2015


Extended ranting at the judges just looks like a spoiled brat.

This was gone over a bit in the previous Serena Williams thread. It seems to me like Serena Williams is held to a different standard than virtually any other athlete when it comes to arguing with judges/umps/referees. I'm not trying to play "search for the racism" here or anything, but it's hard for me to believe that tennis generally being thought of as a lily-white, refined, polite sport isn't behind this obvious double-standard. Just watching the NBA finals over the past week, arguing with the refs over calls is par for the course without anyone being labeled a "spoiled brat" because of it. Watching players argue with umpires has been a baseball tradition as long as I can remember. I don't understand why Serena Williams is so frequently called out for what is just normally accepted behavior in so many other sports.
posted by The Gooch at 8:34 AM on June 10, 2015 [29 favorites]


To be fair, the "marvelous water bug" is about 1999 Serena. When she was still a teenager and very much in Venus' shadow.
posted by bardophile at 8:35 AM on June 10, 2015


The Gooch

I might be an outlier here. I think any yelling at the referees or judges is uncalled for in any sport. Plus, I think it's a bad idea to get the refs mad at you.

I'll stop here because I don't want to derail the thread into a discussion of judges and refs.
posted by KaizenSoze at 8:44 AM on June 10, 2015


comparing black women to animals no matter what shadow they are or are not in is a bad look.
posted by nadawi at 8:47 AM on June 10, 2015 [13 favorites]


The Gooch: I think the reason Serena Williams gets a harder time is racism, but comparing sports with regards to accepted behaviours is a poor argument. There are plenty of sports where arguing with the ref is accepted and plenty where it is verboten, compare soccer and rugby for example. Tennis clearly has some space for arguing, and ways to punish players who go too far, the problem here is the double standards of those who criticise a black player more than they would another player for similar behaviours.
posted by biffa at 8:48 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


(She had the flu and STILL won a Grand Slam?! I can't even walk three feet when I have the flu.)

And people were complaining that she said she had the flu because... who the fuck knows, people need to find any god damn thing to complain about her.
posted by kmz at 8:48 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


That Grantland article (first link) may be the most frankly meta piece I've ever seen about her, and that is saying something.

The easiest thing to do with Serena’s incredible late-career dominance is to describe her as a force of nature, something irresistible and transcendent. She’s a supernova, an atom bomb. I do this all the time myself, and it’s not even inaccurate, because Serena is that good. You run the risk, though, of turning her into a sort of impersonal pulse of destruction, which is a weird thing to do, because there has seldom been a tennis player who was as compelling a personal presence as Serena.

Maybe it's being a huge sports week, especially here in Chicago, with the Stanley Cup finals and the French Open the the Triple Crown just won, so we are apt to be inundated with sports talk and sports writing. But what I notice is how personal it all is. I turn on the radio and someone is saying horrible things about Corey Crawford-- sounding less like a sports critic than like a high school kid gossiping. The rhetoric is just kind of overwhelming. And when it's a white person talking about a not white person, at this point it sounds racist to me about 90% of the time. And then sexist too, if similar conditions apply. And by that I don't mean there really isn't a problem, that it simply comes with the territory, or anything like that. I think it is something wrong with sports rhetoric.
posted by BibiRose at 8:50 AM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


i saw a lot of really great tweets discussing the thing about the media freaking out because she mentioned the flu - about how it plays into the ideas we have about black women being superhuman. and then the next day there were another great set of tweets comparing that idea to what happened in mckinney.
posted by nadawi at 8:52 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


But what I notice is how personal it all is ... sounding less like a sports critic than like a high school kid gossiping. The rhetoric is just kind of overwhelming.

Aside from paeans to the military, sports is the last place in US culture where people openly engage in the delusional pretentious bullshit known as discussing someone's 'character'—when it's someone they just don't know, and have no real fucking idea about, and are basing everything on all kinds of unexamined judgmental nonsense.
posted by nom de poop at 9:25 AM on June 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Simply the greatest tennis player ever, without further qualification.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:39 AM on June 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


The second set in the French Open should have been hers but you could tell she was struggling (all those double faults). Then the third set... she his the ball so hard it looks like the ball warps time and space on its way across the net. Every time I watch her play I think about how lucky I am to be alive during get career. She's remarkable and watching her compete is like watching perfection.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:57 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, she is a phenomenon, for sure. But I have a hard time committing to being full-on Fan because of those occasional rude on-court outbursts.
But then I am very much a follower of the Bjorn Borg school of tennis tempermenting.

I am never a fan of rudeness from athletes towards officials in any sport.
posted by annekenstein at 10:38 AM on June 10, 2015


It seems to me like Serena Williams is held to a different standard than virtually any other athlete when it comes to arguing with judges/umps/referees.

Arguing is one thing, I have a hard time thinking of another time when a player threatened physical hard to an official, to their face, or repeatedly told the official that they are "an ugly person".
posted by Cosine at 10:50 AM on June 10, 2015


BBC interview.
posted by Segundus at 10:50 AM on June 10, 2015


I don't think you can cleanly separate Serena's fiery temper from her fiery ambition. They're two sides of the same coin, and it's a coin that has gained in value tremendously over the past 18 years.

I don't excuse the outburst(s) in 2011 (and by the way, the US Open outburst was about a foot fault call), but I do understand them and take them for what they are. Serena hates to lose and is not afraid of expressing that on court. It's not always pretty or pleasant to watch, but it makes a real internal sense.

I also do indeed think we hold Serena to much higher standards than other players: Roddick used to whine and scream at umpires and line judges and was never as roundly castigated as Serena has been. The only player in recent times who got anywhere near as much negative press about his on-court antics recently is Nalbandian, who actually injured a linesperson and made him bleed during a grass-court final match a few years ago. And quite honestly, there's a massive difference between yelling at someone and slicing their shin open in fury.

I think people expect Serena to behave more like Clijsters (her opponent in that very US Open match mentioned above), who was without a doubt one of the most genial professional tennis players to play the game, or Serena's much more even-tempered sister, Venus. But Clijsters was also nowhere near as successful as Serena. Neither, in the final analysis, was Venus, and I think no small part of that has to do with Serena's volatility.

She channels it more than 99% of the time, but it's the 1% we tend to remember.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:27 AM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


yellowcandy: Huge difference between Nalbandian's clearly accidental injury to a linesperson and Serena antics, not remotely comparable. You are very right about remembering the 1%, which is a shame, her play is nearly always magnificent, her behavior is occasionally out of line (but as I said earlier, more out of line than any other player I can think of in any sport).
posted by Cosine at 12:09 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


if the only thing i had to add to a conversation about serena williams is once again rehashing a years old incident, i'd maybe consider finding something better to do with my time.
posted by nadawi at 12:18 PM on June 10, 2015 [16 favorites]


One person tried to defend her behavior by saying McEnroe use to do the say thing.

I think the important point here is the contrasting public reaction to McEnroe doing this.
posted by mhoye at 1:32 PM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks yellowcandy, that was a very interesting analysis.
posted by grouse at 1:45 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cosine: I said pretty much exactly what you said about the comparison.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:33 PM on June 10, 2015


I think Serena might be my favorite athlete of all time. It makes me crazy when people put her down, or try to diminish her in various racist ways, but it's comforting to know that she's able to move past all that and just utterly dominate her sport.
posted by cell divide at 2:51 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


This profile (part two) from 2007 is a really good piece on Serena Williams.
posted by Rumple at 2:52 PM on June 10, 2015


That second article was so... depressing. The bigotry and name-calling are unbeliveable.
posted by bendy at 3:00 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Marvelous water bug"

What the fuck.
posted by zarq at 3:02 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm no tennis devotee, but Serena Williams is amazing to watch. And also it was goddamn hilarious to watch whatever ESPN show was on at the bar last weekend blur out her cussin' mouth. No closed captions, so I have no idea what she might've been saying, but I'm sure I would have approved.
posted by asperity at 3:08 PM on June 10, 2015


oh man she was cussing up an absolute storm - just plain screaming at herself. it was kind of a sight to behold.
posted by nadawi at 3:53 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love federer, and people tally about greatest of all time, but that is indisputably Serena. No one can touch her, she makes the rest of the women's field look like the inconsistent wiffle-waffers they are. I wish they would make the women's game five sets, too. Works be glorious to watch her slug it out over that time frame, and there's no reason to keep it at three.
posted by smoke at 4:02 PM on June 10, 2015


there was a hilarious moment during the men's final when ted robinson and john mcenroe were discussing how guys had a really time winning big tournaments above 30 years old and how tennis was for people younger than that and wondering if anyone was going to be dominant at the top in their 30s - and then mary carillo breaks in and says something to the effect of "serena just won her 20th open at 33 years old." for a split second the guys were left flat footed, and then they prattled on about the difference between the men's and women's game - but i loved that moment.
posted by nadawi at 4:24 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


But Clijsters was also nowhere near as successful as Serena. Neither, in the final analysis, was Venus, and I think no small part of that has to do with Serena's volatility

Influence of "volatility" aside, Venus Williams has Sjögren's syndrome. That has significantly hampered her athletic career.
posted by schroedinger at 4:57 PM on June 10, 2015


Aside from paeans to the military, sports is the last place in US culture where people openly engage in the delusional pretentious bullshit known as discussing someone's 'character'—when it's someone they just don't know, and have no real fucking idea about, and are basing everything on all kinds of unexamined judgmental nonsense.

No way. People do this all the time, about anything and anyone famous -- politicians, brands, etc. I'm not sure people talk about anything else, actually. At least Americans seem to bond by finding something they both hate, on terms they have no mechanism to judge.

Too many interests to have in common, so maybe there's shared disinterests?

I call it the Nickelback effect.
posted by effugas at 5:18 PM on June 10, 2015


there was a hilarious moment during the men's final when ted robinson and john mcenroe were discussing how guys had a really time winning big tournaments above 30 years old and how tennis was for people younger than that and wondering if anyone was going to be dominant at the top in their 30s

That's actually true. If you look at the stats there's a dramatic drop-off in grand slam winners past a certain age. Consequently, among tennis cognoscenti there's a pretty compelling argument that says Serena's late career winning is less about her and more about the relative weakness of her competition since 2008. For example: a potpourri of 12 women have won slams over the last 7 years, and only 3 have won more than twice (Williams, Clijsters, and Sharapova). None of those winners including those three have fit the profile of the next great champion in terms of winning a slam in that time frame while still in their teens.

Because MeFi has their racist/sexist cards at the ready - Sampras and to a lesser degree Federer (fyi: white dudes) both get painted with the same "weak era" brush - except hall-of-fame rivals like Agassi and Nadal (btw: more white dudes) exist. Serena really hasn't had anyone consistently challenge her since Henin retired. For example: before Henin started winning slams, Serena had already won 6. After Henin retired, Serena has won an eye-popping 12. While Henin was winning her 7 slams? Serena won 2.

All credit to Serena in that she's still got to beat whatever woman is on the other side of the net - but it's fair to say that timing has been kinder to her then let's say players like Roddick, Wilander, or Davenport - all of whom would have probably won more slams had their best years not coincided with the emergence of outrageously transcendent players.

Short version: Robinson and JMac would be eaten alive be the internet's outrage machine if they countered with "that's because the women's version of Murray and Djokovic failed to show up" - but it doesn't make it any less true.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:51 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wish you hadn't poisoned an otherwise interesting comment with that weird "racist/sexist cards" aside. Totally unnecessary to your argument, and it makes it look like you have some kind of chip on your shoulder.
posted by gilrain at 6:13 PM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Serena has more than earned the right to rant and rave at whoever she wants to on the court. It's her fucking court.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:51 PM on June 10, 2015


Serena is a Goddess, she is a Goddess of war, I don't expect her to be any less of anything that she is. Winning is the ultimate sport, and that means brilliant play. She continually creates herself in competition, her fierceness is her beauty, along with her beauty. Blatantly the best, bigger than life, she is in a category she defines with every win. It does not get any better.
posted by Oyéah at 6:55 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


...i don't understand how any of that refutes the funniness of the exchange, but ok.
posted by nadawi at 7:20 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


there was a hilarious moment during the men's final when ted robinson and john mcenroe were discussing how guys had a really time winning big tournaments above 30 years old and how tennis was for people younger than that and wondering if anyone was going to be dominant at the top in their 30s

Women tend to have longer sports careers than men in general because the drop-off in testosterone is not as dramatic. When you don't have much testosterone in the first place then sometimes increasing skill and experience can make up for a dip in it. But if all your opponents are flush with testicular youth then being in your 30s, even your late 20s, can make a difference.
posted by schroedinger at 8:21 PM on June 10, 2015


I would like to see the data behind those assertions (women have longer sports careers than men; the drop-off in testosterone is causally associated with the differential).
posted by gingerest at 8:45 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


No way. People do this all the time, about anything and anyone famous -- politicians, brands, etc. I'm not sure people talk about anything else, actually. At least Americans seem to bond by finding something they both hate, on terms they have no mechanism to judge.

Yeah but I think there is a special level of condescension in the way people talk about athletes. No matter how brilliant the athlete, and even if they display a level of verbal sophistication to the point where they could challenge the commentator at their own game. It does happen a lot that athletes are much younger than the people doing the commenting, and their young age is often explicitly and even legitimately referred to, but that's not all of it.
posted by BibiRose at 9:12 PM on June 10, 2015


Because MeFi has their racist/sexist cards at the ready

Why on earth did you feel the need to drop this particular turd into the punch bowl?
posted by KathrynT at 9:20 PM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


omg y'all it's a funny story centered on the amazing achievement of an incredible athlete that rests on assumptions about what an athlete "really" is. it doesn't need a "well actually" style rebuttal.
posted by nadawi at 9:35 PM on June 10, 2015


The decrease in testosterone thing is basic biology, men have more testosterone than women and thus have farther to fall once it starts dropping. The length of athletic career thing, that's just something my strength coaches always said and seemed to be borne out in the ages of competitors. I did a cursory search on Google on length of athletic careers and didn't see much of anything.
posted by schroedinger at 9:50 PM on June 10, 2015


...among tennis cognoscenti there's a pretty compelling argument that says Serena's late career winning is less about her and more about the relative weakness of her competition since 2008.
I'd say this is a pretty big exaggeration--that's hardly an accepted given among tennis writers and analysts. The 'weak field' argument gets bandied about once in a while, sure. But just because the women's field isn't in the middle of an era with the same four players consistently vying for every major as the men's tour is (was), it doesn't follow that the women's tour is therefore weak.

I also take issue with the 'since 2008' part of that statement. What people have indeed said (and the argument that holds some water) is that there have been patches where the field has been weaker since peak Henin. At the same time, those same people admit that there are entire stretches where there have been several competitors who made Serena's life more difficult for a while. I can point to Azarenka in 2012 and 2013 (including playing Serena extremely tough in the finals of the US Open), Clijsters in stretches (mainly on hardcourts). Azarenka also has had two very dominant starts, both times where she essentially didn't lose from January until May. And while ultimately, she and the rest of the field fell short against Serena, that's more about Serena's strength than it is about those players' weaknesses.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:57 PM on June 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


I also take issue with the 'since 2008' part of that statement. What people have indeed said (and the argument that holds some water) is that there have been patches where the field has been weaker since peak Henin. At the same time, those same people admit that there are entire stretches where there have been several competitors who made Serena's life more difficult for a while. I can point to Azarenka in 2012 and 2013 (including playing Serena extremely tough in the finals of the US Open), Clijsters in stretches (mainly on hardcourts). Azarenka also has had two very dominant starts, both times where she essentially didn't lose from January until May. And while ultimately, she and the rest of the field fell short against Serena, that's more about Serena's strength than it is about those players' weaknesses.

Williams' Grand Slam final opponents prior to 2008: Hingis, Venus Williams, Sharapova, Davenport - all have won multiple slams and all are destined for the Hall of Fame.

Williams' Grand Slam final opponents 2008 and later: Jankovic, Safina, Venus, Henin, Zvonereva, Stosur, Radwanska, Azerenka, Sharapova, Wozniacki, Safarova - 11 different women, no consistent rival, more than half (6) have never won a slam, and most of those have yet to reach even a 2nd grand slam final.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:24 PM on June 10, 2015


She's past all of it by now, she has to be. Part of being an international celebrity superstar has to be learning to ignore human stupidities of whatever sort, from whatever quarter.

I know just about nothing about tennis, what little I do know I got from reading DFW. But for anyone to dominate in any sport for as long and consistently as she has, it is to marvel at.

It cracks me up that people think she's not hot -- I didn't know that was a thing until this thread. Or they think that she's too fit, or too strong, or too muscular, whatever else. She is gorgeous, absolutely knockout beauty, anyone lucky enough to hold her hand -- that individual is lucky indeed. Should said individual have opportunity to kiss on her, maybe hold more than her hand ... The mind reels.

Mine does, anyways.

I'd bet she doesn't give a damn about any of this, all these tiny minds with their tiny fingers on their little keyboards blathering about this and that and meanwhile she is the champion, the best of our time, maybe the best of all time, plotting her next victories, waking up happy tomorrow morning.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:29 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, NoRelationToLea, what you say actually can be viewed as in alignment with what I wrote above.

Also, 7/11 in that group above have reached multiple major finals. That means only 4 have not. 4/11 is not 'most' by any accounting.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:22 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


speaking of 7/11! serena making her own 7/11 video (the original if you are unaware).
posted by nadawi at 8:30 AM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, 7/11 in that group above have reached multiple major finals. That means only 4 have not. 4/11 is not 'most' by any accounting.

4/6 non-slam winners failing to reach another slam final is indeed "most."

Is a semantic quibble rooted in a misread really your best counter to the multiple pieces of evidence offered that she's feasting on muppets?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:41 AM on June 11, 2015


her play is nearly always magnificent, her behavior is occasionally out of line (but as I said earlier, more out of line than any other player I can think of in any sport).

Allow me to introduce you to Torii Hunter
posted by The Gooch at 2:37 PM on June 11, 2015


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