At her press conference following her loss in the 2019 singles finals at Wimbledon, Serena Williams was questioned about why she lost. Although she tried to say her opponent played a brilliant match, the members of the press wouldn’t let it go. They asked her if she thought her lack of match play in 2019 had hurt her, whether her role as a mother took too much time away from her tennis, and finally someone said they heard Billie Jean King wondered if she spent too much time supporting equal rights or other political issues.
Serena’s quick response to that question was “The day I stop supporting equality is the day I die.”
For more than twenty years beginning in 1997 the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, carried the heavy burden of American tennis (both women and men) on their shoulders; the load was never an easy one. Their two-person dynasty has often been controversial, but their attitudes about the sport they represented matured as their games became more powerful. Their popularity increased as they turned out to be more comfortable with their celebrity, more confident in their games. They grew up in front of a nation and, eventually, the world.
Serena won her history making 23rd. singles major at the 2017 Australian Open but made even bigger news when she announced her pregnancy following the tournament. The tennis world gasped at the possibility of a French Open, Wimbledon and even a US Open without its reigning diva who struck fear into the rackets of any player unlucky enough to see her name on Serena’s side of the draw.
Venus Williams and her little sister Serena
Never in their 27 professional matches prior to that night were the theater and drama more exciting than in the quarterfinals of the 2015 US Open under the lights in New York City. Approximately 23,000 fans came to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows to watch a match that was more than a game, and the Williams sisters delivered another thrilling exhibition of tennis at the highest level. As the ESPN commentators noted before the match, this was a big-time American sporting event with all the bells and whistles we love in our fascination with sports.
Tom Rinaldi who replaced Dick Enberg as the TV tennis philosopher that adds stories to evoke our emotional attachment to an event, made these remarks prior to the match: “In an individual sport, their stories will always be linked…in our view of the Williams sisters, we see champions sharing a court, a desire to win, and a name. True, one will win – but both have prevailed.”
As a tennis fan who has followed their careers since they first played competitively and in keeping with our celebration of women’s history month, I salute two American women who personify persistence and perseverance to be the very best in their sport and in so doing, prove repeatedly that they are both the images of true champions. Their love of family speaks volumes about their character, and their love of playing tennis is a gift we can all be grateful to appreciate
You rock, girls – keep going. Records are made to be broken.
(I have written countless posts with references to the Williams sisters, and I took excerpts from a few of them to write this one.)