Almost Serene Serena – By Jack Neworth

Written by: on 10th September 2012
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US Open Tennis
Almost Serene Serena - By Jack Neworth

epa03391995 Serena Williams of the US celebrates with the trophy after defeating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the women's final match on the fourteenth day of the 2012 US Open Tennis Championship at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, USA, 09 September 2012. The US Open has been extended a day for the fifth straight year due to weather and will end on Monday 10 September 2012. EPA/JOHN G. MABANGLO  |

It’s possible the best thing that ever happened to Serena Williams was losing in the first round at this year’s French Open. Ever since she’s been on a tear. She won Wimbledon (singles and doubles), the Olympics (singles and doubles) and now the U.S. Open. Put it this way, if the vast majority of her matches in the past few months were in boxing, they’d have been stopped in the first set due to a TKO.

World #1 Victoria Azarenka came within two points of winning the Open. But, through sheer determination, remarkable skill and fighting spirit, Serena clawed her way back from the brink of defeat. She reeled off the last four games to seal her fourth U.S. Open title and enhance her status as one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.

Already, Serena is in very elite company. With her 15th singles Slam she’s only 3 away from tying Chris Everett and Martina Navratilova and 7 from equaling Steffi Graf’s 22. (Margaret Court holds the record at 24.)

Yes, at almost 31 (birthday on the 26th), Serena was the oldest women’s champion at Flushing Meadows in nearly four decades. And yes, Slams are certainly tougher after age 30. But, if you ask me, watch out tennis historians, here comes Serena Williams. And, until father time finally catches up, there may be no stopping her.

Currently, Serena’s 30 Slam titles places her ninth on the all-time list. (15 singles, 13 doubles, and 2 mixed doubles.) She is the most recent player, male or female, to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously (2003) and only the fifth woman ever to do so.

In doubles, Serena and her sister Venus are unbeaten in Grand Slam finals. And, oh yes, Serena is also a two time winner of the WTA Tour Championships and four Olympic Gold Medals. (Singles in 2012, doubles in 2004, 2008 and 2012.) And, in a recent appearance on the David Letterman Show, Serena predicted that she will play in the 2016 Olympics at Rio De Janeiro.

But Serena’s much-heralded career has not been without controversy. Not surprisingly, her father and coach, Richard Williams, was also no stranger to controversy. In the early 90′s, when his daughters were juniors, Richard kept Serena and Venus (1 year older) out of competition. Despite the oft-expressed criticism that his daughters would suffer, Richard boldly predicted that both girls would be #1 and each would win numerous Slams.

Most scoffed at Richard’s controversial methods but he would now appear to be prophetic. And yet his unconventional (some would say paranoid) attitudes seemed to hover over the Williams sisters.

Some criticized Richard for coaching his daughters to trust no one. Lindsey Davenport, former #1 player, said that when the Williams’ first arrived on the tour she reached out to them but was rebuffed.

Davenport who, as a junior battled weight issues, had occasionally experienced fans’ “insensitivity”. As a result, she was familiar with being viewed as an “outsider” and tried to reassure the Williams sisters. But, for whatever reason, her overtures were reportedly not accepted.

In 2001, there was more controversy. During the Tennis Master Series tournament in Indian Wells, Venus withdrew just minutes prior to her semifinal match with Serena, claiming an injury. But others contended the withdrawal was due to Richard not wanting his daughters to play each other.

Fans were bitterly disappointed when Venus withdrew and Serena was subsequently booed during the championship match against Kim Clijsters and during the trophy presentation. Richard accused the crowds of overt racism. Whatever the truth, neither Williams sister has played Indian Wells since.

Then, at the 2009 U.S. Open, there was a rather controversial ending to a semifinal match against Kim Clijsters. It happened when Serena was serving at 5-6 and 15-30 in the second set. She faulted on her first serve and on her second serve the female line judge declared a rarely called foot fault.

Serena stormed over and launched into a tirade, “If I could, I would take this ******* ball and shove it down your ******* throat.” (Ouch!) Serena was fined a record $82,500 for the outburst. Ironically, at the post-match press conference Serena said of her temper, “I used to be worse.”

While historically tennis fans seem to tolerate (and even enjoy) outbursts from male players going back to Pancho Gonzalez, Ilie Năstase , John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, they have seemed less inclined to do so with female players. To be honest of course, there are fewer examples.

At last year’s Open, Serena came close again in her finals loss to Samantha Stosur (6-2, 6-3.) In the first game of the second set, as Serena hit what was about to be a definitive forehand winner to save a break point, she shouted just before the ball landed. Chair umpire Eva Asderaki of Greece called Williams for a violation and the point was awarded to Stosur. Serena had a “contentious” discussion with Asderaki that included Serena’s saying, “If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way.”

But that was then and this is now. And what a now it has been for Serena. She seems as “serene” as I’ve ever seen her. In fact, it wouldn’t totally surprise me if Serena winds up with more Slams than Graf and is perceived as the greatest female player of all time. But, given her “occasional outburst”, even if she isn’t I’m not going to be the one to tell her.

An avid tennis fan, Jack Neworth is the co-author of “Men in White”, a screenplay about tennis legend Pancho Gonzalez and his rollercoaster forty-five-year friendship with fellow HOF player Pancho Segura. Jack can be reached at jnsmdp@aol.com.)

 

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