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Serena Williams’ U.S. Open Loss to Bianca Andreescu Brings More Grand Slam Speculation

The weather conditions were ideal on Saturday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium for the 2019 U.S. Open Championship match between Canada’s 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu, playing in her first Grand Slam final, and the veteran American Serena Williams, at 37 playing in her 33rd final.

The day before the final, The Washington Post ran a piece noting that for Williams, “a Grand Slam win after childbirth could be the mother of all accomplishments.”

The day before the final, The Washington Post ran a piece noting that for Williams, “a Grand Slam win after childbirth could be the mother of all accomplishments.”

Commentators debated each other as the two competitors filed onto the court. “Will it be vintage Serena, or vulnerable Serena, the one she’s been since coming back after giving birth to her daughter?” asked Chris Evert, a tennis legend in her own right.

Despite a spirited second set, an outplayed Williams lost to Andreescu in straight sets.

 

During a news conference after the match, a reporter noted that Williams’ “resolve and congratulations” for Andreescu during the awards presentation seemed genuine, and questioned if the finals losses were starting to have less impact on her. Williams replied that she didn’t know how to answer that question — but that of course the losses were still affecting her.

The reporter pressed, “You congratulated your opponent.”

“I always congratulate my opponent,” Williams answered.

The exchange was arguably a passive reference to the contentious 2018 U.S. Open final between Williams and Japan’s Naomi Osaka. Osaka won, but her victory and the match’s aftermath were clouded by Williams’ on-court outburst over the umpire’s call that she had received midmatch coaching. Williams’ visible frustration during that match was widely criticized, so it’s somewhat ironic that her apparent lack of (visible) frustration on Saturday was taken as a sign of potential apathy.

Earlier this year, Williams published an essay in Harper’s Bazaar, both apologizing to Osaka and explaining why she reacted the way she did. Williams detailed how tears rolled down her face when Naomi told her via text how she admired the way Williams had stood up for herself. Osaka, for one, was confident that the sport was better for Williams’ trailblazing. Their U.S. Open meeting marked the 19th year since a 17-year-old Serena Williams first took home the championship in Flushing Meadows, becoming only the second black woman to win a Grand Slam (Althea Gibson was the first).

By Saturday, in time for the 20th anniversary of her inaugural win, romanticized narratives for what a 24th Grand Slam victory would mean for Williams, for tennis and for women returning to work after childbirth were reaching peak enthusiasm.

But as swiftly as Andreescu collapsed to the court in relief after match point, so, too, did the hype.

The press swarmed in. “Searching for why Serena Williams can’t win a Grand Slam.” “Will she ever reach 24 Grand Slams?”

I had a different question: “Who cares?”

No other player has reached more U.S. Open finals in the open era. No other player has fought harder, or longer — with perhaps the exception of her phenomenal sister, Venus Williams — for diversity and inclusivity in women’s tennis. No other player has been as staunch an advocate for pay equality for black women, not just in tennis, but across all professions. No other player has won a seventh Australian Open while two months pregnant, given birth at age 35, then come back to reach four Grand Slam finals in the two years postpartum.

That Williams is even playing at a level where she can reach the finals, at age 37 (almost 38), after childbirth, is unprecedented in itself.

The emphasis on Williams winning a 24th Grand Slam title has been assigned too large a significance, in too small a space. That Williams is even playing at a level where she can reach the finals, at age 37 (almost 38), after childbirth, is unprecedented in itself.

Consider that her contemporary, and former world No. 1, Maria Sharapova, returned to playing in 2017 after a 15-month ban for failing a drug test, and has still failed to find her footing. Sharapova (who is six years younger and has not given birth) made it the quarterfinal of the 2018 French Open, after Williams withdrew due to injury, and lost to Williams in straight sets in this year’s first round of the U.S. Open. The sheer level of excellence required by Williams to sustain playing at such an elite level after a prolonged and physically taxing absence cannot be understated.

Yes, there would be poetic justice in seeing Williams surpass the quantifiable record set by a noted homophobe whose career wins overlapped the pre- and post Open-eras. But in 2019, it feels almost laughable that we’d compare even a portion of Serena Williams’ legacy against someone who now mostly makes headlines for an outspoken attachment to the idea that marriage should be strictly between a man and a woman. Williams has nothing to prove, to anyone.

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