Show The Sista’s Some Respect

By Off the BASN Wire By J.R. Williams
Updated: August 18, 2007

The Williams sisters deserve nothing but respect for their accomplishments, determination and love of the game. So why do the media and many fans feel they must trash these two superb athletes and role-models?

‘They were hurt, they were obviously grieving, and yet they received venom for their pain and very little support from the sport they helped catapult into the 21st century’

Fourteen: That’s the number of Grand Slam singles titles Venus and Serena Williams have won combined.

128 miles per hour: That’s the fastest serve ever recorded by a woman in a main draw match … served up by Venus Williams.

Four: That’s the number of Grand Slams won in a row by Serena – the last player (male or female) to have achieved this amazing feat.

Ten: That’s the number of Grand Slam doubles and mixed-doubles titles the two sisters have amassed so far.

These are just a few of the outstanding achievements captured by the two sisters, who are both in the prime of their careers. It is a peak they have toiled and trained for years to achieve.

But all is not well at the top, and anyone who has achieved or won anything knows that sometimes you get the most opposition once you’ve become successful.

Take this year’s tour, for example. After a surprising and absolutely exhilarating run at the 2007 Australian Open in January, Serena walked away with her eighth Grand Slam crown. Nobody had expected it, and she was largely ignored as a prospect to win the title. Many predicted that she would not even last past the fourth round.

I can proudly say that I did not.

Serena and Venus come from a background full of determination and passion.

They were raised in one of the most economically devastated areas of the United States and they certainly were not privileged to receive the training and live the lifestyle that many young aspiring tennis hopefuls are fortunate to be born into. And yet she won. And people were surprised.

I still do not understand why anyone doubts a man or a woman who comes from such a humble background. Whenever a person has had to work and fight for what they have, their determination and skill can never be underestimated. Because Serena was born poor and worked hard to shape herself into one of the best female athletes in the world, she should have been feared every time she stepped on court at the Australian Open.

And let’s not forget Wimbledon, that tournament that is the sparkling gem of in any player’s crown, the world’s most dazzling and most prestigious tournament. Venus had won it three times before her triumphant return to form this year.

Yet again, the doubters did not give her a chance. But she comes from the same background as her talented sister, and no matter how good her serve or how many set or match points she saved, no one believed she could win it. Once again I can proudly say that I did. And Venus did win the appropriately named ‘Venus Rosewater Dish’ for the fourth time.

Venus and Serena have defeated every major player on the tour many times. They have defeated each other nearly as often, and amazingly their power game has only gotten better and sharper with every tournament they play. Their ground strokes are simply beautiful.

The sisters are not perfect and their games do have flaws, but the reason that they win is not just because they’re better than their opponents, Often it is because they want it more than their opponents. So who can stand up to two dynamite players of this magnitude? Who can shake them, rattle their thoughts and cause them to quake with fear when they step on court? We do that…fans, and the media…and it needs to stop.

Serena’s harsh treatment at the 2003 French Open still rattles my cage, and it is sickening to me that Justine Henin, an amazing player, was not truthful when confronted about whether she raised her hand for Serena to pause while preparing to serve. I’m not interested in discussing or arguing that Serena and Venus receive harsh treatment because they are black. It is not an argument is worth anyone’s time. But I am interested in why fans and the media go after these two so rudely and so viciously.

It is confounding. Tennis is considered the world over as an elitist sport and this is the reason that so many ethnic families do not push it among their children and in their communities. Sadly, less than 13 percent of American high schools offer tennis as an extra-curricular sport and less than 10 percent of minorities in the United States (majority African-Americans and Hispanics) are even interested in playing.

One would have hoped that American tennis fans would have better appreciated their own stars, and that the many talented players might share the love of this fascinating sport.

For if basketball is so well loved, then surely tennis – which displays way more raw athleticism – can garner as much adulation. Yet, commentator and former player Michael Stich was quoted saying at this year’s Wimbledon: “You’re either injured or you’re not. I’m not sure what we saw last night”. (Concerning Serena Williams’ injury during her fourth-round match against Daniela Hantuchova).

I’m so appalled by his statement. It was a gross and sadly accurate portrayal of the media’s treatment of these two outstanding female athletes. Their every move is questioned and examined for no apparent reason, as if their triumphs are not sacred enough nor their pain valid in form. Michael Stich should be ashamed of himself as a player and a commentator to put the validity of a player’s statements in question in such a way. However, Serena’s outstanding rebuttal to Michael Stich was: “My career is actually more stellar than Stich’s, so he can say whatever he pleases. I’ve never been over-dramatic in my whole career…” That marks the stature of a truly confident and capable champion.

The media and unfriendly fans can be any athlete’s worst fears realized. This has happened with the Williams Sisters. They fell off the tennis wagon, so to speak, following their dominance earlier in the decade, largely due to the murder of their sister. Yet no one spoke of the tragedy for what it was! Instead, they were accused of Acting in tons of movies and television shows (I’ve only seen Serena guest-star on one show, and I’ve yet to see them in a theatrically released movie), going to fashion shows (there are only 10 major shows a year) and just being plain lazy for no apparent reason.

They were hurt, they were obviously grieving, and yet they received venom for their pain and very little support from the sport they helped catapult into the twenty-first century. What they have done in women’s tennis should be upheld and respected. Venus and Serena are not perfect and they should not be placed onto a pedestal. But they should be treated with respect from the media, fans and all commentators alike, whether you agree with their extracurricular activities or not. It’s obvious they have other hobbies and that is fine…in fact, it’s totally normal. But as fellow human beings, who stare in awe of their athletic achievements, we should celebrate them…and all our athletes…male and female…who inspire us so. We should not hurt and speak against them. As people…we can do better, and we should hold the media, commentators and fellow fans to a higher standard.

So while they are back in championship form and they have each captured one of the year’s four Grand Slams this season, no one is questioning whether they elicit fear in the locker-room. You could almost hear Sharapova’s knees knocking before her fourth-round match against Venus at Wimbledon, which the graceful champion lost. And no one is questioning if they have the will to win.

We all know they can capture a title…let alone a Grand Slam…no matter the shape they’re in, or amount of practice and playing time they’ve had. Now all we’re wondering is, when will this unnecessary opponent fall away? When will the media and tennis fans celebrate these two young women who hold ill will towards no-one? We don’t know the answer to this question for sure, but I think that on the current path their walking…they’ll slay this dragon as well.

Eighty-One…Serena’s ranking before she won the Australian Open. Eight…Serena’s ranking currently. You tell me.