As the seeded players and the few remaining “big names” of ladies’ tennis quietly tiptoed away from Wimbledon last week, an over-arching sense of resignation took their place.
“She’s going to win it, isn’t she?” Sigh.
“She”, of course, is Serena Williams who, of course, won the ladies’ singles title on Saturday, later adding the doubles crown with her sister Venus. The only surprise was that it took Serena longer than an hour to swat Agnieszka Radwanska, a player bidding to become No 1 in the world, out of her way.
That’s five Wimbledon ladies’ singles titles for the younger Williams sister; the last barely 12 months after she spent almost a year off the tour with a foot injury and a blood clot on her lungs. That is remarkable.
John McEnroe called Serena “the greatest female player that’s ever played this game”. I think her influence goes even further, beyond the tennis court: she deserves to be considered among the greatest female athletes we have ever seen.
But will she ever be feted and remembered warmly on the grass courts of SW19? No. Not a chance. We will never fall in love with Serena Williams.
Centre Court politely clapped her achievement on Saturday, but it was respectful, distanced applause. The crowd spent most of the match shouting for “Aggy”, willing this slight Polish girl to make a fist of it against the overpowering force firing 17 aces past her from the other end.
That’s partly the British inclination to cheer for the underdog, but it showed we still don’t know how to solve a problem like Serena.
To watch Williams is to be impressed by her power, swagger, physical stature and astonishing reserves of mental grit, but it is not always an enjoyable, entertaining experience.
There are seldom any lingering coos of admiration when she hits a ferocious backhand down the line. Instead you recoil, awe-struck and slightly shocked, in the same way you might react to someone taking a punch. It is athleticism not aestheticism that underpins her performances.
It is not Serena’s fault her only consistent challenger happened to be her sister, or that she is so gifted she can go from almost “not making it” to yet another Wimbledon title. These things should be celebrated, but instead we dwell on the negatives: the women’s tour is weak, the current players lack personality and, quite frankly, most people would rather see Maria Sharapova glammed up in a photo-shoot.
So would it be different if Williams were a man? Yes, it probably would. We are still not comfortable with seeing a woman generate such incredible power; of it being a female in purple knickers thundering down aces at 120mph.
The Williams’ incredible success has come by challenging the limits of women’s tennis, providing something very different to what went before. This has worked to their credit on the court but left them isolated off it. The difficulty with Serena is that she challenges us – our ideas about what we want our female athletes to look like – too. – Daily Mail