Serena Williams, following US Open Final, Saturday, 8th September 2018.
Do me a favour, Serena, and do not include me! Admittedly never a fan, her performance last Saturday was an utter disgrace serving only to confirm that which I already suspected: she is a spoilt diva dwarfed only by her ego! The winner of 23 Grand Slams, nobody could deny her achievements; nay, her talent and dedication. Along with her sister, Venus, she has dominated women’s tennis for the greater part of two decades. Some regard her as the greatest tennis player of all time – and her success goes some way to corroborating that – but I just don’t like her. Why? I think because the dominance of the Williams’ sisters changed the face of women’s tennis forever; was synonymous with a changing world. For my part, I liked the old face and that gentler world.
I have written about Wimbledon many times and its importance in my life, now and growing up. One of the last bastions of a bygone era, entering the gates of the All England Lawn Tennis Club affords welcome reassurance that not everything has changed – at least on the surface. Tradition, elegance, respect: all three still abound in that little pocket of SW19 and ladies and gentlemen still exist in the true sense of the word/s. Class, etiquette, manners … Wimbledon demands them all and, ironically, in a world now virtually devoid of all three, there is no argument.
Growing up in the seventies, Wimbledon was synonymous with summer – long school holidays and freedom. Halcyon days! The familiar voice of Dan Maskell and the tension as we all gathered round the television in the Morning Room, our family always divided in their support – nothing new there. Each of us had our favourite – mine was Borg, of course – but, then, the game was full of characters, both men and women, and there was an interest and excitement in both! Yvonne Goolagong, Billie Jean King, Virginia Wade, Sue Barker and, of course, the legendary rivalry of Chris Evert and Martina Navratalova … we watched them all from start to finish, each individual in character, style of play and dress! Never any sign of the ridiculous, their chosen outfits were always practical, always elegant, always white and yet, somehow, always different. Chris Evert made it all seem effortless both in her game and her fashion, never sacrificing her femininity. No need. I cannot imagine Dan Maskell’s commentary had he borne witness to an outburst such as Serena’s last Saturday but, then, he never did. In those days, it was still a sport! One player, one coach. There was no Hawk-Eye so any discrepancies were down to the line judges and the umpire and most were accepting of their decision – at least in the women’s game. Those who lost did so with dignity. Those who won did so with grace. It was called sportsmanship, another word confined forever to the dictionary, that obsolete book replaced by Google!
Actually, when I think of sportsmanship, I always think of Wimbledon 1973 when a 17 year-old Borg appeared on the scene. An instant hit with the girls, obviously, I shall never forget his Quarter Final match against Roger Taylor. Reaching five sets, it was match point to Taylor and … he did it! Or did he? Forty-five years ago now, I cannot remember the exact detail but what I do remember is an extraordinary display of sportsmanship when Roger Taylor, himself, questioned the validity of the point! He thought his ‘winning’ shot was out and, if I remember correctly, they played a let. He won not only the match but respect from every quarter. A true gentleman and a true sport. There isn’t a hope in hell of that happening today!
Fast forward to the domination of the Williams sisters. I have no interest in women’s tennis anymore. I have mentioned before that two years ago we were allocated Centre Court tickets for Wimbledon in the public ballot. Superb but they were for the Thursday, predominantly a ladies day. I thought twice about buying them but it was Wimbledon and we were lucky to get them. Never again. We witnessed one of the most boring matches courtesy of Serena Williams. A baseline player, she annihilated her opponent who was no match for her strength. No rallies, she merely walked from one side to the other at the back of the court. Game over. Of course she won but, in hindsight, it could have been a lot more interesting had she lost!
The US Women’s Final, last Saturday, marked Serena’s bid for a 24th Grand Slam title which would have meant she equalled the record held by Margaret Court. It was not to be. History she did make, however, with the most aggressive outburst I have ever seen in tennis. She made McEnroe look like an amateur!
Serena’s opponent was Japanese player, Naomi Osaka, for whom the 23 times Grand Slam winner had been an idol in her formative years. What must she have felt to take the first set 6:2? However, it was in the second game of the second set that things erupted when the umpire, Carlos Ramos, gave Serena a coaching violation on witnessing the hand gesture of her coach in the stand. Footage of said gesture leaves one in no doubt as to the justification of this code violation but Williams was enraged. Smashing her racquet in anger, she was given a second code violation and docked a point. Nobody could have imagined the verbal abuse which followed during the changeover. Carlos Ramos was subjected to unacceptable aggression from the player as she squared up to him pointing her finger and hurling abuse:
‘You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are a liar! You stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too!’
… and that from someone who wants to ‘fight for women’! How embarrassing. Interesting, too, that she believes the court is hers! In addition, it would seem that she is the first mother ever, continually reminding her subjects that she has a daughter for whom she wishes to stand for ‘what is right‘. She blew that one, then!
Carlos Ramos was dignified under attack. He said nothing, merely listening. Oh, what I would have given to see a bubble depicting his thoughts.
Suffice to say, Osaka took the second set amidst all the furore and became the first Japanese woman to win a major singles title. Deserved congratulations tinged only by the self-induced meltdown of her once idol. What of the aftermath, however?
Of course, at the press conference which followed, Serena claimed she was ‘fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality’. She accused Carlos Ramos of sexism never once apologising for her despicable behaviour. No surprise that Billie Jean King offered her support claiming ‘When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalised for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions.’ Interestingly, a new set of figures show that men have received almost three times as many code violations as women in the past 20 years of Grand Slam events. That said, I doubt there has ever been such a display of aggression directed towards an umpire before from any man. ‘You cannot be serious!’ As I said, a gentler world.
Thankfully, Annabel Croft, Andrew Castle, Djokovic and Greg Rusedski, among others, spoke up in support of Carlos Ramos, Rusedski hitting the nail on the head:
‘This is about personalities not about gender. I’d like to see her acknowledge that one player cannot be bigger than the game.’
So to the condemnation of the cartoon at the hands of Mark Knight depicting an irate Williams jumping up and down in the forefront with a mangled racket on the ground along with a baby’s dummy! In the background, Osaka is at the umpire’s chair and there is a bubble coming from Ramos saying ‘Can’t you just let her win?’. Capturing the incident perfectly, it is more than deserved. Correction. This is 2018 when one must pander to those with a major chip! Disregarding the humorous send up, accurately depicting the childish tantrum of someone who should know better, the cartoon was supposedly racist and sexist. Enough! Change the record. Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slams and is regarded as one of the greatest female tennis players ever. She has amassed great wealth and earned her place in history. She also happens to be black. So what! She, alone, is in danger of defining herself thus.
‘Whatever someone did to you in the past has no power over the present. Only you give it power.’
This is Trish, signing off.