This piece was supposed to be about the ridiculous show following Serena Williams’ opening match of her last tournament.
Serena won against a weak, inexperienced opponent, but looked overweight, slow, and dressed in a costume. The announcers, particularly Chris Evert, a great champion who never had a farewell like this, fawned over Serena. They generally overlooked her being so out of shape and past her prime.
It was the show afterward that nauseated me. A video from Oprah, Gayle King of CBS falling over herself with grandiose praise. Billie Jean King was the only authentic person who appeared.
This piece was supposed to be about the stupid show after her first match, and how we should allow all-time great athletes to go out with class, like Jim Brown, Peyton Manning, and Ken Griffey Jr. did.
But then Serena changed the topic and came back in her second set from an awful let down against the #2 seed, Anett Konaviet, and played the kind of tennis she used to play 20 years ago, to win 6-2 in round 2.
It was a show a real tennis fan loved.
This was a champion, an all-around great, maybe the best player ever, somehow connecting with herself, her competitive zeal, her love of tennis, and especially of winning. She said after the match that she felt like she did when she was a 15-year-old from Compton, California, an unknown black girl, who nobody expected anything from. “Without a number on my back,” she said in an amazingly candid interview after the match with Mary Jo Fernandez. She said she felt like she was finally playing free again.
This is the real beauty of sports. Serena and Venus Williams started playing on cement courts when they were 5 and 7 years old in the Compton ghetto. Their father was seen by the people in the neighborhood as a nut who had this dream that his kids, who he coached from what he learned in books, scrimping to buy balls and racquets, would win Wimbledon and the US Open. Everybody except his wife knew it was utter madness.
Yet he persevered and the girls bought his dream.
In the mid-80s, Billie Jean King came to a clinic with 1200 young tennis players, she recounted after the first match of this year’s Open.
She saw these two black children at the almost all white tennis get together. Richard Williams got her attention and asked Billie Jean to watch the girls serve and make suggestions. They showed her what they could do as young grade schoolers. “Don’t change a thing,” she recalled, and Richard kept pushing them.
Their story is crazy. Richard heard that Jennifer Caprioti, who was a 14-year-old prodigy herself, had a coach at a world-class tennis resort in Florida. He was convinced the coach, Rich Macci, could propel them to stardom, but he could not afford for the family to move there.
He pestered Macci, sent him videos, and eventually Macy came to California to see them. He bought the story. Reebok did too, and they left Compton in a trailer and drove 3,000 miles to the resort in a hick town about 80 miles from Orlando.
Serena and Venus practiced relentlessly, but Richard refused to let them play in junior tournaments. Still, they bought the dream, and ultimately Venus and Serena both turned pro when they were 14 years old and played their first Grand Slam tournaments in 1997 and 1998 respectively. That 1998 first US open was the tournament Serena alluded to after her remarkable second round victory. She finally felt free again, without the world expecting her to win.
This was a true story book ending, not the TV hype of Oprah and Gayle King. Serena is out of shape and slow, but she still has her serve, her forehand, and her belief. Despite the showbiz baloney, Serena Williams is always worth watching.
Questions: When is the best time to retire?
If you could retire now, what would you do?