My troubled relationship with Serena Williams

Serena Williams

Serena at the Olympics

I think there needs to be some sort of 12-step program to help me sort out my feelings about Serena Williams. Particularly when the US Open rolls around, I find myself thinking far more about her than any other player. And those feelings are complicated. It’s hard to reconcile the contradictions: Her boiling passion with her seeming indifference; her prescient court sense and movement with her luggish¹ physical presence. I just find that I CARE more about whether Serena wins or loses than with any other player. But it’s not like I’m obsessed with Serena… or am I? Help!

Effort or effortless?

I want to emphasize here that my impressions — and everyone’s, really — are shaped by the media image of Serena Williams, the silly sports’ commentators remarks, and by her bizarre showman of a father. But as someone who prizes effort, hard work, determination, humility and discipline, the seeming indifference of her domination mystifies me. She plays in fewer tournaments than any other pro at her level. She talks about starting a clothing line, an acting career, or becoming a rapper. But then, even after missing the better part of two years to surgery and complications from stepping on a piece of broken glass, it takes her no time at all to get back to the top — as if she were never gone at all. It doesn’t just mystify me, it actually depresses me. What chance for any of us is there when a Serena Williams can completely shatter opponents just by deciding to do it?

I actually find myself thinking sometimes “I hope Serena loses because it will give someone else a chance.” Her lack of humility is the icing on the cake. She knows that she dominates, and doesn’t bother pretending that anyone else can touch her. Her few losses are tossed off as due to an injury, a bad mood, or the fleeting ability of a competitor to best her temporarily.

It’s part of the American dogma, that the amount of effort should be proportionately reflected in results. If you work hard enough, the dream can be yours! Nothing is holding you back! Failure – or even second place – is really not part of the equation. A good attitude and positive thinking should propel you to success. But it doesn’t really work that way does it? There will always be people we think just don’t care as much, don’t work as hard. And still, they beat us to the finish, again and again.²

So as the US Open commences today, I’ll be keeping a close eye, as always, on Serena Williams as she plows her way through the opening rounds with the inevitability of tropical storm Isaac churning in the Gulf. It’s hard to imagine anyone in her quarter giving her any trouble at all. And once again, I’ll be trying to figure out why I care so much.

1. Yeah, I know “luggish” isn’t a word, but it seemed to get at what I’m meaning. I don’t mean “sluggish” — it’s more the sense that she’s moving but doesn’t really want to, or sort of resents what her body is doing. Thing is, Serena moves better than just about anyone on court, but it just doesn’t seem like she should.

2. Clearly, I’m not just talking about sports, here.

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One Response to My troubled relationship with Serena Williams

  1. Jenni says:

    The American spirit of competition gives me pause at times. May need to expand on this in my own blog, but I’ll aim for a short and sweet comment here. We tend to ignore natural ability in the equation. Hard work = success. But it has to be hard work at what you’re naturally good at. Hard work at anything will lead to improvement, but not being the best. And why are we so obsessed with the best anyway? There will almost always be somebody more natural talent (sports, music, intellect, you name it) or willing to work harder to the exclusion of other things. I am personally trying to raise well-rounded kids who enjoy their activities for their own rewards, not for being the best.

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