Taking a break from politics, Mom and I caught the end of the Women's Final at the US Open last night, and the thrilling win of Serena Williams.
I've always found the tennis world's love/hate affair with the Williams sisters interesting. Women's tennis is one of those places where gay men and lesbian interest in sports kind of converge - gay men cause the lady version of most sports, tennis included, is less brutal than the big rough guy version, and lesbians because of Martina Navratilova.
Of course there was a reason to watch tennis before Martina, and sure, Chris Evert makes a hot lesbian icon too, but Martina's decision to come out as a top player, and the stunning athleticism she showed really changed the way we saw the game. But the "Chrissie/Martina" thing of the eighties was also a triumph of white women in sport... and the arrival of the Williams sisters changed that. A lot.
In those things about race that we never discuss, it's interesting to see how race has played out in women's tennis. The idea of tennis as a genteel, upper class, and largely white enterprise has been at odds with the professional circuit for a long time. The new, more athletic, harder version of the sport (made possible, in no small part, by technological improvements in equipment as well as impressive physique work by the players), has led to a new kind of egalitarianism: multicultural, multi-ethnic stars are all over tennis. But the sport still resists change, still prefers the impressions of class and taste that come with being rich people's pleasure.
I love Serena Williams. I love her because she turns so much of this on her head, because her power cannot be denied. Unlike Venus, who dominates tennis in a familiar way by being long limbed and fast, Serena rules through power. She's big; she hits hard.Those reedy little things from Russia and Eastern Europe can fall before her.
And let's be honest: all those Eastern European gals are dull; they've made little impression, they seem interchangeable, and the power hitting they've been said to possess... just didn't impress me. Tennis needs stars. It needs The Williams Sisters. And last night, Serena got the job done.
Honestly, I thought it would go to three sets. Serena looked tired, a little worn down, Jelena Jankovic seemed to be getting her returns right, finally... but then, as she does, Serena dug down and found another level of strength. And if she had to win on the other player's serve... well, that just had to be done.
With her win, Srena is back to being #1 in the world. As she should be.