Serena William meltdown at the U.S. Open
by Michael Murray on September 13, 2011
Serena Williams is a goddamn tank.
When you see her standing out there on the court you see a woman with such an extraordinary physical advantage over everybody else, that you immediately take pity on her poor opponent– usually some pretty blonde girl dressed in pink.
As Wilt Chamberlain famously groused, “Everybody pulls for David, nobody roots for Goliath.”
On Sunday, Williams lost the U.S. Open final to Samantha Stosur. In the match Williams was deducted a point based on a rule called “deliberate hinderance.” It’s an obscure rule, I think, one that’s implemented when the umpire has decided that a player has intentionally done something to try to prevent their opponent from returning a shot. In the case of Williams, it happened after she crushed a forehand and immediately shouted, “C’mon!” as if frustrated and trying to rouse herself to further glories. Stosur lunged at the ball, just getting a piece of it before it skittered off hopelessly.
If Williams had not yelled, the result surely would have been the same.
No matter, what Williams did was antithetical to the culture of tennis, considered poor sportsmanship, and more or less in keeping with the swaggering confidence and ghetto-bravado she’s always brought to the court. Because of this, I think, she was docked a point by the chair umpire, who sat imperiously above the fray as if in an opera box. Outfitted in Ralph Lauren, replete with a pony tail and clenched lower jaw, this woman could not have looked more WASPY, nor be implementing a more abstract, WASPY-sounding rule.
This moment was a frank, cultural distillate.
Serena Williams was being punished for not being who the establishment wanted their champions to be. In North America we’ve seen the same sort of thing regarding end-zone celebrations, post-dunk styling and the like, and very typically these rules serve to control African-American expression for the benefit of the sensibilities of a largely white audience.
Serena Williams has risen as a black woman from Compton to be perhaps the greatest female player ever in a sport that’s long been embedded in the upper reaches of white culture. Make no mistake, she’s faced racism, be it expressed overtly or in more subtle, cultural variations like accusations of inappropriate wardrobe, attitude or language. Williams has dealt with it, or maybe more appropriately, ploughed through it.
Most of us have no idea what that’s like.
Williams, who comes from a close-knit family, had a half-sister who was murdered, has a stalker, a constantly sniping press, and this year has been coming back from a life-threatening hematoma and pulmonary embolism. I’m not even scratching the surface of her life here. Her life is huge, it contains multitudes and none of us have a clue what it must be like to try to live in the middle of it.
What we do know is that more than anything, she wanted to win the US Open. It’s the only tournament that matters to her, and in New York City on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, she must have burned to win, to rise up as a symbol even, and vanquish her foes. Flawed, magnificent, ambitious and tragic, she was in so many ways like America herself on that day, and in the heat of the moment, just when she had hoped to turn the tide, she gets this small-minded, even irrelevant rule called against her. She Must have felt the world was against her, that it had always been against her.
It’s unfair and utterly demoralizing, and I think she has every right to be upset, and to say, as she did on the court, “ A code violation because I expressed who I am? Really? We’re in America last I checked.” and to wonder what that really means.