View Full Version : Tennis: The Sport of Good Grace

Sep 16th, 2004, 09:01 PM

Tennis: The Sport of Good Grace

By Jabari Asim

Monday, September 13, 2004; 9:31 AM

Two years ago at this time, Serena Williams' biggest worry was Albrecht Strohmeyer. A 30-something German with enough cash and free time to go continent-hopping whenever he pleased, he had been obsessively pursuing the lissome athlete for seven months when he was arrested at the U.S. Open.

With Albrecht out of her hair, Serena this year ran into Mariana Alves, another European who seemed out to get her. At the U.S. Open last week, Alves, an umpire from Portugal, made a series of questionable calls that helped Jennifer Capriati defeat Williams in three close sets. To its credit, the United States Tennis Association promptly relieved Alves of her duties. "Everybody thought it was in the best interests she not be scheduled for any future matches this year," said Jim Curley, USTA tournament director.

Curley also apologized to Williams: "I told her how much she means to this tournament, how much she means to tennis, and told her how much we appreciate how classy she handled the questions from the media."

Curley's words are an admirable indication of how far the tennis establishment has come in its agonizingly slow appreciation of Serena and her sister, Venus. Not so long ago, the siblings' dominance was described in tennis circles as "not good for the game." Before that, their opponents complained that the sound of the beads in their braids posed an unfair distraction – this in a sport then dominated by screaming banshees such as Monica Seles. At Wimbledon this year, Venus was penalized by an inaccurate call during a second-round match. Given that history, Serena can be forgiven for briefly referring to a "conspiracy" designed to keep the Williams duo out of Grand Slam finals.

So blatant were the calls against Serena last Tuesday that even broadcaster John McEnroe, not known as a font of intelligent commentary, raised his voice in indignation. The audience, which was split between Capriati and Williams, also expressed its outrage.

Yanick Rice Lamb watched the controversy from the stands in Arthur Ashe Stadium. "Serena was very demonstrative," she said. "She had her hand on her hip and was clearly upset."

The match followed an on-court tribute to Althea Gibson, the first black player to win the U.S. Open. She claimed the national championship in 1957, the same year that she won the first of her two Wimbledon singles crowns. She was the only black woman singles champion at the Open until 1999, when a 17-year-old from Compton, Calif., capped her stunning ascent with a first-place trophy. The young lady, of course, was Serena Williams.

The irony of the situation was not lost on Lamb. With Frances Clayton Gray, she is co-author of a new Gibson biography, "Born to Win."

"When Serena was protesting the call, I was thinking about how Althea was discouraged from doing things like that. She made a point of blocking out bad calls and what she was hearing from the crowd," said Lamb. "People tried to encourage her to carry herself a certain way and not rock the boat. She did have a fiery temper, though. I thought it was kind of remarkable that she was able to control it considering all the racism she experienced."

Gibson usually tolerated perceived unfairness with good grace. Sometimes, however, her competitive spirit would not let her keep silent. One such occasion was the 1956 Victoria Women's Tennis Championship in Australia, where she had what Lamb calls "a running war" with an umpire over foot-fault calls. She had accumulated 16 foot faults when rain delayed the match for an hour. When play resumed, she quickly racked up another five. "She kind of lost it," Lamb said. "She swatted the ball into the crowd and nearly hit the prime minister."

Serena's protest last week was considerably milder, but Gibson probably would have understood her frustration. Gibson died in September 2003 without ever meeting the Williams sisters, although she once talked to Venus on the phone. Lamb said Gibson was heartened by the sisters' triumphant rise, and she was well aware of the contributions she had made on their behalf. "One of the things she was interested in was opening the door for other people," said Lamb.

Four African-American women advanced to the third round in this year’s Open – a historical first. The door that Gibson burst through is now open so wide that not even a few horrendous calls can shut it again.

© 2004 washingtonpost.com

Shenay La Soul
Sep 16th, 2004, 11:47 PM
Thank you for posting this article. It's actually quite moving.

Sep 17th, 2004, 12:14 AM
:worship: terrific read

Sep 17th, 2004, 01:56 AM
Isn't relating Serena to Althea, a sort of well meaning, but never the less patronising form of racism? It is excactly the same as if some Person of Anglo-Saxon Heritage tapped someone on Their shoulder and returned a wallet,all People of similar racial makeup should squirm around in Their seats and feel good about it!conversely if a similar Person murders someone Should They all beat Themselves with a big stick in a frenzy of guilt?It is akin to saying all New Zealanders shag Sheep,but only 99.9% of Males are guilty of this practice!the other 0.1% can't get it up for one reason or another.

Sep 17th, 2004, 02:08 AM
Very, very touching.Had to give myself a moment of silence. Thanks for the article.....the truth hurts, sometimes.:sad:

Sep 17th, 2004, 02:12 AM
A very nice read.

~ The Leopard ~
Sep 17th, 2004, 02:25 AM
Lissome? Buxom I'd believe, but lissome? :scratch:

Sep 17th, 2004, 02:32 AM
What the hell are you talking about.

I don't even think he/she knows.

Sep 17th, 2004, 02:35 AM
BTW, great article and it is truthful, especially how two years ago this time, people were complaining about the sisters dominating the game, but now that others have risen to the top, everything is fine now.:rolleyes:

Black Mamba.
Sep 17th, 2004, 02:39 AM
I really hope when Vee and Serena retire they don't come back to tennis at all either in the annoucer's booth or anything else as payback to these people.

Sep 17th, 2004, 04:03 AM
I really hope when Vee and Serena retire they don't come back to tennis at all either in the annoucer's booth or anything else as payback to these people.
i hope they do. i'd luv to hear a different perspective from the booth. Carrillo believes Richard orchestrates the outcomes. Tracy is adamant, after 10 slams, blue blood coaching is required. Johnny Reb. (McEnroe), after all his professional success, is convinced they present another chance for personal glory. face it, the white folks that populate the broadcasts, respek to all tokens, suck!

Sep 17th, 2004, 04:34 AM
I will bet my life that they will not lift a finger to help the WTA out in anyway and I would not blame them one bit. I kind of have my doubts about Serena though, she seem like the type who might come back and help them out with something but not Venus. Then again, if Serena was going to come back to help them out her family just might remind her of the '04 U.S Open, Wimbeldon and the French Open "The hand". I hope they take the money and run......as far away from tennis as possible. ;)

Sep 17th, 2004, 07:39 AM
Lissome? Buxom I'd believe, but lissome? :scratch:
i know, how could her obvious and adorable buxomness be passed off as a mere lissomeness? :scratch:

Sep 17th, 2004, 09:17 AM
I'm going to send an e-mail to Jabari Asim and thank him for writing this piece.
It's beautiful and accurate.

Lissome? Buxom I'd believe, but lissome? :scratch:

So hung up on adjective you don't agree with? Well, I hope you bothered to read the rest of it because it's an excellent article.

~ The Leopard ~
Sep 17th, 2004, 11:53 AM
i know, how could her obvious and adorable buxomness be passed off as a mere lissomeness? :scratch:
:secret: Buxomness is nice but I do rather like lissomeness as well.