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July 21, 2019 9:03 AM   Subscribe

"To all the non-tennis-playing men who think they can win a point against Serena Williams, watch this..." (full video here)
posted by bitteschoen (127 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
Those guys are a bit 'in your face enthusiastic' for me, but you can't argue they don't have an enjoyable life making these videos for a living.
posted by Brockles at 9:28 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Fun video! That's athleticism, right there.

If I played Serena Williams I'm 100% sure I'd get a grand total of zero points and a best effort fine for standing around looking dumbfounded.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 9:28 AM on July 21 [7 favorites]


I love that its a bunch of white bros. they are taking their lesson well though. she is amazing!
posted by supermedusa at 9:31 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


This was a fun video. Though I kind of feel like "sending the ball where she wants it to go" is not much of a trick shot for a top tennis player, which a lot of these were.

On the topic of the dumb survey respondents from before: Surely there's loads of people who I could never score a point against who themselves could never score a point against Serena Williams. The biggest question in my mind is how long a chain of "Not even a chance" skill tiers can you find between me and Serena Williams, and I'm guessing it's at least four or five.
posted by aubilenon at 9:34 AM on July 21 [16 favorites]


One in eight British men believe they could take a point off Serena Williams in a tennis match. Are they all delusional?
One of those rare occasions when Betteridge’s Law does not apply.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:38 AM on July 21 [23 favorites]


The biggest question in my mind is how long a chain of "Not even a chance" skill tiers can you find between me and Serena Williams, and I'm guessing it's at least four or five.

If there were only five people between me and Serena, I'd feel like a tennis star. In my case I'm thinking that number would be at least in the double digits, and maybe more.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:40 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


One out of eight British men is Andy Kaufman
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:44 AM on July 21 [10 favorites]


OH! OH! OH! OH! Right in the hammy! That’s a welt!


😆
posted by darkstar at 9:54 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I thought this was pretty wholesome and adorable. I love the raw, unbridled enthusiasm at her successes. They're genuinely excited to be playing with her and impressed by her skill.
posted by schroedinger at 9:57 AM on July 21 [13 favorites]


Reminds me of this Devereaux Peters previously, although not as "fun".
posted by Gorgik at 9:58 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


There was a similar video with a US Olympic fencer, a few years ago
posted by thelonius at 9:59 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


See also all of the men who think that they could beat the USWNT in a soccer match with a team of their friends. Some men just really want to believe in female inferiority - and specifically that they, a man, could not possibly be bested by any woman.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:11 AM on July 21 [41 favorites]


Some men just really want to believe in female inferiority

It would seem at least one in eight, if the Brits are representative :-/
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:17 AM on July 21 [5 favorites]


men who think that they could beat the USWNT in a soccer match with a team of their friends

a sports event I would pay good money to watch!
posted by supermedusa at 10:25 AM on July 21 [11 favorites]


I am one of those men who believes that they could score a single point against Ms. Williams. I believe that she's just nice enough a person that after several hours of watching me wheeze and stagger about the court that she'd feel just sorry enough for me to allow me a single pity point on the expressed understanding that I will finally agree to get into the damn ambulance.
posted by dances with hamsters at 10:28 AM on July 21 [75 favorites]


after several hours of watching

It takes less than one hour to lose 6-0 6-0.
posted by biffa at 10:32 AM on July 21 [9 favorites]


One in eight British men believe they could take a point off Serena Williams in a tennis match

This explains so much about so much.
posted by gwint at 10:36 AM on July 21 [26 favorites]


Survey respondents were asked: “Do you think if you were playing your very best tennis, you could win a point off Serena Williams?” As I sit here, not a chance. But if I was playing my 'very best tennis', at my peak and presumably having had a few years practice and a lesson or two ("try to not squeal like a TV presenter every time you face a serve" etc), then the odd point seems a reasonable target.
posted by StephenB at 10:45 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that there is a world of difference between "they think that they could beat the USWNT in a soccer match with a team of their friends," and "On my best day I could score a point". I admit to not being a tennis player but to win wouldn't you have to score at least like 72 times? Seems like a lot of opportunities for one minor mistake to happen and go your way. So maybe you could get one point, you would still lose horribly.
Again this could be me fundamentally misunderstanding tennis.
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:55 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


In women’s tennis, she’d have to win 2 sets, each containing at least 6 games, each containing at least 4 points. So that’s at least 48 points. Given Serena’s occasional inconsistency, I don’t think it’s delusional to think you could make it 48-1. That is, if you play tennis regularly and have the capability of winning points at something approaching elite speeds. Personally, I’d just be looking to get my own serve over the net!
posted by mantecol at 11:03 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I mean, she could double-fault at some point, so I guess I'd have that much of a chance. Not really me "winning" the point, though.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:12 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


1 in 8 men couldn't even score against her in Wii Tennis. Or really any competitive venture you care to name, to be honest. Do 1 in 8 men also think they could beat Captain America at frisbee golf?
posted by Brocktoon at 11:21 AM on July 21 [16 favorites]


Do 1 in 8 men also think they could beat Captain America at frisbee golf?

You don't really need to be told the answer, right?
posted by thelonius at 11:26 AM on July 21 [6 favorites]


Not sure how much that poll tells us about sexism. I'm sure there are guys who fell they could take a point of a female player but not a male player, but there are probably a lot more who just have no concept of how different pro skills are from average people. They also think that they couple get within a few seconds of pole in a Mercedes f1 car, have a shot at scoring a TD in a goal line stand, beat an NHL goalie in a few tries, etc.

Lots of guys are delusional.
posted by Ickster at 11:27 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]




It's been a while since I held a bat, but I for one would be willing to face Ms Williams on any tennis field she cared to name.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:36 AM on July 21 [5 favorites]


I have beaten several members of the Olympic women's sabre team, when each one was 14 or 15 and early enough in their careers to be clean and predictable, and when I had been training for decades and competing at a relatively high level. I couldn't beat a single one of them now. The gap between the top athletes in any sport and the rest of the field is generally very, very wide indeed, let alone the gap from a top athlete to someone who doesn't really play the sport.

I loved this video, and Serena Williams is confident, cheerful, and dominating in a way that is just marvelous in such a skilled and accomplished athlete.
posted by Peach at 11:39 AM on July 21 [7 favorites]


Serena looked like she enjoyed it which is most important.

I would love to see a service like a) user sends video of themselves doing anything and b) these bros splice in one of their huge explosive cheering scenes.
posted by drowsy at 11:50 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


I am 100% sure that I could not get my racket in front of the ball even if she hit right to me. Also if, by some miracle she did hit right to me and my racket did get in front of it, I would immediately explode in to a zillion pieces. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure she's one of the greatest athletes of all time. At anything.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:52 AM on July 21 [5 favorites]


Incidentally - fun fact! - there is one man who beat both Serena and Venus many moons ago, but it was purely for fun and he was thirty and they were teenagers and he wasn’t a random "1 in 8 non-tennis-playing men" he was a pro ranked 203rd in the world. [Sources: 1, 2, 3.] So, that 12.5% of the male population is still highly delusional.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:57 AM on July 21 [5 favorites]


OK so I looked at this some more an I think I see a major error in my math. In tennis, you can only score if you are serving. If you win the serve you get to serve again and you can do that for the whole game without the other person getting a serve. But next game they would get to start with the service but if they lost it to you, you could again run the game.
6 games in a set and you play 2 sets? So you would only get 6 guaranteed serves which is your only chance to score.
So that's really only 6 chances for you to play competently and hope for a mistake.
For some reason, I was thinking every point you have a chance to score a point off a single mistake.
These odds, however, seem highly unlikely.
posted by MrBobaFett at 11:59 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Serena Williams is made of muscles. The only sensible response to her serve is to jump smartly out of the danger zone.
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:59 AM on July 21 [7 favorites]


People definitely are delusional and sexist, but also, I suspect, they just lack real-world perspective. We need more videos showing the huge difference between professionals and average folk.

I have known middling pickup basketball guys who thought they could have been in the NBA if they had only been a couple inches taller and set their minds to it. But they had never played against professionals and had absolutely no idea how great even the worst NBA players would look if they bothered to go up against Mr Average.
posted by pracowity at 12:02 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


If you keep clicking the links, you get to the actual survey data:

According to a YouGov poll, around one in 10 men (12 per cent) think they could win a point off the 23-time grand slam winner. Just 3 per cent of women among the 1,732 British adults polled feel confident of securing a point against Williams.
Some of this "delusion" is the difference between watching a sport on TV or from the stands and being on the court/field - everything looks a lot slower when you are watching from a distance and seeing other athletes react. Top women tennis players are serving at 120 - 125 mph. By comparison, pro baseball pitchers are throwing in the 90s. In both cases, it takes the ball a little more than 0.4 seconds from release to get to the receiver/batter.

I was a mediocre tennis player in a large city league and had a coach for a while who had played on the satellite tour; he was in our city going to grad school and coaching tennis on the side. After a team practice, a couple of us cajoled him into serving against us at what would be his competitive serve. All of us received service multiple times and i don't think any of us managed to touch the ball with our rackets. The instinct - after getting smoked the first couple of times - is to stand way behind the baseline to give yourself more time to react. When you do that, the server can just hit it wide and then you are too many steps away to get to it in time. There simply didn't seem to be enough time to react/decide once the ball was in flight.

Going back to the video, it doesn't look like Serena is even trying to win points. You can see that she is hitting it straight down the line to each guy's forehand so they don't need to even move their feet. The guys aren't taking a back swing, they are just trying to "block" the ball (what you'd do if you were hitting a volley). And they still can't get a racket on it. The video doesn't really even do justice to what would happen if she was "trying". The poll wasn't "get a racket on", it was "win a point".
posted by kovacs at 12:06 PM on July 21 [27 favorites]


also, I suspect, they just lack real-world perspective

True, but the fun part about that survey there is that it’s not "people" in general it’s men specifically - by contrast, only one in 33 women responded they thought they could score a point - that’s a negligible 3% vs 12.5% it’s a big difference. It’s not explained by lack of perspective alone. The sexism part clearly plays a bigger role.
posted by bitteschoen at 12:09 PM on July 21 [14 favorites]


There's a idea that floats around the internet that during the Olympics, they should have an average person compete against the athletes to give the home audience a sense of how difficult the various events are.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:09 PM on July 21 [26 favorites]


So, 12% of British men polled think they could win a point against Williams? That’s... interesting, given that only 2.7% of British men play tennis*.

How much nerve do you have to have to think you can score against a world class athlete in a sport you don’t even play?

* according to this survey.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 12:14 PM on July 21 [13 favorites]


It seems to me that there is a world of difference between "they think that they could beat the USWNT in a soccer match with a team of their friends," and "On my best day I could score a point"

As others have said, this is more a case of people having no idea how much better pros are the decent amateurs. In the running world, the equivalent would be people (like disgraced Speaker Paul Ryan) who lie about running a three hour marathon since that’s hour (and 50%) slower than the what the best of the best run.

I would bet that same 1 in 8 crowd think they could also score a point against the top pro male players as well.
posted by sideshow at 12:15 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


That was a lovely video. If all sports dudebros were like those sports dudebros, I'd love sports dudebros. They clearly had a great time just hanging out with Serena and giving her a chance to show off how great she is at what she does.
posted by biogeo at 12:21 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


Not speaking about the survey but about myself, I would only feel I had won a point off Serena if I hit a winner. So, her double faulting or hitting a stupid shot unprompted, for this purpose, let’s throw those out. Hitting a winner in my definition means I hit a shot within the lines that she’s unable to return or, if she gets the ball on her racquet, she can only manage to dump it into the net or in some wild direction.

I played competitive tennis year-round from age 6 to 17, including on my high school team. I took points off coaches, the best players on my team, and the best players at my club—not often, but once in a while, playing at my best. THERE IS NO WAY IN HELL I COULD HAVE TAKEN A POINT OFF SERENA, not on the best tennis-playing day of my life. It is doubtful that I would ever have been able to return even a second-serve of hers. I MAY have been able to touch my racquet to a ball she hit, if it came in my direction.

Those in here who don’t play tennis and are thinking that maybe with a few years’ dedicated practice, you might be able to score on Serena—no. I’m sorry but no. The speed at which top-tier tennis is played, men’s or women’s—you barely have a conscious understanding of the placement of the ball when it blows by you. You can barely even see it—it’s not the way it appears on tv, which is a trick of perspective. It is along the same lines as thinking that with a couple years’ dedicated training, you could beat Katie Ledecky in a swim meet.
posted by sallybrown at 12:57 PM on July 21 [19 favorites]


this is more a case of people having no idea how much better pros are the decent amateurs

Y'all keep trying to explain away the sexism by saying it's "people" that have no idea how much better pros are than amateurs. It's specifically men who responded to the survey in this way, and we already know that there are a lot of dumbass men who think female pros are worse at sports than they are, because they say so. Read a few online discussions of women's professional sports and you'll find a bunch of 'em.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:57 PM on July 21 [56 favorites]


In tennis, you can only score if you are serving. If you win the serve you get to serve again and you can do that for the whole game without the other person getting a serve. But next game they would get to start with the service but if they lost it to you, you could again run the game.

No. You can score on your opponent's serve, which is how "breaks" happen, and you have to get at least one break per set to avoid going to a tiebreak.

No way could I hit a winner ever against Serena, or probably any other pro player. I'd expect a full match to be completely aces on their serves and double-faults on mine, with the slight possibility that I might actually land a serve, but then be completely unable to touch the return. So, the only way I'm ever going to score a point is through a double-fault on the part of my opponent, and you may as well stick a cardboard cutout of me out there for all the effort I could provide. In that case, I'd expect to have a 50% greater chance against Djokovic/Federer/Nadal than against Williams, because they have to play 3 sets to Serena's two.
posted by LionIndex at 1:08 PM on July 21 [7 favorites]


A digression: It's a perennial discussion online in many sports when some random dude says the top women couldn't beat the top men. The reaction of anyone who knows anything is that it's beside the point, because the women's game is very specific and different from the men's game, so the top women have mastered that game and the men have mastered the other game. It's also (the experts point out) beside the point, because no one cares. The point is to win in the event that matters - World Championships, Olympics, etc.
posted by Peach at 1:30 PM on July 21 [6 favorites]


There used to be a tv show, pros vs. joes, that had this as the whole premise. They'd simplify the sport quite a bit to give the "joes" a chance - I mean, just pick one skill out of the thousands, make some sort of competition out of it. Even so, the pros made it clear that even a regularly practicing and pretty good amateur is not playing the same game as someone good enough to even make lower-tier professional league teams.
posted by ctmf at 1:35 PM on July 21 [6 favorites]


As others have said, this is more a case of people having no idea how much better pros are the decent amateurs. In the running world, the equivalent would be people (like disgraced Speaker Paul Ryan) who lie about running a three hour marathon since that’s hour (and 50%) slower than the what the best of the best run.
How Mo can you go?
posted by fullerine at 1:44 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Hmm...Rank Sexism or Dunning-Kruger?


WhyCantItBeBoth.jpg
posted by darkstar at 1:48 PM on July 21 [14 favorites]


I want these same people to say they could bite a tiger at least once in a zoo pen.
posted by nickggully at 2:14 PM on July 21 [25 favorites]


(Now I see it's been mentioned but...) If you like this sort of thing, there was a show called Pros vs. Joes that you can find clips of on Youtube. It's less good-natured because it's mostly dudes, but it's a lot of fun. It's literally "Guy who played a little football in high school until he hurt his knee" vs. "Recently retired NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith" or "guy who has been in a few bar fights" vs. "Literally Randy Couture the former UFC Champion" kinds of things.

Obviously quality depends on who's going against each other and how much the Pro feels like trying but there are several hilarious moments where the Joe pisses them off and they Turn It On and destroy them.

When I lived in Austin, I liked to play pickup basketball. Usually it was a group of variously in-shape dudes in their 30s, but one time there was a teenage girl on the court with us. And she was good, man. When I got close to her, I said, "I don't know who you are or who you play for but please don't clown me too bad, I'm not gonna talk shit like these guys" and she just laughed. And did me a solid. Because the guys would inevitably run their mouths and she'd start doing some Harlem Globetrotters stuff to them and just ruin their lives. I looked her up later and she was a starter on the UT women's basketball team, obviously bored and slumming it. But watching her style on those dudes was amazing.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:16 PM on July 21 [47 favorites]


Tamika Catchings made me her b****h.
posted by Peach at 2:32 PM on July 21


So, 12% of British men polled think they could win a point against Williams? That’s... interesting, given that only 2.7% of British men play tennis*.

How much nerve do you have to have to think you can score against a world class athlete in a sport you don’t even play?


Oh my god. For some reason I initially thought that it was 1/8 of men who played tennis at club level or something who thought this. That would still be silly, but literally more than 4x the number of men who claim to play at all (and many of those play twice a year against old friends) is just bananas.

Those of you who want to decompose this into Dunning-Kruger and sexism: 3% of women thought this, so we can set that as the Dunning-Kruger floor (since the worst woman who could hope to take a point is semi-pro probably and there just aren't very many) and 12%-3% = 9% is the sexism component.
posted by atrazine at 2:41 PM on July 21 [15 favorites]


Relevant term: ”golden set”, which is a set in which one player wins every single point. I was surprised to find that they are extremely rare in pro tennis, even though you can have situations in early rounds of tennis tournaments where there is a large skill disparity between the two players.

I certainly think there is meat to this topic of sexism and Serena Williams, but I’d rather the focus be put on things that really happen on the court/in the press, rather than this poll about a hypothetical situation. I mean, the first thing tennis commentators say when calling a lopsided match is that in order to have a chance, the underdog needs to have belief that they can win. The match plays out at the instinctual level, given the speed of the ball. If self-belief and willingness to take risks is not there, it’s game over. So I think that the self-belief of would-be opponents is the wrong place to heap criticism.
posted by mantecol at 2:48 PM on July 21


Do 1 in 8 men also think they could beat Captain America at frisbee golf?

I could but only because he doesn't exist. Can I beat anyone who actually exists at frisbee golf? Nope.
posted by srboisvert at 3:04 PM on July 21


Why do we have to keep learning the facts that Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King taught us in 1973? Oh, yeah, because we men are all delusional idiotic assholes.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:08 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


Not sure how much that poll tells us about sexism. ....
Lots of guys are delusional.


Um, that's what it tells us about sexism?

Men -- particularly white men -- are taught that they (we) can pretty much do anything, if we just wanted to do it. "I totally could have been like a CIA assassin if I'd gone into the military, man.... I bet if I'd been born in China, I would have been like a bad-ass Shaolin Monk or something..." My dad is a perfect example: anything anyone else demonstrates any sort of skill at, he says, "I always thought I would make a good ____." It could be something he's never even heard of, but by god he knows he would have kicked ass at it.

Women, on the other hand, are taught to be humble, to be "reasonable" in their goals, not to be too ambitious, etc. etc.
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:25 PM on July 21 [29 favorites]


I would pretend to believe that I could score a point against Serena Williams in order to get a chance to meet Serena Williams.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:26 PM on July 21 [27 favorites]


We should also acknowledge that implicit/unconscious racism is probably also a factor.
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:26 PM on July 21 [29 favorites]


I believe that she's just nice enough a person that after several hours of watching me wheeze and stagger about the court that she'd feel just sorry enough for me to allow me a single pity point on the expressed understanding that I will finally agree to get into the damn ambulance.

You think mercy is in the vocabulary of one of the world’s top-ranked athletes? You would expire under Serena’s pitiless gaze and then she would serve the ball off your cooling body.
posted by um at 3:53 PM on July 21 [13 favorites]


Fish, fish, are you doing your duty?: (Twitter; the whole thread is pretty delightful)

I see our bar for "delightful" has slipped down to mean "a few humorous responses among all of the men claiming she's ugly, a bitch, and that they could easily beat her in a match and so could their elderly father and half of the men in America, followed up by pushback against using "people of color" as a phrase, and topped off with responders who are so dour that they've missed the joke entirely.

That wasn't fun for me.
posted by tzikeh at 4:02 PM on July 21 [14 favorites]


Sports like tennis and soccer allow this sexist delusion to take root because there's no objective way for an average joe to compare themselves to the pros beyond serve speed.

It's fun to see how this kind of nonsense kinda evaporates in sports where the whole activity is quantifiable, like marathon times. No men outside the very, very elite think they can outrun the elite women's field in Boston. Yes, elite MEN are faster, but both sets of athletes are in a ballpark very, very far from your local club's times. The gap between a world-tier female runner and literally anyone you know is unfathomable.

It's harder to find data for women's cycling (vs. marathon times), but local data is easy to see thanks to Strava. I can the numbers for my racer pals when we ride, and when they race. Many of them are women. I am, generally speaking *stronger* in a bulk sense than most of these folks because I'm a large guy, but it doesn't make me FASTER because cycling is about power to weight. They're all stronger per kilo of mass than I am, and able to deliver that power over much longer periods of time, and over and over, and that's what matters more.

Bike racing is in tiers. Entry level is Cat 5. If you show up to enough races, you'll get promoted to 4. It's basically just a time-in-grade promotion.

You have to podium your way into Cat 3. That's where people get more serious about it. Cat 3s are much, much faster and stronger.

Same deal with Cat 2 and Cat 1; each tier is another absurd leap in performance and capability and training.

And only after that point do you get low-level domestic pros. The Serena-level bike racers are the guys on TV riding in France right now. The gap between domestic pros and a guy like Geraint Thomas is just impossibly large.

So yeah, nobody thinks they can hang with any pro cyclist of either gender unless they're ALSO a pro cyclist. And sometimes not even then.

ALL THAT SAID

How much would we pay to watch randomly selected British men who answered "yeah, I could hang with Serena" get their asses handed to them on national television? I mean, it's a lot, right?
posted by uberchet at 4:28 PM on July 21 [10 favorites]


These people have never played walk on ping pong against someone who grew up with a table in their basement, let alone a pro ping pong player.

To be clear, I'm saying that 1 in 8 person is an idiot.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:30 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


We should also acknowledge that implicit/unconscious racism is probably also a factor.

Let's not forget explicit/conscious racism!
posted by medusa at 4:47 PM on July 21 [18 favorites]


You think mercy is in the vocabulary of one of the world’s top-ranked athletes? You would expire under Serena’s pitiless gaze and then she would serve the ball off your cooling body.

This. It is condescension to "let" someone have a point. If they are worth playing, they are worth beating soundly. And if they're not worth playing, then you need to not waste any of your precious time and energy horsing around with them; further, it's not even good practice competing against someone who doesn't know what they're doing. Incompetent athletes are messy and unpredictable and do things in ways that throw you off for the good ones.
posted by Peach at 5:15 PM on July 21


Todd Gallagher was a not-very-good amateur who took on Andy Roddick and won. Roddick was playing with a frying pan instead of a racquet.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 5:34 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


I apologize to tzikeh and anyone else who read upsetting replies in that thread. When I saw it, it was full of jokes about how preposterous it was for a non-professional to think they they could score a point against her. I don't know if I just missed the nastiness or if Twitter concealed it, but I am really sorry.

Mods, please delete the comment if that thread is inappropriate.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 5:50 PM on July 21


More than a few years ago, I was waiting in line at a promo event at the women's Rogers Cup tournament in Toronto. The deal was that you'd get to hit a serve, and if you could hit one of the shirts they'd laid down in the box - both corners and the middle - you got to keep that shirt. They hadn't given away very many.

I was near the front of the line when... somebody? Some lanky woman I didn't recognize in a ball cap and big sunglasses walked casually up and cut the front of the line, took three balls, hit three serves - one, two, three, hitting all the shirts - and gave the shirts to the next people in line and walked away. Not even saying anything; like it was nothing, like "my work here is done, I must return to my home planet".

When she cut in line I was thinking, ok who the hell are you? What gives you ... Oh. Because then I recognized the service motion and realized... Oh. You're Gabriela Sabatini. That's what gives you. Ok.

So there's two things here, most importantly that professional athletes can do stuff us plebs find difficult or impossible not just casually but trivially, like it's nothing.

But more importantly, the next time this happens, I hope I'm not the fourth person in line.
posted by mhoye at 5:57 PM on July 21 [13 favorites]


It is condescension to "let" someone have a point.

I've always thought that too. Sometimes I'm the more skilled, and sometimes I'm the slaughter-ee, but that doesn't change it. When I win a point, even one, I want to know it's because I earned at least one point. Next time maybe two. Holding back on me is just insulting, and I won't do that to others either.
posted by ctmf at 6:00 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


I would accept the frying pan handicap though. It's like the time I got beat at golf by a guy who could only use a 7-iron, even putting. And I wasn't that bad at golf. It was impressive.
posted by ctmf at 6:02 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Back in the 1970s, Richard Nixon started ping-pong diplomacy with China. The (not very good) USA team visited and good things happened. After the American team returned, they toured various shopping malls, including a mall in Riverside California. One of the team was taking on all comers to a best-of-7 match. I watched her play for a bit. Most people just got up against her and were done immediately.

Eventually one person got a point off the American team member. At that point, she woke up and concentrated. The man who got a point never even touched the ball after that. It wasn't even close.

The hours professionals put into their sport make them untouchable for the average person, no matter the sport, no matter the sex. Devereaux Peters and Serena Williams are just a couple of examples of the insane levels of competition involved in any professional sport.

I salute them.
posted by blob at 6:58 PM on July 21 [6 favorites]


One of the reasons “minor league” or spring league American football has never caught on is the intense level of skill and experience required to field a football team that can handle even the very basic requirements of making a professional level game watchable. Most start up leagues folded because the product they put on display was miserable.

Wait, no, I do have a point, bear with me:

For people who watch sports, one of the reasons is that it’s seeing human beings at peak performance, and that it can be amazing to see it. I watch basketball because every once in a while, something will happen in game that makes me forget people can’t fly.

All the people claiming they could do it better are not only delusional, by even stepping on the field, the court, or whatever, turn the intricate expression of the fulfillment of human potential into a farce, like pre school children running around the stage during a Cirque du Soleil performance. At best, it’s an entertaining sideshow, but it’s never what the customers are paying to see.

I love that Williams did this, and that she clearly had so much fun doing it. It’s fucked that she had to do this sort of thing because there are so many assholes out there. And more than likely, most of those 1 in 8 of British men who actually watched this were spending their time critiquing the guys in the video, and thinking how they could do better. Fuck those assholes is the point.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:58 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


One of the reasons “minor league” or spring league American football has never caught on is the intense level of skill and experience required to field a football team that can handle even the very basic requirements of making a professional level game watchable. Most start up leagues folded because the product they put on display was miserable.

Even in AAA minor league baseball, you see a lot of errors. I think this is interesting, and it shows you how skilled MLB players really are. I mean, the guys in AAA are good, but they miss some plays that a viewer of MLB comes to think of as automatic.
posted by thelonius at 7:21 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


sideshow: In the running world, the equivalent would be people (like disgraced Speaker Paul Ryan) who lie about running a three hour marathon since that’s hour (and 50%) slower than the what the best of the best run.

Oh jeez, I'd forgotten about this ridiculous lie.
posted by purpleclover at 7:57 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


One of my favorite Serena moments was a couple of years ago, in Dolores park. She came across two dudes (who were more than competent players), and wanted to play the winner, in her evening boots. At least they knew that there was zero chance they'd take a point from her, even with no warmup, while wearing non-nikes.

Video: https://twitter.com/AlyshaTsuji/status/836268697115205632

One of the few remaining redeeming qualities of San Francisco, 2019, is that as you just casually walk around, you will rub shoulders with people who are the absolute best at their field (protip: it's rarely the stereotypical techdude). Most of them will be glad to have a cup of coffee with you, or hit a few balls with you, or something similar. This sort of interaction, between one of the best and a couple of people who recognize her, is part of what makes this town what it is.
posted by toxic at 8:46 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I certainly think there is meat to this topic of sexism and Serena Williams, but I’d rather the focus be put on things that really happen on the court/in the press

This poll has almost, really very close to nothing to do with the actual game of tennis.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:10 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


People definitely are delusional and sexist, but also, I suspect, they just lack real-world perspective. We need more videos showing the huge difference between professionals and average folk.
--pracowity

I don't play tennis. Nevertheless we thought it would be fun for my roommate, on the college tennis team, to hit a serve to see if I could return it. He was told not to hold back.

He hit the serve, then I heard the ball hit the fence behind me. I never saw the ball. What is this, some kind of magic trick?

And Serena Williams is so many orders of magnitude better than my roommate was. I'm guessing she was holding back so that no one got seriously hurt.
posted by eye of newt at 11:45 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


I ran the numbers, and a fictional man like Captain America is more likely to score against Serena than any average man that actually exists.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:24 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


It's just a clickbait poll, and I suspect that part of the reason for the difference in responses reflects men's greater willingness to rules-lawyer definitions. That's interesting in itself, of course.

I mean, it's logically possible that I could take a point off Serena Williams. She might suffer a seizure. She might be stung by a wasp. Atlantis could rise from the waves and a host of laughing Nereids drag her off to be their immortal queen. I mean, it's not especially likely, but there are possible universes in which I, too, score a point.

So, if they're asking what odds I would demand for a bet on me scoring a point, there'd have to be some level that would entice me. A million to one? Ten million? Lower than that, I'd say. But if I were asked whether I believed that I would probably score a point the answer's simple: obviously not.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:03 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


When I saw it, it was full of jokes about how preposterous it was for a non-professional to think they they could score a point against her. I don't know if I just missed the nastiness or if Twitter concealed it, but I am really sorry.

Hey for what it’s worth I also saw mostly jokes and appreciation, no nastiness - although I didn’t scroll ALL of it to the end (it’s huge!), but I see a few "this tweet is unavailable" further down so perhaps Twitter is getting slightly better at deleting outright nastiness... And the idiotic responses like "non tennis playing men lol. an average male athlete with minimal training can get more than a point on her" got beaten down by other responses like "I will literally give you $1000 for every one you can get. Fuck outta here with that noise". Or "I am pretty confident I can score a point if she plays with a ping pong paddle that she is only allowed to hold with the mouth." And this. And this.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:36 AM on July 22


Yeah, it's a clickbait poll intended to provoke exactly the reactions it got, both from the smart ass men making the claims and the responses to them. But it isn't that one would need to be remotely as good as Williams to score a point, at the worst someone would need to be roughly as good as the worst player she's faced that's scored a point off her, and there's likely even more leeway if one were playing just to score a point without caring about anything else. Playing for one point wouldn't necessarily be the same as playing to win or just look halfway respectable.

Anyone who doesn't play tennis regularly would need exceptional luck, maybe gun for a ridiculous ace on service every time and take the double faults or maybe charge the net and hope for a lucky bounce if you can get your racket on the ball since normal returns aren't gonna help. Someone who plays at roughly the level of local pro would have an okay shot at a point I'd think, if that's what they were gunning for. A number would likely fail if Williams was determined to stop any chance, but even the best players in sports don't exert so much control that no non-pro could get a point off them since there are elements that are out of their hands and of course luck to contend with.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:04 AM on July 22


It's fun to see how this kind of nonsense kinda evaporates in sports where the whole activity is quantifiable, like marathon times. No men outside the very, very elite think they can outrun the elite women's field in Boston. Yes, elite MEN are faster, but both sets of athletes are in a ballpark very, very far from your local club's times. The gap between a world-tier female runner and literally anyone you know is unfathomable.

It's not linear either so it's even harder.

I can walk a marathon distance in about 8 hours on level ground. Most people can.
5:00 is bottom quartile - slower than 75% of runners
4:24 is a median time
3:56 is top quartile - top 25% of runners
3:30 is top 10%
3:00 is achieved by 2% of male runners 20-29
2:50 is 1% of male runners 20-29.
2:03 is a word record

Three hours separates a long brisk walk from a bottom quartile marathon, another three hours takes you from there to world record. I think most people could train to run a 5:00 marathon if they dedicated a few years to it. The interquartile range is then only about an hour.

About the same time separates the top 25% from the top 2% as separates the top 1% from a world record. Within that top 1%, mere tens of minutes separate the Fittest Person You Know from runners who can credibly think of trying to qualify for their countries Olympic teams. Another near-unbridgeable gulf separates them from real medal contenders.

It's a little hard to use the median and lower quartile times to estimate how hard it would be to get to that time in a year or two of really hard training as the median time for marathons has been going up as less serious runners enter them. Still though, it does put Paul Ryan's lie into context. He probably had a vague idea that he'd done something around 4 hours, knew that 2 hours was incredible and guessed that he could credibly claim to run just less than 3, not realising just how hard that is.

Tennis ranking is more complicated as you can't use a single number that fully captures performance so people find it easier to fantasise about ridiculous scenarios.
posted by atrazine at 5:10 AM on July 22 [3 favorites]


Dude Perfect was an answer in Learned League last season. I got it right.

That is all.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:57 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Okay also the giant racket / giant ball was great.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:01 AM on July 22


A few thoughts from someone who is - OK, was once - a decent tennis player, at the level of the the "good club player" who the coach quoted in the Guardian article said about: "I'm sure they'd take a point off her." For context, I've hit with a lower-level male pro and played against a woman who'd played a couple of pro tournaments. She was clearly better than me but I didn't feel like I shouldn't have been on the court with her. I'm guessing she would have gotten maybe a few points off Serena. He was playing an entirely different game.

Tennis isn't like running, or weightlifting, where levels of performance are clear cut: person X can't do what person y can. In tennis, once you get above a certain threshold, some of the difference is power, but most of it is consistency. In a match, the pros hit many shots that good amateurs can't, but mostly they hit shots with 99 percent consistency that decent amateurs might make once out of 50 times.

So there's a huge difference between beating, or even hanging with, and getting a point off of. She'd have to win 48 points, which means each person would get to serve 24 points. That's 48 chances to hit a serve. If I aimed for the line and hit it as hard as I could (100+ mph, once upon a time, which is still well below Serena's 120 or so) chances are pretty good that one or two of those 48 shots would be winners or result in relatively weak returns.

I wonder if that's what the many (clearly deluded) respondents are thinking: I'm a man, so I must be stronger than a woman; I'll hit every shot as hard as I can and would win a couple of points. (No, no you won't.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:03 AM on July 22


So there's two things here, most importantly that professional athletes can do stuff us plebs find difficult or impossible not just casually but trivially, like it's nothing.
Absolutely this. But also: this gap happens between enthusiasts and novices in sports (and other things), too.

Like I said above, I ride. I ride a LOT. I joke that I'm the craziest person people know that doesn't have a UCI (racing) license. This shows up in my ability to keep up in 25mph+ rides, but also in more quotidian ways.

There's a Monday ride I sometimes do that's very, very chill. It's 18 miles at 18 mph, and is intended to be just a "move around" recovery ride. Done right, you're never very deep into heart rate zone 2, let alone actually breathing hard. BUT some folks who find 18 mph a stretch come do it, because it's a chance for them to ride with more experienced folks, get pointers on paceline riding, and do a short ride at a higher speed than they're used to. Good for them!

I see people get dropped on this ride ALL THE TIME, but my friends and I could do it on your kid's BMX bike.

And the gap between a regular tennis player and Sabatini is orders of magnitude bigger than this gap. The skills of world-class professional athletes are goddamn close to *magic* when compared to mortals. It's amazing to watch, but the fact that they mostly only ever use those skills vs. their peers allows us to forget how far beyond regular people they are.
It’s fucked that she had to do this sort of thing because there are so many assholes out there.
Did Williams go on DudePerfect as a response to the crazy survey, or just because they're a famous and well-liked podcast full of the guileless and pure enthusiasm on display here?
I mean, the guys in AAA are good,
The guys in AAA are probably better at baseball than anyone you've ever actually met, and they get SCHOOLED by MLB players on the reg.
posted by uberchet at 7:10 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


That's why I put it in italics!
posted by thelonius at 7:40 AM on July 22


The trick shots are super impressive! I like this; it's fun and they all seem to be enjoying it. They all laughed a little much in surprise when she reminded them that Pluto wasn't a planet, but that might just be me reading too much.
posted by trif at 8:03 AM on July 22


It's a very humbling experience to learn that you're not even playing the same game as elite competitors... I know it was good for me. Back in the day, I was a decent backyard badminton player. For example, in high school, I played one of the male gym teachers for my grade, having skipped so many classes that I was at risk of receiving an F, and won. And I pretty much always prevailed at picnic tournaments, including the one at my firm's annual all day summer outing. I could slice/misdirect and pretty much place the shuttlecock wherever I wanted, or so I thought. And then one year, I lost my crown. Spectacularly.

The person who handed me my defeat was a new employee who had grown up in Hong Kong. I was dimly aware that badminton is taken very seriously throughout Asia, unlike the USian dismissal of the sport as a summer past time (see also: croquet). His badminton peak was winning the city's boy's championship for his age bracket when he was about 15. But in later conversations, he discounted this, noting that all the players who were "any good" had already been siphoned off, bound for the big time. He said he doubted, even when playing his youthful best, that he could win a point vs any ranked player, unless they screwed up.

Having failed to win any points playing my colleague, I got a glimpse into how many levels of talent existed above me. Identifying the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action in oneself is always sobering. But he told me I was among the better casual players he'd encountered since moving to the US, because I was able to rally with him and had some game, unlike most; there were still layers below me.

I can't tell you how many times I've applied this lesson in real life, cautioning myself to question whether Dunning-Kruger was in play in either my perspective or in the view of people interacting with me around my area of expertise. When other people don't know what they don't know, it calls for different tactics, including ways to enable them to save face. Perhaps that's why my colleague complimented my skills, for all I know.

And maybe the gym teacher didn't really want to flunk me.
posted by carmicha at 8:16 AM on July 22 [11 favorites]


Did Williams go on DudePerfect as a response to the crazy survey, or just because they're a famous and well-liked podcast full of the guileless and pure enthusiasm on display here?

Dude Perfect filmed and released that piece in 2016. It's recirculating again post-survey.
posted by toxic at 8:31 AM on July 22 [5 favorites]


Having failed to win any points playing my colleague, I got a glimpse into how many levels of talent existed above me.

Yeah, like playing a National Master in a local chess tournament and being handed your ass, and then realizing that that player is viewed as weak opposition by FIDE masters and International Masters, who are nowhere near the strength of the GMs who play in the US Championship, who themselves are well outclassed (with a few exceptions) by the players who get invited to the top tournaments in Europe, all of whom are getting smoked by Magnus Carlsen.

And then people will accuse you of "false modesty" when you describe yourself as a middling amateur player. If you go to a competition, it's made perfectly clear to you where you stand.
posted by thelonius at 8:41 AM on July 22 [3 favorites]


Given that you would get 48 attempts to score a point, I wonder whether the people who think they could score at least one point think that they could beat an elite sprinter once, given 48 attempts? I feel like that's an equivalent?

Intuitively, it feels that, on a long enough timeline of attempts, I would score a point in tennis before I would beat the sprinter, but rationally that seems ridiculous.

I'm not sure why the tennis example seems more possible? Is there something about learned skill over innate ability that seems easier to overcome?

For the record, i'm pretty sure that my timeline for both scenarios is so long as to be statistically abnormal.
posted by trif at 8:44 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


For fun, I wanted to do the math on how many men in the US would be expected to get a point off of Serena. I'm not a tennis expert but a little reading puts the consensus that a D1 men's player would be on par with the 100th ranked WTA player. Obviously, Serena is much higher than that, but those players are competitive with her and will score points on a regular basis, even if they lose. Approx 250 men's D1 tennis programs x 7 starters x a 15 year rolling decline from their peak gives about 26,000 men in the US right now that could be expected to get at least a point off of Serena.

There are roughly 90 million men in the US ages 18-65, so that means about 1 in 4000 men could realistically get a point off of Serena, and I think that sounds about right.
posted by splen at 8:45 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure why the tennis example seems more possible? Is there something about learned skill over innate ability that seems easier to overcome?

Fewer people play tennis than run, so there’s less understanding of what it’s like to play. The way most people see tennis played is on television, where the angle gives an incorrect impression of the difficulty of the game. Some people are surely focusing on the chance of Serena losing a point, for example by double-faulting, and there are more opportunities in tennis than in most other sports to mess up your own game without any interference from the other player. (Very few people would say “I might be able to beat Usain Bolt because he might trip during the race.”) I think many people see tennis as closer to golf than it is to running, in terms of being able to practice your way to greatness, when I don’t think that’s accurate.
posted by sallybrown at 8:51 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


I would roughly agree with splen's take, though maybe even double it since it only need be a single point won rather than be otherwise competitive. A single point means almost nothing about a player's skill level beyond a certain point of ability as the game doesn't hinge on shutting out other players completely, just besting them overall.

In running the only thing a runner has to concern themselves with is their own efforts, they can virtually ignore the other runners because they don't have any direct effect on how well they run, but that isn't the case in sports like tennis, where your competitor gets to put the ball in play no matter what you do and you are limited to the physics of the game. You can only be in one place at one time no matter how good you are, so if your opponent places the ball somewhere you are not, then you are gonna be unable to return it. Top level competitors can visualize almost automatically where the likely locations a ball will go and place themselves in the best possible position to reach it and/or recover should it go an unexpected direction, but they can't cover everything.

It isn't just tennis or Williams. I wouldn't be surprised if a good street basketball player could score a basket against Lebron James for much the same reason. James, like Williams, would wipe the court with them over any length of time, but they can't control everything, they are just exceptional at controlling their reactions to much more of it than almost anyone else. Expecting perfection, as if sports figures are superheroes, isn't a great way to appreciate the abilities of top level athletes and asks much too much of them, which does neither the players nor the society any favors.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:33 AM on July 22


Let's not forget explicit/conscious racism!

Yeah, as soon as I posted "implicit/unconscious racism" I was like "duh, it's probably pretty out in the open."

It's just a clickbait poll, and I suspect that part of the reason for the difference in responses reflects men's greater willingness to rules-lawyer definitions. That's interesting in itself, of course.

I mean, it's logically possible that I could take a point off Serena Williams. ... But if I were asked whether I believed that I would probably score a point the answer's simple: obviously not.


This.

Some guy says "I could score a point off Serena Williams."
You say, "Dude, that's ridiculous, it would take so many extremely unlikely coincidences all at once, it's like a trillion to one."
He says, "Ah, but it's possible, right? There is a chance, even if it's tiny, so logically I'm right."
And then it's about him showing how clever & logical he is compared to you (probably some overly emotional chick getting all upset because you think he's being sexist when he's just talking about science and statistics, amirite fellas?), and still maintaining his fantasy about beating SW.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:06 AM on July 22 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure who is more delusional - the 12% of men who think they can score a point off of Serena Williams, or the 3% of women who think the same.

At first blush, clearly it's the men. They are kidding themselves. I'd be surprised if 12% of men have held a tennis bat.

Racket. Whatever.

However, the number of men who can score a point off of Williams is probably 50x the number of women who can do it, so the women are, in a way, even more optimistic than the men.

OTOH, the chance of Williams double faulting is non-zero, which is really the only possible chance that 99% of humanity has against her, so the women are at least closer to being right. On the other other hand, were these people thinking about double faults when they answered or were they thinking about actually scoring a point in the thwack, boom, in your face sort of way? What percentage of the population knows that a double fault even exists?

On the next hand (I lost count) when you are dealing with random numbers that have no connection to reality, does it really make sense to compare the numbers to each other? If I can run a six minute mile and you can run a seven minute mile then it might seem like I'm closer to a four minute mile than you are. That's both true and false. Both of use are so far away that we might as well be competing in a different event.

In short, we know the people surveyed are deluding themselves, but the exact nature of the delusion remains elusive.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:06 AM on July 22


the number of men who can score a point off of Williams is probably 50x the number of women who can do it

I don't know about that, are there 50x more professional or almost professional level male tennis players than female tennis players? Because really, it's only someone at that level who has a realistic chance (or as you put it, has a chance that can be computed in numbers that do have some connection to reality) of scoring off her. And 50x the number of male players at that level seems like a huuuuuge imbalance in a sport like tennis. I mean, I'll believe there are 50x as many male football players than female female players, but not tennis players (US American football, that is).
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:11 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


...those players are competitive with her and will score points on a regular basis, even if they lose...

There's a huge difference between getting a point and being competitive. I think this is halfway between running (no chance of competing) and bowling. I suck at bowling and have no chance at competing with anyone, much less a pro. But every few games I get a strike, just like the pros, and if I played against a pro, there's a small chance that I would get a strike on a frame on which he didn't get a strike.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:17 AM on July 22


I've played tennis recreationally for the past 20 years. I'm probably a 3.0 or 3.5 (on a really good day) player. I've played doubles and singles against all types of players with many different styles and strategies.

There is *NO* way I could score a single point off Serena Williams. Not even if she was hitting at 50% power. Not even if she was hobbling. Her sheer strength and ball placement is so ridiculously good. I could not outrun, out hit, or outplace her.
posted by Twicketface at 10:28 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


... this gap happens between enthusiasts and novices in sports (and other things), too.

It's a very humbling experience to learn that you're not even playing the same game as elite competitors

Yeah, like playing a National Master in a local chess tournament and being handed your ass


I've been on both sides of this at the exact same time.

I play a "full-contact medieval combat sport"[1]. I've been in it for 23 years at this point, learning to fight with a "sword" or "flail" and "shield", but mostly safely shooting my friends with a bow and padded arrows.

I am a very good archer. Out here on the West Coast, I'd say I'm in the top 5% of the game (top 1% in the Bay Area), and probably top 10% nationally. I consistently get people coming up to me at events congratulating me on shots that feel completely routine to me but look amazing to bystanders (like threading an arrow between two allies to headsnipe an enemy running past them, or a no-look snapshot to the side to kill a guy whose shield is out of place).

But I'm only a better-than-decent fighter. I'm fast and I've long since learned not to be shy about throwing or taking shots. I know what I'm doing, I have a decent "shot vocabulary", and good field awareness. I can fight. But, then I watch guys make impossible-to-me-looking shots, sniping shoulders and arms, all from behind an impenetrable wall of quickly moving shield and I know that I am never ever ever going to win a duel or a tournament against one of those guys. I know that it would take an incredible stroke of luck for me to even land a blow, much less count a kill against those guys.

I'm also only a barely-passable archer when it comes to, like, REAL ARCHERY. I can shoot people ALL DAY. But I recognize that my form is terrible and inconsistent and my target shooting is only marginally better than J. Rando Civilian who happened to decide to try the bow and arrows at the Ren Faire. I've watched world-class recurve archery and I would NEVER even think to challenge one of those competitors.

Being able to recognize that I am not, and will not ever be, good at everything is surprisingly freeing. And it shames me and scares me that, as humans, most of us DO NOT DO THAT.

[1] YES OK IT'S A LARP FINE
posted by hanov3r at 10:49 AM on July 22 [7 favorites]


I don't know about that, are there 50x more professional or almost professional level male tennis players than female tennis players? Because really, it's only someone at that level who has a realistic chance (or as you put it, has a chance that can be computed in numbers that do have some connection to reality) of scoring off her.

A guy doesn't need to be a professional tennis player to get a point off of Serena Williams. A very good male tennis player (say, someone who played in college or plays at a regional competitive level) could do it (splen back-of-enveloped it a little further up).

It's hard (read: impossible) to compare across different sports, but if you look at athletics then you can see the difference pretty starkly. Local elite athletes can crush the best women in the world at all distances. My high school's track records beat the women's world records at 100m and 800m (and are close at 200m and the mile). And these guys, meaning no disrespect, were nobodies.

Could the guys on our tennis team have taken a point from Serena Williams? I think that a couple of them likely could. Not every high school has a player who could, but what about the guys on college teams? There are lot of six footers with booming serves out there and Williams hasn't faced that many times.

This doesn't mean she's not a fantastic player and one of the reasons we need to preserve Title IX is so that exceptional female athletes get a chance to be exceptional, because if they were forced to play on the men's teams they'd be nobodies, and that would be a tragedy.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:03 AM on July 22


I'm not sure who is more delusional - the 12% of men who think they can score a point off of Serena Williams, or the 3% of women who think the same.

I think it's less "delusional" than "annoyingly rules-lawyery". Look at the question as asked by YouGov: “Do you think if you were playing your very best tennis, you could win a point off Serena Williams?”

Note that it's not "... could win a point in a single game off Serena Williams?", or even "...could win a point in an entire match off Serena Williams?" As we've seen in this very thread, a lot of people are willing to read that as "...could win a point, ever, in any situation (up to and including if you were playing her as much as you wanted, over the course of a weekend, possibly without her actually realizing she was playing you, I don't know, like in some kind of tennis ambush situation) off Serena Williams?"

Men are rewarded for that kind of behavior in much of modern society, much more than women are.
posted by Etrigan at 11:41 AM on July 22 [4 favorites]


Local elite athletes can crush the best women in the world at all distances. My high school's track records beat the women's world records at 100m and 800m (and are close at 200m and the mile). And these guys, meaning no disrespect, were nobodies.
I guess we may have different definitions of "crush".

The Texas state high school record for the 100m is 10.13s (Derrick Florence, 1986). It's also the national high school record, apparently. In 1986, the *world* record was 9.93s (Calvin Smith, 7/3/83).

The women's world record (still Flo Jo, from 1988) is 10.49s, so not even half a second slower. I don't see that as "crushing."

Mr Florence, for his part, didn't have much of a career running, but he DID medal in the World Junior championships in Athens that same year. That level of performance is a long way from being a "nobody."

Most clubs probably don't have 10 second 100meter folks hanging out, do they?
posted by uberchet at 11:42 AM on July 22 [4 favorites]


I didn't realize any dudes out there thought they could just take a shot at one of the world's best and win. What a colossally stupid think to ever think about yourself. Even the best tennis players in the world have to struggle to beat her. If you truly believed you had a chance, then you'd have been stupid all these years for not pursuing a professional tennis career.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:08 PM on July 22


Most clubs probably don't have 10 second 100meter folks hanging out, do they?
Yes, most high schools do. It's like car horse power - the difference in tiny gains is nearly exponential, and the recent gains due to technology, training, and (mostly) money make a even larger difference. I get the delusion actually - not that I could score a point on Serena, but rather thinking that athletes were just better at their sport but still regular people, and if you get a bit lucky you could get a point or two on them. Because in the past that was true.

That is the difference - the difference between a modern pro-athlete and regular people are growing.

To put it another way, my high school football coach played in the NFL in the '70s and my tennis coach was (is) in the tennis hall of fame. He was old by the time he was coaching me, but still great, but also approachable and we could get points on him.

If you truly believed you had a chance, then you'd have been stupid all these years for not pursuing a professional tennis career. You might think so, but unless your parents could bankroll you for the first 10 years until you were sponsored or you were just ridiculously amazing with no training, there is no way the average person can become a pro-athlete, and it has way more to do with money than natural skill. Go look up the Rick Macci tennis academy the WIlliams sisters attended starting at age 10 - currently $1300 per week.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:27 PM on July 22


"Is there something about learned skill over innate ability that seems easier to overcome?"

The thing with skill, is it's a great exemplar of dunning kruger - without having a reasonable amount of that skill, it's hard to know how much skill is actually involved. Plus there's always the "lucky shot" that let them beat their friends that one time back in 8th grade - surely they'd get some luck when the pressure's on against a world great, right?

Meanwhile, with running it's the opposite. I can look at world record times, and think, "Oh, they're taking 2:55 to run a km and then doing that 42.2 times. Oh, wait I can't run a km in under 3:00. So they're trouncing my km sprinting pace, except they do that for more than 40x the distance. Wow!" Sure, they've got some skilled running economy going along with amazing capabilities, but looking at simple raw numbers I can see how I'm horribly outclassed.

I'm not sure what equivalent there would be for "score a point" in running. I guess the closest would be do you think you could run at Kipchoge's pace for a minute? For two minutes? I've had (painful) 400m sprints around a 2:50 pace, so I could hang with him for a minute and change. Where he's running at marathon pace, and I'm going as fast as I can for just a few hundred meters.

Paula Radclife's record is around a 3:12 pace. So I might be able to hang on for an additional 100m - but I'm still not even hitting the first km marker at her side.

While I don't think the average person off the street could run with Kipchoge for a full minute, I could easily see ~10% thinking that they could hang on for a minute. I'd put that closer to less than 1 percent could do so.

Ah, a bit related: reddit runners talking about how long they could keep up at Kipchoge's pace. Quite a number admitedly aren't even getting once around the track (400m), and I see a couple of comments about just how this gives them a sense of scale of the acomplishments.

Having volunteered at aid stations, I find it amazing how quiet any of the sub 2:50 marathoners are - even late into the race. The legs are moving so amazingly fast eating up ground, but their feet are somehow caressing the ground! And that's 45 minutes behind the world record.
posted by nobeagle at 12:27 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


What i'm more interested in is how far down the ranking do i have to go before i get to a player that i WOULD score a point against? I doubt there is anyone on the WTA rankings I would score against
posted by trif at 12:37 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


The biggest question in my mind is how long a chain of "Not even a chance" skill tiers can you find between me and Serena Williams, and I'm guessing it's at least four or five.

When I was an undergrad, my school played Division 3 men's basketball (Go Jumbos!) and had a early season warm-up tournament game against Davidson - at that time a decent Division 1 school. Our boys got absolutely trounced - 89-68, and it wasn't even that close. Earlier that week, Davidson lost to Duke 100-65. A bunch of guys in the dorm noted that we would be destroyed by our school's top intramural club team, who would in turn get dominated by the varsity team that had just lost to Davidson. Adding a professional team to the top of the pyramid meant that we were at least 6 levels of competence below the best basketball players in the world.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:52 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


You know, I think I might have a shot at taking a point... After she's played a game against those other 3.8 million men.

Without that handicap, hell no.
posted by Imperfect at 1:02 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Just to pile on, let's not forget the actual mechanics of a game of tennis in this discussion. The Williams sisters hold fifth and sixth place on the fastest recorded women's serves list, Venus' 129mph narrowly edging out Serena's 128.6. Serena's average second serve speed in the 2015 Grand Slams was over 90mph, and there's a decent chance that's faster than any car you've ever driven.

This is somebody who hits aces in grand slam tournaments, you know? She can hit a tennis ball towards somebody who has spent their entire adult life training to hit that tennis ball back, who might literally be one of the five or ten best people in the world at hitting tennis balls, and that person will occasionally not even be able to get their racquet to make contact with that ball.
posted by mhoye at 1:25 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


Even less likely than a guy getting a point off Serena is hitting good women's fast pitch.

Here's an article about Jennie Finch vs, oh I don't know.... MLB all stars in 2004:

https://jugssports.com/blog/a-womens-softball-pitcher-vs-the-top-baseball-hitterswho-wins/

Pull quote, from Albert Pujols: “I never want to experience that again.”

That's Albert "648 home runs, 6th all time" Pujols
posted by splen at 2:34 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


In tennis, you can only score if you are serving.

Where on Earth did you get this idea?
posted by Cosine at 2:42 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


> In tennis, you can only score if you are serving.

Where on Earth did you get this idea?


That's the most common method of scoring volleyball (side-out scoring). Not a stretch to see that mis-applied to tennis.
posted by hanov3r at 2:51 PM on July 22



The Texas state high school record for the 100m is 10.13s (Derrick Florence, 1986). It's also the national high school record, apparently. In 1986, the *world* record was 9.93s (Calvin Smith, 7/3/83).

The women's world record (still Flo Jo, from 1988) is 10.49s, so not even half a second slower. I don't see that as "crushing."


Florence would have beaten Flo Jo by about 1/3 of a second and that's absolutely crushing. Usain Bolt lowered the 100m WR by .11s and it was the largest drop since the advent of fully automated timing. 0.36s is a humbling gap.

Derrick Florence was closer to the WR (at that time) than Flo Jo was to Derrick Florence.

And he's not the high school record holder (although he might be for high school only events). Trentavis Friday ran 10 seconds flat at the USTAF Junior Championships as a high schooler.

That doesn't mean your average stiff would be able to do anything, but (as others have mentioned) there are a lot of stops on the road between "average stiff" and "super stud".
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:15 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]




I think you're drastically overstating how many people can even be in the neighborhood of a 10s 100M, but whatever.
posted by uberchet at 4:14 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


there's a decent chance that's faster than any car you've ever driven.

Errrrrrr.....
posted by Brockles at 5:15 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Florence would have beaten Flo Jo by about 1/3 of a second and that's absolutely crushing. Usain Bolt lowered the 100m WR by .11s and it was the largest drop since the advent of fully automated timing. 0.36s is a humbling gap.

Well that's the kind of thing that leads people to believe they could have a chance at their best. What's the variability of a professional's times? When we're only talking a fraction of a second, could FloJo on a good day have beaten Florence on an off day?

Unfortunately $random_shlub is not FloJo on a good day, and not going to beat either on any day, ever. He's not even in the same universe of skill. It is not possible for FloJo to have such a bad day that $random_shlub is even close, and it's not possible for Serena Williams to be so off her game that $random_shlub earns a point unless he's counting on an unforced error.

Maybe that's it? Millions of people figure she will eventually make an unforced error at some point, and that's how they were answering the question? I find even that unlikely. She could play what she considers "safe", taking no chances, and still crush an amateur.
posted by ctmf at 7:34 PM on July 22


I'm not sure how useful it is to compare tennis with running. They are alike mostly in that they require amazing physical conditioning; there are many differences between their techniques (physical & mental).

For one, tennis is direct competition between 2 (or 4) athletes, involving external props, a complex set of rules governing scoring and legal/illegal plays, a start & stop extended pattern of physical activity, and an external judge that can be very intrusive. All of this entails complex strategic thinking.

Running, on the other hand, is indirect competition against any number of competitors, with much less external interference in the term of rules, plays, judges, etc., and depending on the type of race, may be over in a fraction of the time of a tennis match/set/game/volley -- meaning there is much less margin for error, back & forth competition, etc., and also meaning that tiny differences between competitors (in the wind resistance of their gear, in the raw power of their bodies, etc.) is greatly magnified. This compresses the difference between "world class" and "average" and makes even numerically tiny differences between athletes "bigger" than they are. It probably also requires a very different type of mental preparation/focus.

Comparing times in running is a simpler assessment -- there's an almost "objective" measurement of someone's ability. You can't get that sort of clear assessment from looking at tennis stats. Individual scores don't tell you anything, because what looks like a blowout numerically may have been a lot closer in actual competition, and vice versa. Even career records are difficult to assess because of variability between career lengths, changes in the game, etc. You need to look at the individual athlete, over their career, in the context of their competition, relative to historical changes in the sport, etc.

I think the only thing you could compare women's tennis to is... men's tennis. And regardless of what the difference in ability between the best female pro and the best male pro may be, they are way closer to each other in ability than either is to the skill level of the average male tennis hobbyist. Could 1 out of 8 guys score a point off Djokovic, Nadal, or Federer? Would 1 in 8 claim they could score a point off of them?* Because, for all intents and purposes, they are equivalent to Williams as competitors vs. the average person.

*That seems like the stat we need to make a more solid interpretation of the original survey.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:21 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


The sexism/racism and inaccurate assessment of skill-level are definitely true. Also: the phrasing of the question has been pointed out a few times but I think it's pretty significant.

“Do you think if you were playing your very best tennis, you could win a point off Serena Williams?”

I don't think it's "rules lawyering" to answer that question with a 'yes'. I could win the lottery tomorrow too, and I would answer a similarly phrased question the same way. I "could" win a point off Serena Williams if I was playing my WORST tennis. She's not a robot, and there are external factors. It's an interpretation problem.

"Would" I, or is it "likely" that I will do either of these things? Of course not. I agree that the interpretation of this poll response is incomplete without control questions, like "could" you win a point off Djokovic, Nadal, or Federer?
posted by smokysunday at 11:18 AM on July 23


I "could" win a point off Serena Williams if I was playing my WORST tennis. She's not a robot, and there are external factors. It's an interpretation problem.

It is 100% (white?) male hubris to interpret that question as generously as that.
posted by hanov3r at 11:45 AM on July 23 [7 favorites]


To be clear, that hubris is in the original answers to the poll, and that is not me intending to call out smokysunday.
posted by hanov3r at 11:48 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


I think the answers to the questions "Could I win the lottery?" and "Could I win a point against Serena Williams?" are, respectively, "yes" and "no", but I'm having a hard time articulating why I interpret "could" differently in the two sentences.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:40 PM on July 23 [3 favorites]


For me, it would because Roger Federer and I have equal chances of winning the lottery, but his chances of winning a point against Serena make mine look so minuscule as to be zero.
posted by sallybrown at 4:47 PM on July 23 [5 favorites]


For me, it would because Roger Federer and I have equal chances of winning the lottery, but his chances of winning a point against Serena make mine look so minuscule as to be zero.

That's not exactly true. Many lottery games are won by conglomerates who are able to take advantage of statistics and probability and buy many tickets, which dramatically increases their odds of winning, of which Roger Federer has the money to theoretically hire and fund and you probably don't. Federer has no need to do this, because he makes more (and probably enjoys more) working tennis which is way less risky, but he totally could.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:30 AM on July 25


First: "win a point" means the ball gets in play. No double-fault bullshit. If she's serving, the only way to say you actively won the point is if her serve lands in the service box. (If you're serving, same, obviously.)

Let's say she's serving. I'm here to tell you that fewer than 5% of the men who have ever completed a set of tennis have ever faced a serve as challenging as Williams's second serve. Probably more like 2%. It's more than enough to blow them off the court. A pro's second serve has a degree of pace and spin - especially the spin, if she's hitting a kick serve - that very, very few players have ever seen from 78' away. The ball is hissing in one direction, then snarling off in another, and arrives at the baseline head-height or greater. If you stand way back, she shortens the angle and you can't get there in time. If you somehow get a racket on it and it goes over the net, she will place it where you can't get it. If she lands first serves? Please.

My wager - the number of serves she'd put in play before the average man wins a point exceeds 1000.

Second: If you're serving and you're extremely good at tennis and having an absolutely great day, you might, just might, get lucky and blast one up the T for an ace. I've had my serve radar-clocked at 110 mph and taken points from Div. III college players that way a couple of times. Mostly, though, they just returned them without drama on their part, and with real pace and placement, and I lost the point. Serena has seen all that a bajillion times and it wouldn't work on her, I'm confident.

Finally, and this is fun: if you live in the US and you're able, go watch the high school boys' and girls' singles championships in your state. Especially if you can sit along the baseline. That'll give you a tiny glimpse of what real tennis looks like. It's way, waaay harder than people who don't play imagine.

Another wager: fewer than 1 in 8 men would take one point in any given game from the high school girls' champion in their state.

Anyways, I loved the video and Serena's fantastic and the guys were all-in as usual.
posted by Caxton1476 at 10:55 AM on July 25 [6 favorites]


Video of "Facing a 135mph Tennis Serve". Taken from seats right behind the receiver.

"...you might, just might, get lucky and blast one up the T for an ace. I've had my serve radar-clocked at 110 mph and taken points from Div. III college players that way a couple of times. Mostly, though, they just returned them without drama on their part..."

I think you're overstating this; if you're actually hitting the T at 110 mph, that's tough for anyone to return - unless you're telegraphing the placement with your toss. Pros (generally) are good at hitting a variety of angles and spins off the same toss. They (and some amateurs) are also good at reading serves of people who don't; e.g., it's easier to hit a topspin serve off a toss that's a little higher and further back.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:02 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]


Maybe the problem is the use of the subjunctive in the question. I could absolutely win a point against Serena Williams if a bunch of counterfactuals were true!

(This is a joke; obviously misogyny is the actual problem. For those who are defending those 8% by proffering explanations for why it’s a reasonable for someone who doesn’t even play tennis to think they could score a point off a top tier tennis player, I ask you to explain why virtually no women said yes to the same survey question.)
posted by aubilenon at 11:59 PM on July 25 [4 favorites]


For those who are defending those 8% by proffering explanations for why it’s a reasonable for someone who doesn’t even play tennis to think they could score a point off a top tier tennis player, I ask you to explain why virtually no women said yes to the same survey question.

IMO that's what makes an otherwise clickbaity poll interesting. Some of it must come from using a rules-lawyering definition of "could" rather than delusion about their sporting prowess, but who knows what factor dominates. If I'm right, though, it's a bit scary to contemplate how many positions may be filled by men who answered affirmatively when asked "Could you successfully run a large company / charity / town / state / nation?"

It would explain a lot, though.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:38 AM on July 27 [3 favorites]


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