SPORTS

Views from Sparrow’s Nest: Serena Williams, the Icon

By Matthew Sparrow '21 || Issue 149-3

No, the U.S. Open Final did not go as planned for Serena Williams. In a shocking upset, 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian ever to win a Grand Slam.


This was supposed to be Serena’s coronating moment, her chance to finally make it over the hump, win her 24th Grand Slam and tie Margaret Court for the most in tennis history.


Considering that Andreescu had never before made it past the second round in a major tournament, it seemed like a pretty safe bet.


But the young Ontario native showed poise well beyond her years and used her powerful groundstrokes to run Serena around the court and force errors. While Williams did show some fight late in the second set down 5-1, breaking twice to even the match at 5-all, it just wasn’t her day and Andreescu claimed the last two games and the match.


With four consecutive losses in Grand Slam finals since the birth of her daughter, many are questioning if Serena will ever be able to win one again.


To me, it’s irrelevant whether or not she wins one more or 10 more.


As her career winds down, it is important that we do not take her success for granted and cherish every moment she steps foot on the court because you never know when it might be her last.


It’s amazing to realize that Serena’s first major title came 20 years ago, when a 17-year-old Williams beat fellow teenager Martina Hingis at the U.S. Open.


It was actually her older sister, Venus, who was more successful earlier on. But their father Richard Williams, who had coached them since they were five years old, felt confident that Serena would be the better player when all was said and done, and he was absolutely right.


In her illustrious career, Serena has outlasted two different generations of tennis greats. She battled Hingis and Justine Henin in the beginning, Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic in the middle and Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka towards the end, not to mention Venus all throughout.


She has held the number one ranking in the world for more than six years in total, ranking third all-time amongst women.


She has won seven singles titles at the Australian Open, three at the French Open, seven at Wimbledon, and six at the U.S. Open to go along with four gold medals and another 14 Grand Slam doubles championships, all with Venus.


However, equally as impressive as her on-court accomplishments is what she’s done for others and the game of tennis off the court.


As a black athlete in a historically white sport, let alone under a microscope since her teenage years, controversy has always seemed to follow Serena.


From having beads in her hair fall off mid-match and multiple incidents with officials at the U.S. Open, to refusing to play at Indian Wells due to racial taunts from the crowd, Serena has dealt with her fair share of headlines.
Nonetheless, she has used her platform to speak out on a number of issues important to her.


She is an outspoken supporter of Black Lives Matter. Following her finals loss at Wimbledon, when asked about whether her increased visibility in the public sphere has affected her tennis, she said, “The day I stop fighting for equality and for people that look like you and me will be the day I’m in my grave.”


She has written articles for Wired and Fortune Magazine about the lack of women and people of color in the tech industry and how gender-based pay disparity affects women of color the most.


In a symbolic move testifying to the power of women everywhere, she even won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant at age 35. Serena then took the rest of the year off to have her daughter, Alexis Olympia, and came back to make the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals the next year.


The problem with Serena is that we expect too much of her. We assume she’s going to win every single match in dominant fashion, and anything less than that is a disappointment.


If she doesn’t win whatever tournament she’s in, no matter if she just missed a full season because she had a child, it’s considered shocking.


We’ve never experienced greatness like Serena Williams before, so we don’t know what do with it.


Legends don’t last forever, and it appears that Serena may finally be slowing down, which means it’s even more critical that we are grateful for however many matches she has left.


I also hope that we appreciate the amount of grace with which Serena deals with pressure on a daily basis.


In addition to being a black woman in a predominantly white sport, she’s a mother, a sister, an activist and in my opinion, the greatest tennis player of all time, and she does not always get enough credit for that.