On Serena

Not really a Trash Talk. The stage is changing in women’s tennis. Serena beat Kontaviet, which was kind of unexpected. But lost to Ajla Tomljanovic. Not sure that was unexpected. Time comes for all of us. Even Serena. Long ago, Serena came for her big sister.

Tennis is cutthroat.

Flushing is flushing. Let it rock and roll in NYC

53 replies
  1. Super Dave says:

    Agree. It was still fun to see the competitive fire burn brightly in a 40-year old woman at the end of a match that she surely knew was lost. Also fun to see acknowledgment of the impact she and Venus have had on the sport.

  2. cbear says:

    Serena is/was an awesome tennis player, but I found it extremely off-putting that (unless I missed it) not once in her 3 on court post match interviews did she mention her opponents. Those 3 girls faced a hell of a hostile crowd and she should have at least given them some credit. Sorry, not a fan.

    • Peterr says:

      I didn’t watch, but The Guardian’s writeup of her last match says that perhaps you missed it:

      After Tomljanovic was broken immediately to open the decider, she rattled off six straight games to slam the door.

      Even at the death Williams didn’t go quietly. In one final show of her indomitable fighting spirit and titanic self-belief, she staved off five match points, each prompting deafening roars, before finally netting an approach forehand on the sixth after 3hr 5min.

      “I tried, Ajla just played a little bit [better],” Williams said, fighting through tears.

      • Sonso says:

        A modest reduction in her narcissistic egocentricity. Best server ever in the game; the rest is a lot of gamesmanship, especially the constant yelling.

    • Rayne says:

      It was the last game of her massively influential career; those “girls” — Danka Kovinić (27), Anett Kontaveit (26), Ajla Tomljanović (29), all adult women — weren’t upset about playing her in her final Open or getting less attention.

      Tomljanović said she was feeling sorry because “I love Serena just as much as you guys do.”

      “What she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis, is incredible,” she said in her interview on court. “I never thought that I’d have a chance to play her in her last match when I remember watching her as a kid in all those finals, so this is a surreal moment for me.”

      Tomljanović was asked how she handled the occasion of being in this electric environment at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

      “I just thought she would beat me, you know,” Tomljanović said. “The pressure wasn’t on me. She’s Serena. I didn’t think that I — even to the last point I knew that she’s in a really good position to win even when she’s down 5-1. I don’t know how many match points I needed to finish it off, but that’s just who she is. She’s the greatest of all time, period.” …

      She showed the same grit and tenacity Friday as the world No. 46 Tomljanović was on top of her game.

      “I’ve been down before,” Williams told reporters after the match. “I’ve been down, like, 5-1 I think before and come back. I don’t really give up.”

      Williams, arguably the greatest women’s tennis player ever, fought off five match points before a shot into the net ended it.

      “I tried,” Williams said. “Ajla just played a little bit better.”

      source: CNN

      I suspect you weren’t a fan of Serena before this Open.

      • cbear says:

        Actually I was very much a fan of both Williams sisters for many years, and still think VERY highly of Venus. Serena, in recent years, not so much. Ymmv

        • Peterr says:

          Serena’s last opponent remains a big fan of Serena. From the Guardian:

          The first to pay homage to Williams was a shell-shocked Tomljanović, who said before the match that she planned to play in earplugs to drown out the partisan support. “I’m feeling really sorry, because I love Serena as much as you do,” she told the crowd. “So this is a surreal moment for me.” When asked about her nerveless performance, she replied, “I just thought she would beat me, so the pressure wasn’t on me… She’s Serena!”

    • Eichhörnchen says:

      Good god, cut her some slack. They weren’t trophy ceremony speeches. They were on-court interviews focused on Serena’s plans to retire from tennis. She was obviously overcome with emotion. I guess you didn’t see her wagging her finger when spectators behaved disrespectfully toward her opponent. This is the same Serena who was so protective of Naomi Osaka when they met in the US Open final in 2018. You’re “not a fan’ because she didn’t make a statement you thought she should make? You probably never were a fan.

  3. Tracy Lynn says:

    What an amazing match!! At first both seemed very tense — lots of balls into the net, then the volleying started. This is one I’ll never forget. Ajla was so poised and calm! I can’t imagine how tough that would be when you are playing a legend.

  4. Willdunlap says:

    What was up with Serena’s mother? Oracene I think is her name. She looked bored as all get out as Serena lost and then won a set. The rest of the box where she was sitting would jump up and yell when Serena won a big point and Oracene wouldn’t even clap.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. You have commented not only as “Willdunlap” (two ls), but “wildunlap,” “Wildunlap” (capital W), “BillD,” and “Bill Dunlap.” Pick a name and stick with it. /~Rayne]

    • Rayne says:

      Do you have kids who play sports? One can develop a different response to watching one’s child play their 1000th match let alone their +10000th match. Not to mention grieving for the end to a child’s career. The lack of clapping may really have reflected effort to not cry.

      Ugh. I really detest it when people insist on policing women’s bodies including their responses, especially during unique and stressful situations.

      • Mart says:

        Near the end of a H.S. soccer state playoff game my daughter scored the winning goal. She looked at me and I smiled and gave a thumbs up. The mostly mom crowd was hollering like it was a World Cup win. Then came where’s her parent? I said me. Then I have people screaming at me for not screaming. As a suburban soccer player, coach, and reff; pretty much came to hate suburban soccer parents.

        • Peterr says:


          And in my experience, you can substitute any number of other sports or activities for “soccer” in this vignette, and it would fit to a T.

        • Rayne says:

          Same. I attended both of my kids’ sporting events throughout their K-12 school careers, nearly 16 years of sitting with goddamned soccer/golf/track/XC parents in all manner of conditions. By the time my son wrapped up I was done with them. I sat as far away as I could, wore headphones all the time, took binoculars when necessary. Too many sports parents treat their kids’ sports like it’s their own lives and not their kids’, like a twisted form of Munchausen by proxy in which the parent identifies too closely with the child’s achievements.

          Simply couldn’t do it, too fucking toxic. My kids are still athletes, always told them they could do whatever they set their minds to and I’d support them, but support didn’t mean me acting like loon screaming my lungs out and elbowing other parents.

          • Drew says:

            When I was in junior high >50 years ago, I sat the bench for our 8th grade football team. At one game, the father of one of the starters took offense at a call made by the referee. He ran out on the field and started yelling at the ref. The ref threw a flag and stepped off 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Bob’s dad (whose name, quietly appropriately was Dick) continued to yell. So 15 yards, four more times. A 75 yard penalty. All the players just cringed & wished Dick would let us play the game.

          • ernesto1581 says:

            One of the most serenely surreal experiences I ever had was sitting in the stands during an all-area wrestling tournament for one of my kids, watching the organized mayhem taking place on half-a-dozen mats at once while listening to Chopin Nocturnes.

            I don’t remember my parents coming out to watch every Little League game, swimming meet or tennis match when I was a kid. It was like, go do your thing — I’ll leave dinner on the table.

            Serena and Venus, Venus and Serena. It has been so great to watch them over the years, my goodness.

      • Bill Dunlap says:

        Policing women’s bodies? Oh please do not detest me. My daughter was a ranked USTA junior in the Pac NW and won the Oregon state tournament for big schools in doubles My wife and I never sat on our hands during a match. I just think it’s odd that Oracene didn’t react when everyone in the box was jumping and yelling.

        • Rayne says:

          When your daughter is both Black and playing at the top of the sport for decades AND she retires, video your reaction then and share with the class.

          Otherwise it’s none of your business how a parent responds to an adult child’s retirement while in the public eye, and especially not a Black mother of a Black adult female child. Grief affects everybody differently, for starters, let alone putting up with decades of overt racist crap.

          • M Smith says:

            Serena and Venus are two of the most respectable professional athletes around. Their mother was likely quite influential in developing their exceptional characters. The fact that she’s not a screaming parent suggests she acts professionally as well. I give her a pass and kudos.

          • Bill Dunlap says:

            OK, it’s none of my business how Oracene responds to Serena’s retirement after making millions. I’m happy for Serena and a big fan. It’s no surprise that Oracene was down a bit in the third set. I turned it off because I could see Serena was winded. But Serena was rocking in the second set and Oracene looked barely awake. Am I an asshole for observing that? The Williams family is a complex mix of personalities, King Richard and Oracene included. Thankfully it gave us two incredible athletes. I have the highest regards for Venus and Serena, but I wonder a bit about Richard and Oracene. I hope they all prosper. And, by the way, how did race enter into this discussion? Not from me. This kind of fun, but I think I’m done.

            • Ginevra diBenci says:

              Race entered the discussion when the Williams family did–that is, when you mentioned them. Sorry if acknowledging the different worlds we inhabit isn’t “fun” for you, but that is what we do here–guided largely by Rayne.

              Many of us don’t have the option of choosing NOT to have race enter discussions, and the Williams family has understood that for decades. The fact that you had your eye on Oracene Williams means TV cameras trained their eyes on her, as they have relentlessly and critically since Venus and Serena debuted as top players. I challenge anyone to bear such scrutiny in such a way that satisfies everyone watching. It’s impossible. And it is simply true that we do not forgive Black people (especially women) for failing to meet the culture’s impossible standards.

  5. Setlisthief says:

    The comments on the WaPo story of the match were incredibly cruel, classless, and worse-mostly lambasting Ms. Williams about her lack of class toward her opponent(s). I suppose the opportunity to bash (anonymously) a living legend is simply too tempting for some.

    As I watched the match, I kept thinking what a privilege to witness the passing of the torch to a new generation of female tennis players, many of whom may someday be as great as Serena.

  6. SMF88011 says:

    A friend of mine played against the Williams sisters long ago in a doubles match at the US Open. She and her partner got destroyed by them. The friend told me that the best team they ever played against were the Williams. Kim was #44 in women’s doubles back then. Her declaration means a lot in my opinion.

  7. J R in WV says:

    I’m not a big tennis fan to put it as honestly as I can… But Serena W is so impressive as a champion I have no words for her career. Such a hard worker, so skilled and strong. Glad she had such a great career. And her sister Venus as well. What a pair~!!~ We may not see the like again.

  8. Pete T says:

    Believe it or not I have a real Serena story. My son owns a small car service in SE Florida. We still transfer Olympic swimmer Dara Torres as an example.

    It was via Dara that we were referred to a short notice trip from Palm Beach to the Miami Beach (Key Biscayne) Tennis Center. I was the only one available to do the job. I/we had no idea who it was.

    I arrived at the guard gate and was let in. I started to have a suspicion who it might be.

    Picked up three people there and a lot of luggage?! No Serena. I had a large SUV. We eventually picked her up in West Palm somewhere where she was having a back therapy session.

    1) Serena is big and muscular. She could have easily kicked my ass and not just in tennis.

    2) But she and her group were so nice and engaging – and it’s my job as a driver to be quiet and not hear stuff. Nothing crazy talked about – just the grueling schedule she faced and the back issues.

    3) We were running way late and so Serena asked if we could go faster and faster. Sure, as long as you talk to the State Trooper if we get pulled over – we didn’t.

    She had a photo shoot at the Key Biscayne center where two of the three others stayed with her. I chauferred her “PR” person around The Key handling some odds and ends.

    She was running late for her flight from MIA to Paris in prep for the French Open and, as it turned out, for some more intense back therapy there. She was in pain.

    We made a panicked run to MIA so that her PR person could get the group checked in to the flight.

    Turns out another person/friend took Serena and her two other friends to MIA from Key Biscayne to meet us – I had all the luggage, tennis rackets, etc. Had to fend off the ramp cops who don’t like you hanging out at MIA at the curb. We waited for about 30 minutes.

    Helped load the luggage on the cart for the attendant to deal with. Wished her well and she was very gracious in thanking me for all the help. No, I didn’t think it appropriate to ask for an autograph.

    As you may recall – or look up as I did. She lost at the French Open, won Wimbledon, and went on to win the 2012 London Olympics Women’s Single Tennis Championship.

    Just something I remember and mostly keep to myself over the years.


  9. jdmckay says:

    I was avid amateur tennis player & teaching pro from early ’90’s > 2005, in Oakland Ca. Huge, vibrant international community. Around ’93, myself and about 20 other good players north of 40 yrs. old began setting up after school tennis clinics in the worst, crack infested neighborhoods. By ’97, we had at least 1 of them get full riding tennis scholarships every year.

    It was pretty cool.

    (If memory serves) around ’97 the tennis community began having persistent talk about 2 AA girls from southern California who were playing tennis like nobody before them. There was an annual Women’s tournament at the coliseum, and Venus was going to make her professional debut.

    Completely un-announced and without any notice, both sisters showed up for one of our Saturday morning “clinics” in east Oakland a week before the tournament began. Complete, total surprise to everyone. Their Dad came as well.

    They introduced themselves, and Venus said matter of factly they wanted to work the “the kids” for a few hours. We handed them the keys, and they pretty much each took a court began hitting a bit then 2 hours of (harder then we did) drill and a lot of encouragement, suggestions, hands on in some cases adjustments., They were really, really good at this, and all of us were very impressed. Came back the next day as well, and almost every year while I was still there as well.

    None of the Williams’ were very personable… not cold or rude, just all business and clearly there to help the kids. Not make friends.

    They had huge impact, made huge impression we didn’t fully appreciate for a few more years. The Williams’ came out of neighborhoods similar to our “students”, e.g. really nasty. These were real life, African American girls their age about to make themselves known on the “big stage”, something our students had never seen. They really made a difference, in a significant way. I was told they did this all over the U.S.

    No telling what else they did to benefit others. It’s very clear they put a lot of time & effort into doing this. They walked their talk.

    Even now, watching Serena last couple nights, all that stuff is very much in my view of Serena. Pretty high character woman who made a big difference. Glad I have these experiences.

    • Peterr says:

      I lived in the East Bay at that same time period, and I know the neighborhoods of which you speak.

      That kind of “walking the talk” is a powerful witness to their character.

      The “not to make friends” line made me chuckle. It said to me “We’re here for the kids, so if you old fogies would get the hell out of the way, we’d appreciate it.”

      • punaise says:

        i suppose Helen Wills and Don Budge (Berkeley / Oakland tennis stars of yore) didn’t face quite the same challenges.

      • jdmckay says:

        (…) know the neighborhoods of which you speak.

        Ahhhh. This event was in Mosswood Park, right across Macarthur Blvd from Kaiser Hospital.

        so if you old fogies would get the hell out of the way,

        Really, it wasn’t even that. Just very single minded purpose on their part.

        After first few “sessions” we did when we first started, the idea “throw out the operating manual” became mantra. Idea was, so many of those kids when they first came out were so traumatized by so much really bad stuff that, well, the way we all had done this in most “white” neighborhoods just didn’t work here. We flew by the seat of our pants. But after a while, it worked out pretty good.

        It was clear the Williams’ sister had a different manual.

        I remember when Mohamed Ali was “stinging like a bee”, I was a fan. That guy was really good, and he had his own manual. He was doing an interview (Letterman or ???) and the host mentioned that he had driven up to a crumbling boys club in Harlem that was about to be closed and torn down. No $$ to keep it going. Ali, host said just walked in and wrote them a $1m check and left.

        Ali would only say people (from memory) “shouldn’t publicize things like that.” Just to do a good thing because it needed to be done, w/out calculation. My little story of “The Sisters” to me, is a similar thing.

        I like that. A lot.

  10. Hopeful says:

    Serena fan forever.

    Just common courtesy for the competitor in a match (almost whatever sport) to make some nice comment about the player they played against when interviewed after the competition.

    Especially in this case in front of the player they just faced, who has to sit there and watch; with all of the fans watching, at the venue and on live TV.

    Watch Rafa when he completes a match; he sets a great example

    • Rayne says:

      When Rafa retires we’ll watch for that. He still won’t have had to deal with some of the crap Serena’s had to throughout her career.

      • Hopeful says:

        Maybe a little OT.

        Yes, our backgrounds growing up shape (especially when quite young) our interactions with our fellow people, for the better or worse.

        And…..virtually everyone on Earth has their pluses and minuses.

        I can disagree with Liz Cheney about virtually everything, but still appreciate her Jan6 Committee endeavors; and would still never vote for her.

        On the other side Serena has many, many pluses; just frustrating that she, at this stage in her life, doesn’t acknowledge when it matters, the same efforts her competitors make to be the best that they can be.

        I probably won’t make it to see Rafa’s final comments (but I hope to). Watch him comfort Roger Federer after winning the Australian Open way back when. Something special.

        • Rayne says:

          I’m kind of all tapped out about the civility lectures. A Black man quietly took a knee to protest and it ended his career. It’s simply never enough to be excellent at what one does — in Serena’s case in addition to dealing with bullshit like harassment for wearing compression bodywear to fight blood clots, more harassment because of Black hair and muscular mesomorph body type, none of which her white opponents face — they have to kiss ass too even on the very last day of their career if they’re not white.

            • paulpfixion says:

              Claudia Rankine writes about Serena Williams in her amazing book “Citizen:”

              “There is a belief among some African-Americans that to defeat racism, they have to work harder, be smarter, be better. Only after they give 150 percent will white Americans recognize black excellence for what it is. But of course, once recognized, black excellence is then supposed to perform with good manners and forgiveness in the face of any racist slights or attacks. Black excellence is not supposed to be emotional as it pulls itself together to win after questionable calls. And in winning, it’s not supposed to swagger, to leap and pump its fist…”

              “Citizen” is so, so good. Worth every minute and penny a hundred times over.


  11. Sjbott says:

    1st time writer/ long time reader. I see that even here Black women are invisible, unless to be dragged, no matter what you accomplished. I am so disappointed that this sentiment is flexed here too. Thank you for the little Sunday surprise kick in the gut.

    • Rayne says:

      Yup. Can’t have one day — the last day of a storied multi-decade career at the top of one’s field — to one’s self without being expected to perform civility if one is BIPOC and especially if one is a Black woman. Even one’s parent is expected to perform civility all the damned time.

      Thanks for commenting, drop in more often.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Rayne, as usual you said it better than I did: the Williams family has had to “perform civility” as civility is defined by a historically white, male culture–but with the added demand that each of them does exactly what each spectator believes is appropriate. Whether it’s Oracene ‘failing’ to display sufficient enthusiasm for one commenter here, or Serena insufficiently acknowledging her competitors (in what became an ugly viral consensus), those spectators simply assume the right to judge them.

        In my observation living in such a body, their race and gender serve as implicit invitations for some to pass judgments, negative ones as opposed to the reflexive approval granted to white men–even when those men, like John McEnroe, court disapproval. We still find ways to love them (nicknames like “the brat”) and excuse their transgressions, while we monitor the Williams sisters (and their mom) for any sign of violation, whether it’s norms of tennis or the standards we like to think we uphold.

        Rayne, thank you again. You are one of the main reasons I keep coming back here. You are a beacon–and clearly not just for me.

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