Although Serena Williams finished 2015 on a disappointing note, she battled through illness and adversity on more than one occasion during the year to edge ever closer to breaking Steffi Graff’s record. She does not need accolades to confirm that she is one of the best athletes to ever live, but that doesn’t mean we can help ourselves being in awe. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Serena Williams kicking ass and taking names is hardly a new story. While she has had her ups and downs throughout her career, she has always come out on top. This year was no different. With another “Serena Slam” in the bag, three major titles and just three defeats all year, Williams’ 2015 exemplified and underscored everything the 34-year old has become known for.
Powerful, accurate, aggressive and fiercely competitive, Williams has once again planted a flag as one of the best athletes the world has ever seen. She swatted away opposition at the Australian Open, Miami Open, French Open and Wimbledon, to name a few. Not all of these wins were easy, but that does not make them any less impressive. What underpins Williams’ tenacity is that 2015 was a year where she had faced some criticism from some corners suggesting that she might be past her sell by date. Like Jacques Kallis scoring 200 when the media had suggested “his eyes had gone”, Williams simply brushed off any hints of criticism that were thrown her way, and continued to do what she has done for the past 16 years: Play tennis incredibly well.
In 2015, she passed Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and is not far off catching Steffi Graff. To walk in the shadows of such greats, especially when people expect you to achieve these things, takes an incredible effort. Even though 2015 was not always easy for Williams, it was almost always entertaining. The crushing win over Maria Sharapova in the Australia Open at the start of the year was one of those moments when you cannot do anything, but sit back and say: Wow!
In that match, Williams hit 18 aces. That was the same number of aces Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray managed combined for their final in the same tournament.
On more than one occasion this year, Williams battled through illness to map a way out to victory and, even when she found herself a set down in crunch games, her tennis IQ ensured that she found a way to out-think her opponents when she could not simply crush them with her strength. At one stage in 2015 the points separating her from then world number two, Sharapova, was more than the gap between No 2 and No 1,000. Currently, there are nearly 4000 points between her and world number two, Simona Halep.
But simply rattling off Williams’ records and her points does not do her justice, because for Williams, this has always been about more than just sport.
She battles prejudice around every corner, relating to her race and the fact that she does not fit the pretty box of what society believes to be “feminine.” Williams has become a voice for the voiceless, and while she did not ask for this honour, she carries the mantle with much grace. Or, at least, as much grace as you can when you are constantly being judged on things other than your ability. Former player Andy Roddick put it perfectly in a piece for Sports Illustrated, saying:
“I always say I wish that the media and the people in the press conferences afterwards could see the side of Serena that I see. I just think she’s so focused. It’s weird, because sometimes she’ll have an attitude in a press conference. And if it was Michael Jordan who did that after losing, you would say that’s fire, that’s determination; he just can’t get over it.
“There would be a different rhetoric about it. Serena gets viewed a little differently. I think we take the story for granted. The story of two girls, kind of on the whim of a crazy idea, coming out of Compton and becoming two of the greatest champions in a predominately white sport. That’s a story that if we hadn’t seen it, we would think it was a crazy notion. And dealing with that pressure and all of the other pressure, it takes a special person.”
Special is exactly what Williams is, and while she does not need accolades to affirm that, we could all learn from the way she has carried herself and the way she has risen above every challenge thrown her way. While lashing out due to on-court frustration might irk some, tennis is her solace, her escape and her release. Considering all the adversity Williams has had to – and continues to – overcome, if she should be allowed to blow off some steam if she so wishes. DM
Photo: Serena Williams of the Philippine Mavericks in action against Croatia’s Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of the Japan Warriors at the second leg of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines, 07 December 2015. EPA/MARK R. CRISTINO.