Monday, November 15, 2010

The slighting of Serena Williams

As the WTA season wrapped up with the championships at Doha recently, Caroline Wozniacki, a 20 year old from Denmark, ended the tour ranked No 1 in women's tennis – largely thanks to her consistency in winning minor WTA events. For many, Serena Williams, though knocked off the top spot in the rankings and unable, through injury, to defend her 2009 Doha title, remains clearly the supreme player of her generation.

But in certain circles of the US tennis establishment, Wozniacki's emergence is seen as a positive development, precisely because it puts Williams "in her place". Chris Chase, a tennis correspondent for Yahoo Sports, for example, has a history of writing hostile commentary about Serena Williams. Recently, he accused Williams of "hyping" her foot injury – despite the fact that a torn tendon had forced her to pull out of all the season's remaining events. And, he writes, Williams' fans should simply "deal with it" if Wozniacki is the new No 1.

ESPN writer Peter Bodo is another long-time critic of the Williams Sisters. Earlier this year, Bodo called the Williams sisters' patrotism "false and self-serving" because they had failed, as he saw it, to make a firm commitment to play for the US squad in the Federation Cup. And when the sisters again chose not to play the Indian Wells tournament this year, where Venus and her father Richard had been booed and allegedly racially abused following her withdrawal with injury from a match against Serena back in 2001, Tom Gainey of Tennis X said they should get over it.

Given this form, the question has to be asked, when has an American-born tennis champion ever been so disrespected as Serena Williams?

One reason why the American tennis establishment resents Serena Williams is because she doesn't make tennis her life. Williams is so superior to other women on the WTA that she can play part-time – and still win two out of the four grand slam singles titles.

But some of the establishment's almost palpable relief at Wozniacki's elevation is, frankly, because she's young, white and blonde; and is a physical type that conforms more closely to western stereotypes of female beauty than Williams' highly athletic physique. A female athlete, it seems, is not respected for her hard work and dedication; she still has to be a product on display to sell to heterosexual male consumers – and a dark-skinned, self-willed African American is not the preferred model.

For all her consistency, Wozniacki has never beaten any of the big four: either the Williams sisters, or the Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. Wozniacki has a weak forehand, a lack of variety in her game, and the top elite women have the power to blast her off the court. The fact remains that Wozniacki is just another, relatively anonymous woman player who has reached No 1 without a grand slam title, just as Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina did. The idea that Wozniacki is any kind of "great white hope" is doubly misguided.

Recently, Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, told the New York Times he believes the USTA discourages African American youth from pursuing the sport because they don't want blacks dominating tennis, which is still, culturally, a white sport. That is a view that chimes with the fact that Maria Sharapova is the highest-paid female athlete in the world, despite the fact she's only won three grand slam singles titles – ten less than Serena Williams has.

So what is it that the Maria Sharapova or Caroline Wozniacki has that Serena Williams, the greatest champion US women's tennis has ever had, doesn't? Tennis ability has nothing to do with it. Prejudice has everything to do with it.


Carlos said...

Sorry for the delay Captain but this article had me thinking a lot hence the delay; a person knows that is a good read when it gets you thinking. I'll tell you my personal views of the Williams sisters.

When the Williams sisters came into the scene I didn't like them, to me they were abrasive and too arrogant. I wasn't the only one I had a co-worker who followed tennis (gay Latino male) he had the same feelings towards the Williams sisters. The media found them too arrogant, when the sisters won the gold medal in doubles a field reporter came to interview them, I can't remember his exacts words to the question but it was something like are you better than the gold medals? He even had a smirk in his face while asking this question. One of the sisters answered, "No, no, it is such an honor to represent our country..." The next day the print media reported, "Even the Williams sisters were humbled by winning the gold medals". There were a lot of comments made from the Williams' camp. I got myself thinking why I didn't like the sisters, I came to the conclusion that it were the comments coming from the sisters camp. I turned my focus on who was making the comments and it was their father Richard. I said to myself that this man had done a great job raising and teaching them how to play tennis but his attitude was alienating tennis fans. It was not until Richard stepped down from the spot light that anyone could see the sisters were not abrasive and arrogant. I do believe that they encounter racism in the locker room, form the tennis establishment, corporate world; but it was reported that some players said that both of them were not too friendly. I do believe there is racism in the corporate world however one of the sisters got a 40 million dollar endorsement from Puma, making it the highest female paid athlete at that time(please check the facts due to my fuzzy memory). The part time playing rubbed and still is rubbing people the wrong way. You are correct Captain in American society what is consider "pretty" is being white blond blue eyed and the seemingly friendly attitude of Wozniacki has the tennis establishment eating out of her hand. No matter what is said you don't hear the Williams' sisters in scandals, cheating on the game by using performing enhanced drugs nor illegal substances, a sign of good upbringing, respect for the game. All in all great champions and in my opinion icons of the game of tennis. Decades from now you will hear people talk about how great the sisters were.

Wrote a lot hope it makes sense.

Emily or as Carlos likes to call me "Captain" said...

Hey Carlos, that's fine I understand completely what you are saying!

When the sister's broke into the tennis scene they were in ways hidden by there father and judge by his comments, in his defense he was probably just trying to be a protective parent, for their sake, to try and protect them from the brutal media. I do also believe there is racism in the locker room directed to wards the sisters, and players may make comments about their attitudes but I think in streams from jealousy towards Serena and Venus. I have the upmost respect for both sister, and believe that they are great role models for all women and african americans. Most comments from the media are fueled by comments from players also, such as Dementieva's match fixing comments, I realize that was Elena's opinion but didn't need to voice it to the media. Although Serena did have her Puma contract back in the early 2000's I do understand why she didn't get as much from Nike when she joined in 2004, and why Divapova is paid so much more, I understand that DIvapova sell's and attracts buyers with her beauty, but Serena's achievements and skill is greater than any beauty. And I also believe that there is great prejudice from the USTA and why people may say in can not be compared to Sharapova or Wozniacki because they are not anything to do with the USTA well the USTA would be the richest tennis organization, and I also believe the Williamses are also discriminated against by the whole WTA establishment.

Carlos said...

Great points Captain. I remember when Hewitt made racial comments during a match against Blake at the US Open. The USTA didn't do anything. That it all everyone have to know about the USTA; hence the preference of white blonds over the Williams sisters. I heard that Zena Garrison didn't get get sponsorship money even tough she cracked the top five in the rankings. Wall Street racism.

U.S. Tennis is losing fans making it a dying sport. I wonder how much money the USTA got in their vault because if this continues USTA won't be the richest tennis organization.

Emily or as Carlos likes to call me "Captain" said...

That's a very interesting point about Zena, I remember reading about her some time ago. And not only was she black, but she was also quite large, if you know what i mean, from my memory. Also again Bartoli, who is whit, but not blonde and beautiful has no sponsorship either! Even though it is a different situation, with Bartoli being french, still its rather interesting.

I read in my newspaper today, about the australian open, surprised they even mentioned tennis - its about the least publicized sport in australia - but they mentioned about the fields for the open, they stated "the top 104 men and 98 of the top 100 women with grand slam quarter-finalist Agnes Szvay absent with injury as well as American Selena Williams" - Yeap they called her Selena, no mention that she is the two time defending champion, nothing she won in Australia 5 times nothing about 13 grand slam titles. Just pure prejudice.

In Australia, its Sam Stosur or its nothing, we like Kim Kong as well, only because she dated Hewitt. Im glad to say, we are better than the French crowed when it comes to Serena though.

The USTA may soon have to cut down on costs, hopefully Mary Corillo!

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