Tag Archives: tennis

Celebrating Serena Williams and Roger Federer

2 Jan

Celebrating Serena Williams and Roger Federer

 

Taking time out from the trials and tribulations afflicting the world, I watch with admiring fascination the first competitive meeting of my two favorite athletes, who are inspirational and iconic as much for their exemplary personal footprints as for their sustained magic on the tennis courts. Their glowing words of mutual appreciation and recognition were far more memorable that their mixed doubles match in Perth on New Year’s Day. [For rapturous detail see NY Times, Jan. 2, 2019]

 

Serena Williams has long been a heroine of mine, partly because of her fighting spirit while competing, but also her charm, humility, and sense of wonderment as who she is and has become. She also is endearing toward her opponents, especially those who are young, Despite what she has achieved, she stands strong as an African American who has never forgotten her Compton past and her family that nurtured her to greatness in sport and personhood. Whether as sibling of her great sister, Venus, or mother of her daughter, Olympia, her love of life casts a radiant glow.

 

Of course, it is an indulgent sign of privilege to be able to put aside the torments of our world to celebrate these two supreme athletic presences. Those in Yemen or Gaza or countless parts of Africa or Rankine (Myanmar) do not have this luxury of looking away as their daily ordeal weighs too heavily. While pausing to celebrate at the start of the new year we should remind ourselves, while acknowledging our good fortune, not to look away from the fires ravaging the planet, physically, politically, and spiritually. While it is healthy to balance our engagements with the world with the pleasures it offers, we should be alive and responsive to the opportunities for struggle, resistance, and transformation in this time of bioethical crisis.

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In Praise of Serena Williams

13 Sep

In Praise of Serena Williams

 

Serena Williams is a wonder of our time, fantastic as an athlete, enthralling as a competitor, and above all, a shining example of what it is possible to achieve if raw talent and a caring, brave, and moral sensibility is nurtured toward greatness.

 

Such praise would have seemed superfluous before the final of U.S. Open some days ago, when Williams fought her best against a harsh referee and a super-gifted court challenge mounted by Naomi Osaka, a rising star who may someday realize that her victory over the greatest woman tennis player ever, still near the top of her game, was made more special rather than diminished by the drama and controversy stirred by her celebrity opponent.

 

It should also be given much greater attention that Serena’s fierce fighting spirit while on the court is complemented by her generosity to her opponent after the match ended, whether she wins or loses. She invariably finds the right gracious and tender words to celebrate her opponent, even as here when she was deeply upset by the experience of this particular defeat. Serena especially encourages young players who have achieved so much against the odds.

 

We need to remember that Serena, and her wonderful sister, Venus, rose to these heights from a background in the downtrodden Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles where crime and drugs clamp down on human development and make ambition seem to many of its residents to be a futile waste of energy. Surely, her determined, defiant, politically incorrect father, Richard Williams, deserves extraordinary recognition for bringing his daughters to such athletic and societal prominence, and the overall strength of the Williams’ family seems to have also had an amazing character-building effect. To round out this remarkable story, both Serena and Venus have always expressed love, gratitude, and loyalty for what their parents and siblings contributed to their success.  

We should not deny Serena the benefit of the doubt, which means appreciating that ‘the real Serena’ is her demeanor after the competitive drama has ended, and her emotional intensity is so quickly displaced by humility, grace, and empathy. It is this gift of competitive heroics that have so often turned defeat into victory over the years that have helped make her so beloved by the most ardent tennis fans over the years.

 

I was struck some years ago when Serena during the trophy ceremony after winning the French Open responded in French to the delight of the crowd. What has long impressed me about both sisters is that they live life fully, and in ways that express interests and concerns that reach beyond tennis is a variety of directions, which is unusual for star athletes who are consumed by the demands of their sport, at least during their prime years.

 

In this time of Trump and Trumpism, we should seize the opportunity to celebrate the luminous presence of Serena Williams in our midst: a champion, a warrior for women and against racism, a woman of great charm and warmth, and a beacon of decency.