So, here we go. I could have also titled this piece My Very First Sports Article or maybe Yes I’ve Watched ESPN2. The truth is; I’m not a big sports guy, but I am a Black guy, so yeah, the Williams caught my eye when they hit the scene. YES, I know it’s very typical, and God knows I hate to be in the “trends follower” rather than “trends setter” column, but what can I say? When Venus and Serena hit the scene my eyeballs almost jumped out of my head. And yeah, I said Venus first because that’s who we “met” first.
All those years ago there was some special on TV showing these 2 little girls and their dad hitting tennis balls in the ghetto and all these goddamned hair-beads flying around. And I was like “what?!” There was some long haired French Black dude playing tennis around the time Agassi first came out who people used to tell me I reminded them of, so the hair/black/tennis thing has been on my radar ever since. Anyway about a year after that TV special the girls went pro, or maybe it was just Venus and then quickly followed by Serena. But you know the rest of the story. Having skipped out on the Jr. league they just caught everybody by surprise. They played their ASSES off and just started winning. And winning. And winning. It was crazy.
But it wasn’t just the wins that alarmed people, it was they STYLE of women’s tennis. Basically it was men’s tennis played by young women. It was weird. Did they have technique? Yes. But what they really had was power and will to win. It just hadn’t been seen before-not on that level. They were hungry. CRAZY hungry. Dude, they looked like somebody had an earpiece in their ears whispering “I have your parents! I will KILL them if you don’t get this next break point!” I mean they played like life and death. No kidding. It looked like it meant something to them. Up to that point women’s tennis was competitive, yes. It was very competitive, BUT it didn’t look like the men’s game. When you saw McEnroe fighting those judges or Connors jumping after a win and pumping his arm you KNEW these guys carried those wins and losses in a soul shattering way.
And the sisters had that look and style. Then their parents split. Oracene and Richard did a very quiet split (or maybe the media culture in tennis is just low key). And Oracene became the focus of all camera shots at the girl’s matches. And Richard became a less frequent visitor to the games. Or if he’s there-you don’t see him on TV anymore. People say that Oracene is now the coach. And you know what? They don’t win as much. They get hurt more. They play less. I mean the whole situation is different.
Now I don’t what they do, or how they live. I’m just telling what I’ve seen watching these 2 play for the last 9 years or so. Around 1998-9 I started watching and then GOING to games. Yes I’ve been to games! I have paid MONEY to see them play. I do not go to ANY sports events. Period. But I’ve gone to see them! Because they changed the game. American women first got caught off guard, and after a couple of years they go their act together and made their way to the gym. Because that’s what it took; a crazy level working out to catch up to Venus and Serena. But one group of women already had that ethic. You wanna know who?
The Eastern Europeans. Yes we’ve had a few French and Belgian women come rolling out on top. But for sheer numbers its been the EE’s and you know why? Because those women are desperate. They KNOW they don’t have anything going on at home, and tennis is a way out. So they’re here now. The industry has pretty much been taken over. I don’t think they American slice of the pie is going to increase in the coming years-certainly not at the rate of the EE’s.
So yesterday at the 2008 Australian Open Serena got knocked out by Jankovic. And tonight Venus is getting the stuffing knocked out of her by Ivanovic. Of course MY BELIEF is that they made a bad decision by trying to play doubles. A couple of young ladies from China knocked them out of THAT match. Their…health/drive/lifestyle/age just is in a different place now. I believe Venus has beat Ivanovic 4 times prior to tonight, but tonight she’s limping around with a giant bandage on her leg playing the game. Just struggling. And quite honestly, except for the odd bursts, that’s kinda how they’ve looked for the last few years. Struggling. I know their dad is still involved, but I think his position has been reduced and their game just isn’t the same anymore.