I know there have been a bunch like this, but I found this particularly good when I read it in TENNIS magazine, so I typed it up.
The powers finally admit: The Williams finally was right all along.
BY L. JON WERTHEIM
Dear Venus and Serena:
Hey guys, it’s me. The Tennis Establishment. I was going to text you but I don’t know how, so
I’m going to commit this to writing. I know, old school. But what do you expect from the Establishment?
Anyway, figured it’s about time I formally acknowledged what’s been pretty obvious lately: You were right; I was wrong. You had vision; I was short-sighted. You were bold and innovative; I was, well, the Establishment. So I’m officially done second-guessing. You could announce that you plan to play 2009 with unstrung racquets, and you won’t hear a peep out of me. Won’t say a word. Took a while, but I’ve learned my lesson.
It seems like yesterday that Venus, her beads clicking and clacking, all arms, legs, and braces, made her pro debut. This should be good, I snickered. A gangly girl who steered clear of junior tennis thinks she can hang with the best in the world? Ha!
Then Venus, 14 at the time, handily beat an NCAA champion and took a set from Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the world’s second-ranked player. Think that shut me up? Hardly. The tournament had barely ended when your father, Richard, began ranting. Seems he had a younger daughter named Serena who was just as gifted as Venus but might be even better because she was much “meaner.” One day, he warned, you two would be batting the top ranking back and forth. Good one, I thought. And tiger woods has a younger brother, Lion, who’s even better at golf.
It turned out, of course, that Serena was good. Really good. But when I asked whether she or Venus had the potential to win Grand Slams, I couldn’t contain my skepticism. Not with all those hitches and glitches in those strokes. I probably should have realized that playing with fearlessness is a lot more important than having a nice follow-through. But if I had admitted that, I wouldn’t be the establishment.
When you started winning Slams and it was apparent that you were the two brightest stars in the tennis-sphere, worthy of celebration, I had to stretch a little bit to find fault. Then it hit me: You were cocky. You swaggered and wore provocative clothing and spoke your minds. Other players did too, but they didn’t win as much, so I was willing to characterize them as “colorful” and “confident.”
When you were injured and lost some matches, I was right there to explain why. You lacked proper coaching, relying on your parents rather than on professionals. It could have occurred to me that the comfort and support your folks gave you was more important than whether they’d played on Center Court or knew the nuances between string tensions. And true, I was simultaneously praising Roger Federer, coachless at the time, for his “self-reliance” and ability to “think outside the box.” Who says the Establishment has to be consistent?
And you know what really upset me? Your wavering interest in tennis. It seemed that you only showed up to play when you felt like it and treated tennis less like a job than a hobby. The Establishment likes it when players are obsessed with tennis, not when they entertain “outside interests.” Other players were entering twice as many events as you and losing to you in the biggest tournaments. Arghhh!
But again, I’ve come around. Just look at where you both are now. You’re still going strong at ages 28 and 27. Venus won Wimbledon, beating Serena in the final. Serena stormed back to win the U.S. Open. To heck with the convoluted rankings: Everyone knows you’re the dominant forces in the women’s game.
And look at your contemporaries. Justine Henin retired. So did Kim Clijsters. So did Martina Hingis-twice. I loved it when they were playing two dozen events a year, chasing ranking points from here to Katmandu. Maybe your approach is better over the long haul, no matter how many tournament directors and tour executives to infuriate. Maybe your folks are capable coaches. I admit, your sportsmanship is beyond reproach.
I’m sorry we haven’t gotten along better in the past. Here’s hoping I can make it up to you for the rest of your careers. Oh yeah, and if you have any fashion tips, fire away.