When Serena Williams won her third round match at the French Open on Saturday (June 2), we were all elated to see who she was going to meet in the fourth round: Maria Sharapova. But sadly, on Monday (June 4) Williams announced that she was withdrawing from the tournament due to an arm injury she suffered against Germany’s Julia Goerges.
“Unfortunately, I’m having some issues with my pec muscle. Right now I can’t actually serve it’s kind of hard to play,” she recently told a room filled with reporters in Paris.
“I gave up so much to time with my daughter and my family and put everything on the court for this moment. It’s really difficult to be in this situation, but… for now in my life, I just always try to think positively and just think of the bigger picture and hopefully (I can play in) the next events and the rest of the year.”
Granted, no one could be more devastated than Williams. But selfishly, it’s fans like myself that just needed this one match (and her Wakanda-inspired black catsuit) to be the force that finally shut up Sharapova, her stans and mainstream media for good.
You see, Sharapova is professional tennis’ “Great White Hope.”
She’s also the same woman who stands a whopping 5 inches taller than Williams but still feels the need to dope up on the banned substance meldonium in order to unsuccessfully get an edge over her “intimidating” competition. She’s the same Sharapova, whose 2017 memoir, hilariously named Unstoppable, was riddled with white female fragility, racist and sexist stereotypes about Williams and lame excuses as to why she’s not the GOAT she feels entitled to be.
Finally, to add insult to injury, she’s the one that’s been mistakenly labeled as Williams’ “biggest rival.”
Now, there was a time when Sharapova and Williams were both the biggest names in tennis, with Sharapova once being the highest paid female player on tour. No doubt, they absolutely have a long history and have had some unsavory things to say about one another over the years. But despite the drama, Williams has consistently brought her A-game to the place that matters the most.
Not the court of popular opinion, but the actual tennis court. And the years of receipts don’t lie.
Out of 21 times facing each other, Williams has beaten the blonde Ice Queen 19-2. Yes, you read that correctly: 19 times vs 2. Even worse? The last time Sharapova defeated Williams was the 2004 WTA finals, which took place same year that former President George Bush was still occupying space in the White House. You know, almost 3 years after 9/11.
But that’s only the half of it.
Glossing over each woman’s resume, Williams has won 23 singles Grand Slam championships, more than any other female player in an Open era, including the iconic Stefi Graff. Sharapova, however, has only won five. In comparison to Serena’s four Olympic gold medals, old girl has none. Hell, Williams won the 2017 Australian Open never dropping a set and she was nearly 10 weeks pregnant.
There is no way in this universe that these two women are equals. Their comebacks are nowhere near the same. One is a banned cheater who needed performance-enhancing drugs to keep up with the demands of the game, while the other is a true champion tenaciously fighting her way back to the number one spot after almost dying giving birth to her daughter.
Yet, these false equivalencies still persist. Thankfully, we’re not letting this malarky go down on our watch.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time Serena’s legacy has been disrespected.
Remember last year when tennis great John McEnroe said if she played in the men’s bracket, she would be 700 in the world? Or in 2015 when the Los Angeles Times had the nerve to have a poll asking who deserved to be the Sports Illustrated Athlete of The Year: Williams or that horse, American Pharaoh?
But, as a Black woman, this is just par for the damn course.
As I have written before, when it comes to her 20-plus-year career, Williams has been plagued with sexist, racist and transphobic remarks from her colleagues and critics. Early on, folks questioned her commitment to the game, her overall attitude and her treatment of other players for not wanting to play the respectability politics game. That, and because her body doesn’t emulate the typical tennis prototype, “people have either tried to strip away her femininity by referring to her strong frame as ‘manly’ or subscribed to some sick Hottentot Venus preoccupation with her voluptuous physique.”
She even boycotted the Indian Wells tournament for 13 years because, in 2001, the crowd yelled racial slurs at her, telling her father, and then coach Richard Williams, they would “skin him alive.”
Whether you are a fan or not, it can’t be denied that this should never be the price a Black woman pays in order to be exceptional at the sport she loves. I can only hope we can agree that folks should never work this hard to undermine her rightful place in history because Williams has the audacity to infiltrate and dominate this uber white sport. But be clear: This Sharapova nonsense is the last straw.
Williams is far superior to anyone else in the game, and like her bestie Beyoncé, she has no peers. She is truly the GOAT. So please do us all a favor: If you can’t recognize this simple fact, keep her glorious name out of your mouth.
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