Once More, Serena - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Once More, Serena
by
Serena Williams at the U.S. Open, Aug. 29, 2022 (US Open Tennis Championships/YouTube)

The aces and the line-edging service returns began in earnest in the middle of the first set, replacing the somewhat sloppy error-prone early games. It was the first round of the women’s draw at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, and the big shots and fast plays increased steadily, relentlessly, and you knew the rout was on and the match was going to be a blowout, though there were fans and even commentators who should have known better who faked a frisson when it appeared that she might be tiring (why should she not be tiring?) and let a shot pass her. They wanted to give the moment more drama. But it is always there, with her; as they say in this sport, she generates her own pace.

Serena Williams was on court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, and she could not be anyone but herself. She never has been one to give anyone a break.

Possibly — probably — that is why she has such star power and so many fans. They see a woman who is all business and completely focused. This is the American mantra, after all: Give your best, stay on point, set clear goals — an ambitious, if realistic, business plan — and stick to it, dismissing setbacks and obstacles, for they are naught next to your vision.

Americans appreciate this. They say, “Winning is not everything; it’s the only thing.” And, to be fair to ourselves, it has to be said that we have hyped up winning in sports to such a degree — the purse at the U.S. Open this year is more than $60 million — at least in part because, in so many highly visible realms from tax policy to how our children are educated, we have not exactly been winning. At best, we have been reaching draws, trying to manage contradictory notions of what the goal should be, what the method to reach it is. The results have been disappointing.

Serena burst onto the tennis scene a quarter century ago, winning the tournament right here in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York, the greatest tournament in the sport. If the ones in London and Paris are considered classier, what does it matter to Americans? Class may be fine, but we want to win and to triumph and to have fun and to make money doing it! She won her first of (so far) six trophies here at 17 years of age. It was 1999, appropriately enough. The new century was going to be one marked by hubris — but not for her.

And she was fantastic. As was, note, her sister Venus, who promptly followed with her own victories in the following years; eventually, Serena took the lead in a sibling competition that is itself an all-American story of passionate love and intense rivalry, but they together won more doubles on the Slam circuit than any other pair, and together they gave Americans a lift, an inspiration, that was too often lacking elsewhere.

Over a two-week tournament — and after — there will be time and time again to tell this oft-told story, whether or not Serena makes it to the final one more time and wins it. As, we cannot help noting, we ourselves said was as likely as not the other day, when to a man (and woman) the sporting press was saying that this one, this Monday evening under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium and the eyes of close to 30,000 screaming fans (millions more following on TV and “streaming,” though I admit I still have not checked with my granddaughter what that means), this one would be the farewell and the end. Well, they were wrong and we were right, and we say this not to brag, we never do, but only to point out that to appreciate Serena Williams, and her sister Venus, and her father and tennis-mentor Richard, and her mother Oracene, and the other siblings who have been with the plan and supporting it since the beginning, you have to understand the American nature, the striving, heroically forever-young, forever-pioneering nature of what she does and so happily, unreservedly, conveys.

Well, enough already. There will be time enough during this great tournament to report and reflect upon it all. The match was so-so, with Miss Williams’ big serve essentially winning it, once she got it going. There were also several demonstrations of her thrilling court game, which is based on a formula, always attack, that looks simple but in fact takes on as multitudinous and complex an array of forms as you will see on any court or track or field. Indeed, interestingly enough this was what we saw earlier in the day on the same court when Cori (Coco) Gauff ran a skilled but finally exhausted French lass, Léolia Jeanjean, into the ground with her fierceness and speed. The young Miss Gauff (she is 18) is not unfairly viewed as one of the Williams sisters’ heirs.

You had to feel a little pity for the sweet lass who took the brunt of Serena’s attack, but she tried hard, and, despite being visibly unnerved by the enormity of the moment, unable to control her unneeded errors, she gave it a good shot. Her name is Danka Kovinić and she is about 15 years younger than Serena, and, in her simple kit next to the champion’s diamond-studded tutu, she looked quite frankly like a pauper. The princess and the pauper, fittingly enough, but still it was a proud day for the girl from Cetinje, the former capital of little Montenegro (population about a half million) in vale under the mythic ice-covered black mountains. She deserved thanks for being there and trying. As best I could observe, Serena did have a few nice words with Danka at the net when it was over, and then the spotlight was hers alone.

*****

Court notes: Not to try anyone’s patience, but those who stayed on for the second match at Ashe Stadium, late into the night, were rewarded. It was a straight-set win for Nick Kyrgios over his mate, compatriot, and doubles partner Thanasi Kokkinakis, a crowd-rousing lively pair of big, handsome, Australian lads, but the play was fiercer and more exciting than the score suggests. Two of his contemporaries and rivals who were expected to be contenders, California’s Taylor Fritz and Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, got knocked out early, the former by qualifier Brandon Holt, who happens to be American legend Tracy Austin’s son. New Jerseyan Tommy Paul, who, like Kyrgios, is having a great season, held on in a five-set thriller, but teen hope and Florida Gators star Ben Shelton faltered in his fifth set. It’s okay, though, because he will get there — in America, you never quit. At least in sports.

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