Why It's Time To Shout Serena Williams' Story From The Rooftops
LONDON -- She did think about it. With a wink and her best champion's smile, Serena Williams admitted Saturday that, yes, New York did enter her mind.
"It took me a little while," she said, trying unsuccessfully to keep a straight face. "I think when I did my interview for BBC after the match, I did the whole presentation, I did the whole walk around the court. I was peaceful, feeling really good. Maybe a little after that I started thinking about New York."
That's a big admission for someone who does not like to peek too far ahead lest she somehow get left behind. But this was different. This is different. With her Wimbledon title and Serena Slam behind her, Williams said that she is going into the US Open in September feeling "OK" about pursuing the Grand Slam. That she is going to New York with some confidence, which is a little like Warren Buffett saying he's going shopping with some money.
And now we can talk about it. Savor it. With women still fighting for equal prize money, equal treatment and equal appreciation in the eyes of American sports fans -- appreciation perhaps having risen with the United States' recent Women's World Cup victory -- we now have a head start for our next great opportunity.
Serena Williams' pursuit of the US Open title -- the tourney runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 -- should be treated with all the awe and all the hype of any sporting event we have. A triumph in Flushing Meadows would be Williams' fourth straight Open title, fifth straight Slam and 22nd overall, tying Steffi Graf for the lead in Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era.
And rising above all the rest, it would also mark the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Graf accomplished the feat in 1988.
What Williams is doing and how she is doing it, fending off all challengers -- young, old, friends, rivals, siblings -- under pressure Graf never had but with the ultimate dominance and grittiness the likes of which we have seldom seen, makes it one of those moments.
It's the one where we tell our kids all about the Williams' family story: how two little girls, Serena and older sister Venus, grew up in poverty-stricken Compton, California, coached by their self-taught father, Richard, on broken-down public courts, chose not to compete on the junior tennis circuit and rose to become two of the greatest champions the game has ever seen.
How the littlest girl Serena, with the love of her big family and the unconditional support of Venus, battled injuries and a life-threatening illness in 2011 to sustain a 20-year career -- and not just sustain it, but to become in the eyes of virtually every tennis expert, including former stars, the greatest women's tennis player of all time.
It is one of those moments when, whether you're a tennis fan or not, whether you know who the No. 2, 3 or 4 women's tennis players are, whether you have ever seen a single women's sporting event before, you need to stop, watch this woman and grasp what she is trying to do.
We take for granted many things, no more or no less in the world of sports. Our kids watch the Chicago Blackhawks win three Stanley Cups in six years or the Chicago Bulls win six NBA titles in eight years, and we don't remind them enough about all those lean years that came before.
If we're lucky, we pay more than passing attention to Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and LeBron James, Michael Phelps and Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter. We realize that prior generations did not have this privilege and there is no guarantee for future generations.
If we're smart, we watch Serena in New York, really watch her less than a month short of her 34th birthday as she plays out undoubtedly the last few years of her career. Maybe we think about Jackie Joyner-Kersee or Mia Hamm, Graf or Martina Navratilova or any number of great female athletes, past and present.
And, hopefully, we are smart enough as a sporting public to observe Williams in action, to take in the raw power of her groundstrokes, the utter perfection of her serve, the competitive ferocity and killer instinct that has allowed her to come back from deficits time and again this past year, to fight off a carefree and fearless 21-year-old in the Wimbledon final.
What did Garbine Muguruza do wrong Saturday in Williams' 6-4, 6-4 victory?
"It's hard to say with Serena," Muguruza shrugged. "If you lose two points you should not lose, you lose the match. I think I fight all I can fight."
That she did. Muguruza, though young, is one of the best tennis players in the world -- a worthy opponent like Britain's Heather Watson was in the third round here, and Venus Williams in the fourth round and Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals. They are all good players.
So is Maria Sharapova, the No. 4 player in the world, who went down like a bag of sand in the Wimbledon semifinals not because she is a pushover -- she is, in fact, one of the toughest competitors in the game -- but because, for the 18th time in 20 matches between the two, Serena flicked her away like she does 99 percent of women's tennis.
Williams does this not because the rest of the field is bad. Often, they push Williams, they frustrate her and sometimes they beat her. But ultimately, they make her better and they make her mad. And this past year, more often than not, they have congratulated her at the net, 39 out of 40 times in 2015.
On Saturday, she was not perfect, which makes it that much more impressive when she ultimately wins another straight-setter. And the young woman across the net took notice.
Of course I'm going to try to do the best I can, but I don't have the Grand Slam in my hands.Serena Williams
"I learned that she's also nervous, even though she played I don't know how many finals," Muruguza said. "And she finds the way, being so nervous, to serve, to hit winners. She's world No. 1. That's what I saw today. I see it every day."
Like Jordan, like all the greats, Williams is a closer. She hits the game-winning shot. She nails the ace. In the third game of the second set of the Wimbledon final, after two uncharacteristic double faults in a row, Williams reared back and unleashed serves of 122 and 123 mph. Later, she would fire one that barely missed at 125. There are numerous men on the pro tour who can't consistently serve that hard.
She tells us she has accomplished enough, that it's all gravy now, and somehow that seems to make her even more dangerous.
"I'm just super relaxed," she said.
There is a tendency when someone is as talented as Williams to take it for granted, to somehow admire it less. But this is a woman who had a pulmonary embolism four years ago, who could have died much less never played tennis again. And she didn't have to come back then. She had 13 Grand Slam titles at the time and was nearing 30. She didn't need to prove to anyone she was the greatest of all time.
But for the very the best athletes in the world, the simple will to win is enough. It was enough for Jordan in practice. It's enough for Serena in Miami or Madrid.
She wants us to know it's not always easy.
"I've been trying to win four in a row for 12 years," she said of the Serena Slam, "and it hasn't happened. I've had a couple injuries. It's been an up-and-down process.
"I honestly can't say that last year or two years ago or even five years ago I would have thought that I would have won four in a row. So just starting this journey, having all four trophies at home, is incredible."
That it is. And New York will be all the more. A reason to stop, to tell everyone you know, "Watch this," to say you were there. An athlete like Serena Williams may come around again in 20 years. Or, it may not happen again in our lifetimes.
To win a Grand Slam in tennis is to win four major titles. But it is also to win 28 matches. Twenty-eight. It is to emerge from a field of 128.
"It's easy to go out there and say, 'I want to win,' then try to win," she said. "But you have to win seven matches. You have to win each match, you have to win each set, you have to win each point."
She said she is "riding the wave" of the U.S. women's soccer team, but she can't fully put this whole experience into perspective just yet.
"Yeah, it's huge," she said. "It's really, really huge. But I haven't done it. I have the Serena Slam now, which is amazing. But, you know, it's different to actually have something and then try to accomplish it.
"Of course I'm going to try to do the best I can, but I don't have the Grand Slam in my hands. I can't really feel that if it's not there. Hopefully I'll do well at the Open and then I can answer that question."
Hopefully we won't miss it when she does.