I cried a lot watching tennis yesterday. I’m not generally a crier — but during this emotional final, I couldn’t help myself.
I cried thinking of Naomi, whose first Slam win was tainted;
I cried thinking of Olympia, having to watch this one day;
I cried thinking of how we were robbed of seeing what was sure to be a great match;
I cried thinking of tennis and what an ugly day this was;
But mostly I cried for Serena because…
I get it.
The call by the umpire was egregious. It’s the equivalent to getting arrested for removing a tag on a mattress. It’s illegal, everyone does it, but no one ever gets called for it. Until someone does. And you get called for it while doing your job, while the entire world is watching you, with your face on every commercial leading up to it, they call you for something that is accepted as the norm. For an umpire to make that call in a final would mean that your coaching was giving you such an advantage, it’s impacting the outcome. Even I was screaming at her through the TV — ‘GO TO THE NET!!!’ That strategy was obvious. And there was the real mistake today which led to things spiraling out of control. The umpire, after borking that call, followed the rules and dished out the penalties. The racquet smash? I get it. That was right. The game penalty? I don’t see how thief was being abusive but ok? But all that doesn’t matter right?
I get it.
Serena took the coaching as an affront to her character — and understandably, wasn’t having it. To be called in a final suggests that this is something that would have been ongoing — as she said ‘we don’t have codes.’ She’s fought a long time to establish herself in a sport that didn’t roll out the red carpet for her; only to turn and embrace her as ‘Queen’ once she made impossible to ignore her. And yet still, the comments on her outfits, her parenting style, and the constant whispers of doping persist. That has to grate on you. And so she got mad.
I get it.
Many said she was unsportsmanlike and ungracious. But here’s the thing: grace and power have a tenuous relationship — it’s a beautiful thing when they are in balance. It can take your breath away. And in the moments where she is most thrilling, she’s not gracious. She’s not delicate. She is power unchecked. A force to be reckoned with. How many times have we thrilled at watching her shift into another gear when rallying from behind down a set and 1–4 in the second? Many times. We love that. And she has done well to channel her rage into her game. I’d argue she plays better when she’s mad. And that is a joy to experience. But yesterday, the channel flooded and the dam burst. It was ugly but the rage is there, just below the surface and she struggles to tame it.
I get it because I have the same rage.
Like Serena, I’ve learned to channel it as best as I can, to manifest into more of a passion than a problem. But also like Serena, my coping skills fail me when I’m challenged with people, situations or things that feel like someone has stolen the things I’ve worked hard to earn; not giving me credit when credit is due. I’ve fumed when I was forced to sit and listen to someone stand and present my work as their own, I seethed when someone suggested I wasn’t capable of creating things I made myself. I was livid when men leaned in too close and whispered to me that I must be so successful because I’m pretty. And believe me, it’s not all sanctimonious either. I pout when I lose at board games and get overly heated in arguments with mansplainers. I understand that this might read as impetuous, So when that rage hits, hoo boy, it’s fueled by the frustration of a thousand historical micro-aggressions that have built up. It’s exhausting, it’s ugly, I get that you’d rather not see it. But it is also fuel. It’s what compels me to be better, work harder and move forward. I finally understand that this wrestling I’ve done for years isn’t productive. I’ve developed the right channels for it, but sometimes they flood. Because I’m human and I have good days and bad days. We all do.
So I feel for Serena because under the same circumstances, I would have lost my shit too. Yes she’s an athlete and yes she’s a role model. But being an athlete doesn’t make you some perfect deity (cf: beat your wife, cheat, send dick pics, murder people, etc etc). She gave birth and nearly died less than a year ago. But she showed up to work at the highest level and expected at least the standard, run-of-the-mill umpiring that normally happens. Except this guy was going to throw the rule book at her. She was there to play tennis and she was there to win. She brought the fire to win but she lost control of it. Because she’s human and even she can’t do everything. And that’s probably the greatest lesson from all of this — none of us are perfect.
I get it.