Serena Williams is the greatest women’s tennis player in a generation, and when her career is over, she’ll likely be recognized as the best to have ever played the game.
Serena has one of the best serves the women’s game has ever seen, and her ability to adjust her game based on the strengths and weaknesses of her opponent is a trademark quality that is often under appreciated. And when you add Serena’s athleticism, competitiveness, and technical precision on big points in matches, tennis fans have come to appreciate her sustained excellence.
Serena is one Grand Slam away from tying the all-time singles record currently held by Margaret Court. In her quest to tie and surpass Court, Serena probably realizes that it won’t be easy. She took a year off to have her first baby and engage in child rearing before seriously training again. Other factors that may impede her chance at achieving this accomplishment is age, and the delicate balance of motherhood, marriage and her business enterprises. And of course, there is the next generation of young tennis players eager to create their own path to wins, titles and future greatness.
Given what we’ve seen from Serena over the years, we knew she was going to take on the new challenges to achieve her remaining tennis goals. But Serena likely did not anticipate having to combat blatant racism and sexism that has mired her comeback.
The summer started out with the revelation during the Wimbledon tournament, that Serena was subjected to a disproportionate amount of drug testing – much more than her white counterparts. Upon hearing this, Serena diplomatically let it be known that there was clear racial bias: “Tennis has given me so much. It’s such an amazing sport. I feel like equality, that’s all I’ve been preaching, it’s all about equality,” Williams continued. “If that’s testing everyone five times, let’s do it. Let’s be a part of it. It’s just about being equal and not centering one person out. Just due to the numbers, it looks like I’m being pushed out. Just test everyone equally.”
Serena has every reason to be angry about these developments. She’s never tested positive for any banned substances and there is no other plausible reason for this type of discrimination than it being a concerted effort by powerful tennis officials trying to plant doubt about her comeback as she goes for the all-time singles Grand Slam record.
Next in the summer of infamy occurred during the French Open. Serena decided to wear a Wakanda inspired catsuit during one of her matches with the dual purpose of helping her with blood clots and drawing strength from her blackness - and as she put it, to feel like a “warrior princess.” But Bernard Giudicelli, president of the French Tennis Federation, apparently indifferent to the physical benefits of the suit and determined to publicly reject Serena’s outward display of female empowerment, said the catsuit would no longer be accepted because "you have to respect the game and the place."
The last scene in this trilogy of discriminatory practices, transpired at the US Open. In a match that Serena Williams was clearly being outplayed by young star Naomi Osaka, things took a turn for the worse. Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos gave Serena Williams a violation after he saw video footage of her coach gesturing hand signals.
TV analyst Chris Evert stated coaching from the stands happens all the time in tennis and violations are rarely, if ever given. Although this was helpful information for viewers, Serena emphatically denied seeing it. Visibly upset, Serena exchanged words with the umpire. Naomi Osaka remained focused, composed and kept playing beautiful tennis. Serena had no clear answer and frustrations boiled over with her smashing her racket on the court. Serena received a second violation for the incident. Serena, still feeling unfairly mistreated, continued to express her frustration during the match towards the umpire.
Consequentially, the umpire decided to take a game (making it 5-3) from Serena, just as the match was more competitive and Osaka was moving closer to championship point. This impulsive decision stopped any momentum Serena had and Osaka finished the match with excellent play. Serena rightfully complained about the sexist nature of the decision but to no avail. The whole incident was very unfortunate for Serena, Naomi and the game of tennis.
Despite tennis court shenanigans and disappointments dominating the press, I will cherish Serena Williams disclosure of other parts of her humanity this year. Serena shared with the world that she almost died giving birth to her daughter Olympia, and in the midst of expressing appreciation for receiving excellent medical care, she also spoke about black women in general, not being so fortunate: "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women in the United States are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes," she wrote. "When they have complications like mine, there are often no drugs, health facilities, or doctors to save them. If they don't want to give birth at home, they have to travel great distances at the height of pregnancy."
Serena also shed light on her own mental health experiences battling post-partum depression and self-doubt at times as she navigates motherhood. For a woman who has blessed us with grace and brilliance on the tennis court - coinciding with an unforgettable summer - her newfound voice, openness and acceptance of her vulnerabilities, is what I’ll remember most.
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