Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Calm Storm


There isn’t a more polarizing figure in tennis - maybe all of sports - than Serena Williams. Some people love to love Serena and some people love to hate her. Some love the way she plays but hate the way she acts. Others hate the way she behaves when she plays but love the way she makes no apologies for it (unless she absolutely has to - see 2009 U.S. Open). Some want her to keep winning so she can take her place among the Martina’s, Steffi’s, and Chrissie’s as one of the all-time greats of the Open Era, while others want her to fall flat on her face so she will be forever be known as someone who didn’t make the most of her enormous abilities.

For a brief period of time, yesterday’s match against Victoria Azarenka gave hope to the haters (You know who you are). Eventually, the match ended up providing us with more irrefutable proof that Serena does indeed belong on a pedestal with other former legends of the game.

But the day didn’t start gloriously for Serena. She was down a set and two breaks (4-0) and was getting absolutely hammered by the feisty Belarusian‘s penetrating ground strokes. Those who know Serena, know that she is capable of rescuing herself from the deepest depths of despair, but the hole that Azarenka was digging for Serena was starting to look more like a bottomless pit.

It’s over, we thought. Stick a fork in her, added the haters. She’s getting what she deserves, continued the haters, because of that outburst in New York last summer.

But it wasn’t over. In fact, it was just beginning - and, remarkable as it may seem, it started with the look on her face. It was that hell-hath-no-fury look that Serena sports when she really needs to get some business taken care of. It is a look that contains no consternation, fear, anxiety, or anger. No, those would be the looks of lesser women. Serena - no stranger to negative emotions on the court - instinctively knew that there was no place for panic when it came to the monumental task at hand. This look was different and we all saw it. It was a look of calm. Perhaps you could call it menacing calm - and it didn’t bode well for Azarenka.

It was a look of calm that brought to mind those Indians who walk through fire without ever exchanging the expression on their faces.

It was a look of calm that elicited imagery of stoics laying down on beds of nails and resting peacefully ’til morning.

At the drop of a hat Serena had transformed herself into a pillar of belief. She had become an immovable vessel of concentration that had anchored herself to her singular desire to win. After winning a few games it was apparent that nothing was going to stop her from winning this match.

It was a look that brought forth the fire in her belly, the quickness of her feet, the purpose of her serve - which had all been previously missing up until that point. It was a look that told her opponent that she would have to walk through that same fire if she really wanted to take the match.

All of us who have ever stepped onto a tennis court wish we could do what Serena did yesterday. How is it possible to play perfect tennis just because you’ve decided you want to? For most of us, recreational players and Grand-Slam winners alike, it isn’t.

But for Serena the link between desire and tennis is as pure a relationship as we have ever seen.

It starts with a look, and ends with a win.

2 comments:

  1. I have just found your blog and this is the best write up that I have found about that quarter final match. Serena just refused to lose. I do not think it is in that girl's vocabulary that she should lose a match without at least putting in some effort into it. She struggled with all aspects of her game during that match, but at the end of the day she had reserves of strength and fortitude that no one else in tennis has. Love her or hate her she is the best at what she does and she is one of the few players on either tour who demonstrates what it takes to win.

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  2. right on, anonymous - thanks for reading!

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