April 11, 2008

Interesting "mailbag" question/answer

The Williams soap opera:
On-again, off-again stars may be most compelling tale

by John Wertheim: Tennis Mailbag (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/)

(A reader posted the following question to John Wertheim):

I don't claim to have watched every match Serena Williams has played, or read every article about them, but it seems to me that if Mary Carillo and almost every other tennis announcer/journalist says that Serena only loses when she plays badly, why is it soooo awful when Serena says it? Against Jelena Jankovic [in the Sony Ericsson Open final], it was obvious that Jelena had nothing to do with the outcome of that match. Your thoughts?-- P-Sqaured, NYC

Truthfully, I was thinking the same thing the entire tournament. And I came away with a new perspective re: Serena's sour reaction to defeat. I don't want to give Serena a total pass on her sore losing. (It's beneath her to attribute losing to an opponent's "lucky shots" or "playing at 40 percent.") But put yourself in her shoes.
She has the capability to blow away the world's top-ranked player 6-2, 6-0, as she did in the quarterfinals. She has the capacity to blow through a tournament, as she did last year in Australia and last week in Miami. She has the ability to render her opponents essentially meaningless. How immensely frustrating must it be to lose? When all cylinders are firing, she's virtually unbeatable. One can see how it must drive her nuts when that doesn't happen.

Larger point: I've said this before, but I don't see how you can follow the sport and not be awed by the whole Williams narrative. You couldn't craft a richer story than this: humble beginnings, great triumphs, outsider status, insider status, family tragedy, divorce, race, money, grace, disgrace, education, sports.

The plot wavers all the time. "Venus is cooked! No, wait: She's Wimbledon champ!" "Serena is bored! No, wait: She's trim and buff and toasting Justine Henin!" "Serena rules! No, she's pulling out of an event and taping a reality show." "Venus is looking fairly strong! No wait: She's taking an unexpected leave!" Really, it's just remarkable. And I'm not sure the Republic of Tennis realizes how lucky we are to have them around.

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