The Dominion Post
America’s real Wonder Woman
There’s more to America’s best tennis player than meets the eye but Serena Williams struggles for acceptance.
At least there is some humility and selfdeprecation and humour about the woman.
IF President Barack Obama really was the man, and not just a way that white America could feel good and liberal about, then Serena would be the woman. Serena Jameka Williams would be America’s sweetheart. But she isn’t and she never will be. The greatest female tennis player of all time, America’s only current athlete who dominates a major sport, might be beloved in old age when the colour has faded a bit, but right now she’s just too black.
America feels comfortable about the Super Bowl. It feels comfortable about Tom Brady and the New England Patriots muffling the Legion of Boom. It feels comfortable about Katy Perry dressing up in girly outfits and having Missy Elliott rap and Lenny Kravitz play guitar at her prom night. But Serena is just a bit too much.
On Saturday night Williams won the Australian Open against Maria Sharapova. According to the commentator who introduced the final, Sharapova is ‘‘widely regarded as the most popular athlete in the world’’. Really? Shouldn’t that be ‘‘Sharapova is narrowly regarded as the most popular athlete in the world’’. And doesn’t that make me smug.
There is a poem by Tony Hoagland about this sort of thing. It is called Change. Sadly there is not the space to quote the whole poem, but here is a bite. Remember the tennis match we watched that year? Right before our eyes some tough little European blonde pitted against that big black girl from Alabama, cornrowed hair and Zulu bangles on her arms, some outrageous name like Vondella Aphrodite – . . . and you loved her complicated hair and her to-hell-with-everybody stare, and I, I couldn’t help wanting the white girl to come out on top, because she was one of my kind, my tribe, with her pale eyes and thin lips
It was written in 2003. You don’t have to be a professor of American Studies at Princeton to know that the poem was partly about Venus and Serena, although it’s not just black and white, it’s man and woman.
One of the more interesting dialectics to come out of the Australian Open was how Andy Murray was advancing the feminist cause.
A man in a man’s world surrounded by powerful women – coach Amelie Mauresmo, mum Judy and fiancee Kim Sears, who caused a storm of admiration with her ‘‘potty-mouthed’’ tirade against Tomas Berdych.
The next day cute, homecounties Kim wore a ‘‘parental advisory, explicit content’’ T-shirt, and how we all laughed.
Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if a black woman among Serena’s entourage had begun effing and blinding about her opponent.
Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if Serena had cursed her way through the final like Murray did. She only has to bang her racket or berate herself for us to think ‘‘uppity’’.
Of course Serena did lose it in one US Open final. She has a history at the event of receiving dubious calls and one day she snapped and informed a lineswoman, ‘‘I swear to God, I’m f...ing going to take this f...ing ball and shove it down your f...ing throat, you hear that? I swear to God.’’
That is still being used against her. I just have. But can’t we just celebrate the wonder that is Serena. She may not be a feminist icon but Williams advertises tampons, when most celebrity women don’t want to touch the subject. She is currently the front for a great Berlei bra ad for largebreasted women – ‘‘Now I control what bounces around here.’’
She is an American in Paris who has taken the trouble to learn the language. She admits to choking – ‘‘I just get too far ahead of myself and I crumble’’– and calls herself ‘‘a total klutz’’. She says there is ‘Summer’ Serena who writes thank-you notes, ‘Psycho’ Serena who plays tennis and ‘Taquanda’ Serena who gets mad and bad.
And yes, she is driven about in a white Rolls-Royce and keeps a little dog in a duffel bag but at least there is some humility and selfdeprecation and humour about the woman. And girl, can she play.
Whenever Tiger Woods was in a jam, he holed the putt. Whenever Serena Williams is in a pickle, she finds a serve. Watch how Andy Murray played the big points in the men’s final, and then compare it with Serena. I know who I would prefer as a feminist icon.
Williams has overcome injuries and boredom and depression and has still passed Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for major singles titles in an era when there were some pretty good players around.
She threw up in Saturday’s final and still dusted Sharapova for the umpteenth time in succession. She is now halfway to a second Serena Slam.
Hermum Oracene says, ‘‘I reflected on the fact that in the United States, you don’t have many players that are doing well. And then you have these two old, black girls, up in age now, and they’re still holding up America. That to me was remarkable.’’
But white America doesn’t want to be held up by two black girls. They can just about take Venus because she is elegant and softer and now has an immune system disease that evokes pity.
But Serena is a threat. She still won’t play Indian Wells because old white people once booed her when she was just a teenager. Williams has no problem being booed by a young French crowd, but she reckons the old Californians were a bigoted disgrace.
Serena Williams serves like a girl. Can you?