On Friday, April 6, I saw that Serena had beaten Samantha Stosur 6-1, 6-2 at the Family Circle Cup tournament in Charleston, South Carolina. The sight of that score made my heart sing – Stosur’d triumphed over Serena in a hard-fought US Open final in 2011, and that loss was compounded by the controversy over Serena’s harsh words to the umpire when she was docked a point for crying out victoriously before the point was over. All this was while coming back from a foot injury that had sidelined her for much of 2011, a year in which she was also rushed to the hospital with a pulmonary embolism. It was a discouraging period for Serena. And Serena fans.
I like Serena to win because I believe she needs to win more deeply than other players, and I know that’s very debatable. All competitive athletes want to win and are crushed by losses, but to me, certain players seem more temperamentally enmeshed with winning and averse to losing. Roger Federer, to me, is one of the most losing-averse players and Serena is starting to remind me of him. Both of them have so much pride – it shows in their regal bearing, their focused, somber demeanors on court. Just for contrast, compare that “game face” to Andy Roddick’s – Roddick seems to have an “oh well” hovering in the wings near his clenched jaw, and a shrug built into his explosive, popping serving style. Serena and Federer have nothing “oh well” about them. They look like they’ve risen from the ashes of history to avenge their races against the Visigoths.
When Federer wins, I feel there’s a harmony in his spirit and in the tennis world – the gods are smiling. When he loses, of course it’s still a natural human event, and a feat by the winning player. You can take joy in that winner’s joy, but it’s gouging to look at Federer’s quenched, stricken face. He’s in mortal anguish – his nature is set to Win.
Serena’s better at coping with losses – she doesn’t look like all her toys have been taken away and her hometown lost to irreparable floods. But it flays her nonetheless, because often it was her own errors that caused the loss. Under the strictures of her gender’s code of behavior, she shows graciousness in loss – complimenting the winner, reflecting ruefully on her own play. (Federer, on the other hand, sometimes sounds grudging when discussing a loss.) Where you see Serena’s tension about winning is strictly during the match – her ferocity is all concentrated there. Later, she’s smiling, joking, even loopy.
On Easter Sunday, at the final in the Charleston tournament, Serena beat Lucie Safarova 6-0, 6-2. It was decisive, balanced, beautiful clay court tennis from Serena. She let out a happy scream on hitting an ace on match point. She danced while waiting for the on-court presentation. Watching her beaming happily while waiting for her award, and accepting the praise from the announcer for her flawless play, I found myself tearing up. There’s something so proud about her! Why then does she call forth this undiluted advocacy, as if she were vulnerable? Is it because her very pride makes her vulnerable? Or her winner’s spirit combined with her struggles with her temper/temperament makes her somehow a fragile champion? I don’t know. I only know that despite her self-identified anger issues, she inspires great respect and love. This is a woman who competes with her whole heart.
In Davis Cup news, John Isner unexpectedly beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, so combined with the Bryan Brothers’ win from Saturday, that means the US beat France for that tie, which was far from anticipated. Good stuff, Team USA, under the shrewd direction of Captain Jim Courier. Hat’s off!