I barely know any mythology. I always feel like a dumb hick when someone well educated makes a classical reference. “That’s the kind of thing I’d know if I’d grown up in a wealthy setting, schooled in the best schools – I’d be fluent in those references instead of wondering if they correspond to a Betty and Veronica comic,” I think, smiling in what I hope is a knowing way, hoping soon we’ll talk about Seinfeld.
But like any writer, I’m adept at using the tiny scraps I know -- I squirrel them away like a bird with little pieces of tinsel. I know there was a queen called Boadicea, and I believe she was proud and fierce (just an impression, but I believe in working with those). Serena reminds me of my impression of Boadicea, and during her loss yesterday to Virginie Razzano at the French Open, she looked like a soon-to-be-vanquished queen in the last act of a tragic opera. She stalked the court at Roland Garros with a look of sorrowful rage; she buried her exotically beautiful face, with its exaggerated, operatic eyebrows and imperious cheekbones, in a towel when it was smeared with tears. She was outraged at playing poorly; she was in a fury.
But the gods didn’t listen to her this time. Razzano was the one granted the grace of perfect form, with her crazy, little-bent-arm serve landing accurately and her groundstrokes zapping into corners with greater speed than Serena’s. Serena had to play out her end of things with a series of errors so blatant that she had to smile, after a while, since you can’t be actually furious at your own errors. You have to smile at the way you are literally defeating yourself.
The atmosphere was loud, rude and caustic, like what I imagine a Roman amphitheater was like during one of their bear baitings. (Bears? In Italy? Ermm, this is what I mean about state schools.) The crowd cheered Serena’s errors lustily, while she seemed barely aware of their ire. Her focus was trained on the intensity of Razzano, who mustered a brilliant game on the national stage (she’s French), seized her moment and didn’t choke.
Only the queen choked – with disgust. Asked about her opponent’s delicate situation (Razzano’s fiancé, who was also her coach, died a year ago almost to the day), Serena didn’t summon the conventional admiring sound bite. She said, “We’re all dealing with something. I myself almost died last year. Venus is struggling with a serious illness. Mardy Fish is too. We all have something.” All that is true, but it’s strange to me that Serena sidestepped the ritual offering of empathy. It shows, I guess, how bitterly disappointed she was – too disappointed to refrain from cursing her conquerer, or her vanquisher, on her angry way to the [classical reference here – I’m sure there’s a good one somewhere].