View Full Version : Serena lets go of '03 rejection

May 25th, 2004, 12:05 AM
By Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2004

PARIS -- It doesn't matter who you are. If you're an entertainer, rejection will find you. She'll get under your skin and eat away at the edges of your confidence, if you let her.

Rejection plays by no rules, recognizes no boundaries. She can be ruthless.

She has the penetrating gaze of someone who can clearly see that behind every entertainer is someone aching to be adored.

Rejection is so powerful that last year at the French Open it took Serena Williams' steel will and squeezed out salty tears.

After her meltdown at Roland Garros, Williams would go on to win Wimbledon and put some distance between her and rejection.

"I had to," she said Sunday, "or else... I would still be stuck in that moment. You've got to be able to move forward."

"Haven't thought about it," Williams said Sunday. "Doesn't matter to me because the only thing I'm focusing on pretty much is the ball."

That's what the Palm Beach Gardens resident wants everybody to think. The truth leaked out a little later, when somebody asked what is it about tennis that makes Williams want to put her acting career on hold.

"I like nothing more than walking out there and just having the crowd just clap and clap and clap," Williams said, her face lighting up like Broadway. "It's just an unbelievable feeling for me. It just takes my breath away. I think that's why I do so well, because I always look forward to going out there and just hearing them clapping... that is kind of huge for me. I just love it."

With actors it can get tricky figuring out where their performances stop and their personalities begin. Sometimes you listen to Williams and wonder if news conferences aren't just acting exercises for her, a chance to inhabit the role of tennis diva.

That said, there was nothing staged or contrived about Williams' riff on why she loves tennis. She bared more of herself in that answer than she has in any of her cutting-edge outfits.

In describing how much joy she derives from charming perfect strangers out of their seats, Williams made implicitly clear how painful their rejection is for her. If you live to hear the claps, what does it do to you when they boo?

Williams owned all four Grand Slam titles when she arrived at Roland Garros last year. Her confidence and popularity were cresting. An American public that once scorned her had grown to adore her. She appeared to have the world by its axis.

Then in the semifinals she squared off against Justine Henin-Hardenne, a French-speaking Belgian who wore the underdog label like a rose boutonniere. The crowd rooted ravenously for Henin-Hardenne, who was playing the fair-haired maiden to Williams' wicked witch of the imperialist West.

The contentious match turned on a point in the third set when Williams faulted on a first serve after Henin-Hardenne had raised her hand to ask for time. The chair umpire didn't see the Belgian's gesture, Henin-Hardenne didn't admit to making it and Williams didn't get her do-over. The injustice of it all ticked Williams off. Her raw frustration fueled the crowd's agitation and sealed her defeat.

The tears that followed were for a calendar Grand Slam and an audience lost. Williams didn't realize how much stress she had bottled up until her emotions gave way like the brakes on a car going downhill.

A year later, the pressure to win and win and win some more no longer is Williams' cross to bear. For the first time since 2002, the burden of success is somebody else's to shoulder. It belongs to Henin-Hardenne, who won the U.S. and Australian Opens while Williams was getting over knee surgery and grieving for her murdered half-sister, Yetunde Price.

"I feel like I have nothing to lose," said Williams, who plays her first Grand Slam match in nearly 11 months Tuesday, against Iveta Benesova. "I'm here to have a lot of fun. I have no pressure on me.... It's kind of cool when I just put pressure on myself and the media is not saying, 'Serena is going to take this title. She's going to win this and that.' It's kind of relaxing, actually."

She looked at ease. Not a muscle in her face tightened when a British reporter noted the tiny diamond band on the ring finger of her left hand and wondered if there was a romance behind it.

If there's anything Williams hates more than losing, it's people prying into her private life. But on this day she took no offense. Laughing uproariously, she turned the question into a punch line.

"If this was my engagement ring," she said, flashing the unflashy ring in the air, "then I would need to reconsider. I would seriously need to reconsider where my life would be heading."

Williams had her audience eating out of her hand. She looked radiant.


May 25th, 2004, 01:40 AM
That's my girl... movin' on and movin' forward.... VICTORY!!!!

Thanks for the article!