SERENA GOES FOR GREEN
When she hoisted the 2015 French Open trophy earlier this month – the 20th grand slam in an already phenomenal career – Serena Williams must have known that not everyone would be thrilled.
Even though Williams is crushing records on an incredible journey towards the honour of greatest female tennis player of all time, the elephant in the room – her skin colour – stands stubbornly around.
Unlike in 1991 at Indian Wells in California, when she and sister Venus were taunted and racially abused in the most vile fashion – one man threatened: “I wish it was 1975. We’d skin you alive” – nowadays the racial prejudice directed at her is more nuanced and subtle.
Fellow players have joked about her manly physique, while certain commentators – including previous tennis greats – imply that her athleticism and power give her an unfair advantage. Serena is a tall, well-built, agile and aggressive athlete who has a body she works hard to maintain.
In a world where a typical tennis champion is expected to be blonde, blue-eyed and petite, Serena has spent the past 20 years shattering all myths and stereotypes associated with the sport. In the process, she has collected titles at an astonishing pace.
Her father, Richard Williams, always knew that his girls were going to be stars on the tennis court. When he moved his family from the rough streets of Compton in California to Palm Beach in Florida, he had one thing in mind: to turn them into world tennis champions.
Of Richard’s five kids, the two girls – Venus and Serena – took to the sport immediately. In fact, it was Venus who first upset the tennis applecart in 2000 when she beat Lindsay Davenport in straight sets to win the most coveted prize in the sport: Wimbledon. She and Serena took the doubles title that same year.
While the world marvelled at Venus, Richard pointed them towards her younger sister, who was by then on an upward trajectory of her own. Serena had already won the US Open the year before.
The young tennis prodigy reached her peak in mid2002 and early 2003 – an era known in tennis as the Serena Slam – when she made it four out of four grand slams. She has since added 15 major titles and countless others, including four Olympic gold medals.
World Tennis Association figures show that Serena is the:
Third player in tennis history to win 20 majors (Margaret Court won 24 and Steffi Graf won 22);
First woman to win the Australian Open and French Open double since Jennifer Capriati in 2001;
Second player in the open era to have won each of the grand slams three or more times (Graf is the only other player to have achieved this); and
First woman in the open era to have 50 match wins at grand slams.
But her record-breaking and history-making exploits are not always matched by equal financial rewards.
The Atlanta Blackstar website noted that Maria Sharapova still makes double what Serena earns off the court – although Serena has beaten Sharapova 17 out of the 19 times they have met and has won four times more grand slams than the Russian.
Forbes magazine showed that Sharapova made $22 million (R268 million) off the court, compared with Serena’s $11 million, last year.
Sharapova is tall, thin and blonde – considered more beautiful and more marketable than Serena.
“Je suis incroyable [I am incredible],” Serena told the admiring crowd after lifting the French Open title.
All that incredible strength, beauty and power will soon be on full display at the All England Club when Serena sets her sights on a sixth Wimbledon title.