Rooting for the Williams Sisters

By Wilanda Akil
Updated: January 17, 2005

Wait for me, watch for me.

My spirit is the surge of open seas.

Look for me, ask for me.

I’m the rustle in the autumn leaves.

- Maya Angelou

Serena Williams
Serena Williams

When the pressure to win every grand slam rests on your shoulders- you are at the top of the game. Two competitors, Venus and Serena Williams know exactly what this means. Both have struggled and sacrificed to reach the apex of the tennis world. Yet, every shot and stroke they produce in tennis seems to create criticisms from commentators and spectators alike.

What is it about these two women that both fascinates and intimidates tennis enthusiasts? Could it be their aggressive play? Determination? Confidence? Personalities? Or race? Whatever it may be, the Williams sisters definitely bring excitement to the game of tennis and an intensity that is unmatched.

Whenever I see Venus and Serena on the court, I’m always rooting for them to win. Each Grand Slam I find myself sitting or standing in front of my T.V. talking to the screen and screaming at the top of my lungs for another Williams’s victory. “Come on Serena!” or “Come on Venus!” are the usual chants. Like other sports fanatics, I root for Venus and Serena because they are the girls next door and I can identify with them. I holler because I want to see them triumph in every way and sometimes believe I have magical powers that can will them toward another career title.

When they step on the court, the message to their opponents is clear – they have come to play and they are a force to be reckoned with. In fact, Venus’s and Serena’s styles of play are quite unique. While Venus likes to stay behind the baseline and get a good rally going to set up a winner; Serena explodes on the court hitting the sidelines and cross-court shots. Both succeed in making their opponents work harder, think faster, and dig deeper.

Just ask Jennifer Capriati who played Serena Williams in one of the most controversial matches of the year. During the quarterfinals of the 2004 US Open, Serena was robbed of a point when the umpire Mariana Alves overruled the line judge in the opening game of the third set. Serena’s ball was clearly an inch inside the line, but the umpire refused to question the line judge or replay the point. After this incorrect overrule; two more questionable calls would eventually overwhelm Serena and lead to Capriati winning 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. It seems that the only way to shift momentum against the force of the Williams these days is to have them compete against two opponents: umpire and player.

Yet even after such a frustrating moment, Serena made no excuses for herself and questioned why she didn’t close out the game in the second set. Serena’s behavior during and after the match is a testament to her character and the character of her family. The Williams family has shown time and time again their gracefulness, confidence, and brilliance. It’s no wonder many youth today look up to them as role models and inspiration for their own lives. It is this young generation who will testify to the Williams’s persevering spirit and ability to show mental toughness in the midst of bad calls, setbacks, and negative commentators.

Television commentators like Chris Everett, John McEnroe, and Tracy Austin attempt to discredit the impact of Williams’s game during each match. Whether they win or lose Venus and Serena are described as “sloppy,” “careless,” “athletic” or “power-hitters.” Words like “smart,” “great-thinker” or “sharp” are reserved for other players. These commentators hardly discuss the strategic approaches that may benefit Venus or Serena. The trio’s analyses usually consist of strategies benefiting their opponents.

Tracy Austin, who is known for her disdain for the Williams sisters, commented on how the girls need a “real” coach. In reply, their father and coach, Richard Williams said, “I couldn’t care what Tracy or anyone says.” “When Venus and Serena were winning, there was something wrong. When they’re losing, there’s something wrong. “Very honestly, it’s a disgrace. I think it’s a disgrace at how the system is against those two black girls. If they win, everything is wrong; if they lose; it’s get rid of the parents. I just work for them. They’ve always wanted me around.”

It can not be denied that there has been a concerted effort by tennis traditionalists to characterize Venus and Serena as villains of the tennis world. But this image is not reflective of the confidence, intelligence, and determination displayed each tournament by the two women. No matter how cliché it sounds, Venus and Serena Williams are champions and have every right to be respected as such.

So when the next Grand Slam comes along grab your pom-poms and your remote control and remember to press mute whenever you need too.