Serena Williams tramples down Twitter trolls and opponents
If muscles were all you needed then you’d just give your weight-lifting team tennis rackets
Serena Williams plays a backhand return during her women’s singles match against Russia’s Maria Sharapova. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
The match times aren’t tremendously convenient, Australia still obdurately insisting on having a different time zone to our own, but if tennis is your passion then the lost sleep has been worth it. It’s been tasty. And with a combined age of 68, there might not be all that many more Grand Slams where you can watch both Serena Williams and Roger Federer do their thing, devotees of the sport rather blessed to be alive in their time.
But with every passing Grand Slam we’re reminded that while Federer might not be universally loved, there aren’t too many who don’t purr at his achievements.
Williams remains an entirely different ball game (despite leading Federer on the Grand Slam count by 21 to 17). And every passing Grand Slam is like Groundhog Day, not least when she meets Maria Sharapova. For over a decade now there’s been much talk of their ‘rivalry’, but as American reporter Tim Sullivan put it this week, after Williams had prevailed for the 18th time in a row over 12 years against her supposed nemesis, it’s “a rivalry in the same sense that deer hunting is a rivalry”.
So, there’s literally no competition between the pair, but you’d never think it from the way their encounters are billed. When Sharapova last beat Williams, Johanna Konta was 11. Still, if you weren’t aware of their head-to-head results, you’d assume they were neck and neck.
(And Judd Legum of Think Progress dusted down his piece from last year once more this week, the one about Sharapova picking up $22 million in endorsements in 2014, compared to Williams’s $11 million. Add in prize money, though, and Sharapova’s loot lead narrows to $2.4 million, being white and blonde not an advantage when it comes to actually winning tournaments).
But the most illuminating exercise, if not a pleasant one, while Williams is playing a match upon which there is considerable focus, is to monitor Twitter references to her, quite often from Americans who have “patriot” written in their bios and who can’t decide if they love Jesus or Donald Trump more.
But their patriotism rarely extends to Williams – as one character explained it: “Serena is an African woman trapped in the body of an American woman.”
There you have it.
Those who protest that dislike for Serena is not based on race, it’s solely about her being a touch belligerent, are somewhat let down by the deluge of opinion expressed on the Twitter machine at times like this week. It’s not just the odd Twitter nutter. There’s a flood of them. If Williams was playing Lucifer, they’d be rooting for the latter. Or worse, a Russian – even though they think everyone from there is Communistic.
A flavour: “He/she’s as big as an offensive linebacker.”
“Serena is so friggin’ ugly. Arms like a gorilla.”
“That n***er thing Serena Williams is so ugly.”
“I’m Sorry, But Serena Williams Looks Like An Ape.”
Then there was the chap from West Palm Beach: “Can the monkey be gone tonight? Serena vs Sharapova #TeamSharapova.”
The real test for him and the like will be the day Williams plays a Muslim. They’ll be lost.
The peak of the madness came late last year when Williams was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year, despite losing out in SI’s readers’ poll. To a horse. Yes, American Pharoah topped the poll with 275,000 votes, compared to less than 5,000 for Williams, who lost just three of 53 matches in 2015, winning three Grand Slams.
British racing broadcaster Brough Scott might have been expected to feel aggrieved for American Pharoah. Not so. “The poll is fascinating – if that is how Americans are reacting, that is something of a wider discussion about society. It is about their attitudes to race and female emancipation – I don’t see how you could view it any other way,” he said to CNN.
“There has been an anti-Serena element because she didn’t fit the stereotype of the old-fashioned, elegant white female tennis player. She was big and muscular and black. Let’s be candid about it, there’s been plenty of that sort of unspoken prejudice against Serena.”
Move on to this week. The AFP headline: “Serena out-muscles Sharapova to reach Open semis.” Not out-plays, not out-smarts. If muscles were all you needed to be closing in on Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles, then you’d just give your weight-lifting team tennis rackets.
Last November, as Wired magazine’s guest editor, Williams wrote: “I’m a Black woman, and I am in a sport that wasn’t really meant for Black people. So to those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter, I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you.”
And the trolls have never stopped Serena Williams. If she doesn’t win the Australian Open, she’ll keep on going until she breaks that Grand Slam record. And when she does, the trolls will experience meltdown. Happy days.