Thursday, October 01, 2020

Why I'm Relieved Serena Williams Withdrew From the French Open

As I'm sure you've heard by now, Serena Williams was forced to withdraw from the French Open on Wednesday because of an Achilles injury. She pulled out of the tournament just an hour before she was to face Tsvetana Pironkova.

I'd love to see Serena tie homophobe Margaret Court's record as much as the next gay. Yet I must confess that I find myself almost relieved when she exits a major anymore. Her presence seems like an ordeal for everyone involved -- most of all her increasingly injury-prone self, but also her team, the officials, her opponents and even the commentators. And the ensuing drama brings out well-meaning people who adore her but know nothing about tennis so insist on bending over backward to make excuses for her that she doesn't need and probably doesn't want: 

The catsuit incident at the 2018 French Open was "elitist" -- "Serena Williams has had her hair, body, and clothing picked apart for years"; "Serena Williams is being singled out ... again" -- never mind that Anne White was also chastised for the same thing decades ago without incident

She alone was a victim of post-pregnancy discrimination when she wasn't seeded at the 2018 Wimbledon and then initially seeded according to her ranking at the 2018 U.S. Open, even though no one ever said a word about the issue when Victoria Azarenka returned from having a child

That coaching violation versus Naomi Osaka that Serena insists never happened? Her fans also say it didn't happen but even it if had it "shouldn't have been a rule in the first place. (Cue the WTA altering the rules to accommodate her.)

And as for that foot fault during 2019 Australian Open, her fans believe it was "ridiculous" to call it on her because it was match point. (That's why she ended up losing to Pliskova.) 

Everything is a conspiracy against this poor woman in the eyes of these very vocal Serena-come-lately types.

Since returning from giving birth to her first child, Serena has made it clear that she's only playing to get the majors record. Yet even though she's the one saying this we are bombarded with articles with headlines like "Serena Williams' latest quest for 24 ends at French Open, but does it really matter?" while her fans troll the internet night and day complaining about how "unfair" it is for her to have to win more -- "She's already the greatest!" -- insisting that the establishment has put undue pressure on her and are guilty of moving the goalpost on Serena because she's a woman of color. Huh? As a hardcore Steffi Graf fan and close follower of pro tennis since 1977 I can tell you with no hesitation that the Grand Slam record has always been spelled out in two parts: all-time versus Open Era. 

I was there when Graf was going for the latter and once she passed Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, was hoping she'd at least tie Court on the former. Ultimately, Steffi ended up retiring just after turning 30 with 22 majors and not a single person ever said it was "unfair" that she wasn’t considered superior in the record books to Court. (FYI: Serena is now nine years Graf's senior and has one more major to show for it.)

‘Open’ and shut up: The conspiracy is that no one ever talks about Open Era now that Serena is the leader. But as this graphic shows, this isn't true. And the reason people are focused on 24 is because she's set her sights on this new goal

I also remember when Serena finally tied Chris and Martina's record of 18 at the 2014 U.S. Open -- it was a BIG DEAL, despite what these revisionist Serena fans are telling you, with everyone saying "18 s in her head" each time she faltered in the runup to finally reaching her goal -- and the two legends came to Flushing Meadows to present her with the trophy. (As an aside, Martina recently made a point I had never thought about: Because there wasn't much of a pro tour for the women before the Original Nine in 1970, there really isn't a need to differentiate the Open Era from earlier, whereas Rod Laver missed many majors while playing the pro circuit. But I suppose acknowledging this now would only devalue the record Serena does currently hold, so best not to think about it.)

Serena's sycophants have also taken to saying Court's record "doesn't count" because 11 of her 24 titles were at the Australian Open, which had a depleted field and smaller draws back in the day. First of all, a record is a record. If a record doesn't mean anything, then why is Serena dying to break it? And what they neglect to mention is that Court also won 12 majors that weren't at the Australian Open -- including the calendar year Grand Slam, something Serena has yet to do. One Serena fan went so far as to say Court wasn't even "that good," completely unaware of the fact that the Aussie great's physical prowess and aggressive style of play set the stage for today's game. (Watch YouTube clips of her -- she's frighteningly formidable.)

Secondly, if we are going to start assigning asterisks to tournaments, then everything could be thrown into question. Do Chris Evert's French Opens not count because there were no great clay-court players back then? Do majors where Rafael Nadal was injured not count for Federer and Djokovic? The list of potential exceptions is endless. What's most telling about this line of reasoning -- and perhaps best highlights how little these fair-Williams fans know about the history of the game -- is that you NEVER heard anyone make excuses for Pete Sampras or Roger Federer when they were chasing Roy Emerson's all-time record, and half of his 12 majors were also Down Under. These warped arguments are constant, relentless and exhausting for lovers of the sport.

Still, all of this nonsense would be worth it if I thought Serena increased the popularity of tennis overall. But I have the distinct impression these people are just admirers of hers -- which is understandable given her talent and star quality -- and frankly real tennis fans are at the point that they can't wait to be rid of them even at the expense of the greatest player of all time. 


Dan Neron said...

Fantastic read and agree 100%

Larry Hoffer said...

I couldn’t agree more. When she’s playing on fire she’s fun to watch. It’s funny, when she started playing I rooted for her to beat the players I didn’t like (Hingis, etc.) and now I do the same with other players.

Jesse Fox Mayshark said...

Yeah watching her these days is more stressful than enjoyable.

David K said...

Speaking the truth! I could not stand the announcers at the US Open putting every comment through the lens of Serena, it really does a disservice to all of the other players and the fans hungry for knowledge.

Tennis Fan said...

First of all, I'm so glad to hear you're a Steffi fan :)

Second, I honestly can't wait for Serena to retire. She's an amazing player and has done so much for the sport, but she's just a distraction these days. She hasn't won a major in nearly four years, and she's barely in the top 10 right now, yet all you ever hear about before, during, and after each slam is "Serena, Serena, Serena." Add to that the drama that surrounds her (especially now) plus her annoying fans and ... it's exhausting.

Much like you, I breathe a sigh of relief whenever she leaves a slam these days. Mostly because it means everyone will talk about and focus on other players for a change--for the most part, at least.

David said...

Speaking of asteriks- Steffi won 6 majors while Monica was sidelined by a crazed fan who stabbed her tin the back. Monica had Steffi's number at that point- a legitimate agrument can be made for cutting most stats Steffi had- in half for those 2.5 years- GS titles, weeks at #1, years at #1, etc. (Could Steffi have come back against Monicawithout the attack- ABSOLUTELY, but you have to factor Monica into her final stats). Grand Slam titles....through the 70s and into the 80s- Slams were not the be all/end all....Chris WAS an amazing clay court player- 125 straight wins on the surface- come on! She skipped 3 French Opens in her prime to play World Team Tennis because it was more important to the sport than the French was at the time. The 3 women who won in her absence never took a set off her on clay. Plus- she only played the Australian 6 times in her enitre career. She could have won 2-3 of those had she her 23-24 in the Majors had the importance been placed on them during her career. Let's talk Martina- she too skipped multiple French and Australians- about 8/7 respectively. Martina was capable of beating Chris on clay- and walloped her in straight sets at the French twice (they played there 3 other times and Chris won all 3 in 3 sets). Remembering the Australian used to be on grass- you have to concede that Martina was capable of winning 2-3 of those...putting her into the 20-22 range for total titles. (And- consider she didn't actually train and take her career seriously until age 26 in 1981- imagine what she could have done had she trained like that in 77?). For me the thing that seperates Chirs/Martina from Serena and even Steffi is the total number of match wins and tournament wins- they rank #1 and 2 in both categories, Serena and Steffi aren't even close. Steffi won 107 titles and 900 matches, Serena has won 73 titles and 842 matches. Chris won 154 titles and 1304 matches and Martina has 167 titles and 1442 matches. Steffi and Chris both played @ 16 seasons, Martina played 21 seasons and Serena has been on tour now for 23 seasons. Plus- look at weeks at number 1- Steffi is about 25 weeks ahead of Martina- she held the #1 rank for about 110 weeks in Monica's absence- there is no way that would have happened if Monica was still on the tour! Could Steffi have gotten back to #1 with Monica on tour- yes- but for 110 of the @120 week she was gone- Hell No!

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@David: Precisely my point!

David said...

I think most of it comes from the commentators- THEY decided that Grand Slams were the only measure of greatness- since they've been massaging ROger's prostate for 15 years, his having the most for the last 10 years made their sucking up valid in some way, so they have to give it to Serena, even though she hasn't had serious/consistent challengers since 2010. The women have sucked the last 10 years- zero consistency. Kvitova shouild have about 10 by now and Mugurza should be over 5- but they don't have a stomach or a brain between them. Certainly can't say Nadal is the GOAT- if he ties Roger at the French- 13 of his 20 come from 1 tournament- and clay...if the French was played on hard courts or grass, since he's only won 4-2-1 at the other 3, you'd have to figure he'd only have 3-4 hard court French- for a total of 11- no where near the conversation.