In August 2018, Serena Williams was on her comeback tour from after having a child nad healing from complications related to said event. She faced wonder kid Naomi Osaka, barely 18 I think, and a referee who had it in for her (in my opinion). She was docked a point when her coach gave direction with his hands (not visible from her perch) and docked a game when she told off the referee. She called him a thief and said that as a mother, she would never cheat. She would rather lose than cheat. In the end, Naomi Osaka won. At the trophy ceremony, the crowd booed, Naomi cried, Serena hugged Naomi and told the crowd to be positive, move on, and let Naomi enjoy her win.
In terms of tell-offs, I found Serena’s referee tell-off quite mild. There was no cursing. (Me? As soon as I am in the zip code of getting ticked? F-bombs everywhere.) There was no racquet throwing. The speech felt noble even; the speech was that of a warrior princess in an epic opera. I felt I got a glimpse of the story Serena tells herself as part of her personal myth, the story of self she tells herself to motivate herself.
There have been so many think pieces written on this match. In tennis, a point, never mind a game, can make a dramatic difference on results. It is such a psychological sport that anything that disrupts a player’s confidence and concentration can change everything. My immediate thoughts from the match was Serena needs meditation in a big way. She was facing impossible distractions and needed a calming center. An excellent New York Times piece by Gail Collins I can’t find talked about how the referee robbed both women of a satisfying match (Serena did not get to try her hardest, and Naomi’s win could be interpreted as not a true win, given the point penalties.) A co-worker said it was too much for Serena. She was just asked to handle too much and she fell apart. A class parent friend said she couldn’t stop seeing an older married woman with a child competing with a younger, stronger person with no responsibilities and how that was an impossible fight. All of these thoughts, I found wildly interesting.
Serena Williams has faced insane racist and sexist treatment from a sport she has faithfully elevated, promoted, and given her life to. (Um, I’m a fan, can you tell? I cannot help but be awed by her work ethic. She reportedly missed a back hand in a match, then drilled her backhand 2000 times. 2000 times! There is nothing I have done in my life 2,000 times. I have blogged about it before.) She had a tough, near-death giving birth experience and she’s just an intense woman whose ambitions are going to need to adjust to being a mama. I greatly appreciate her Instagram posts of holding her toddler daughter while stretching and getting into fight mode for a match. When you a parent, your consciousness is permanently divided. You are still programmed to pursue the goals you did as a childless person but you are also now all about this child. It’s very confusing.
On another level, I thought the match was such a great demonstration of aging and it felt almost meta, like older Serena was playing a match against younger Serena. (I think it would make a great play. I might try to write it.) Naomi Osaka cried at the booing from the crowd and later said “I thought they hated me.” Of course she did. She’s a child and when you’re a child, your world is incredibly small and you think it’s all about you. It’s only by aging, you realize there’s a community, a larger context in which you have your experience. Sometimes the things you experience has nothing to do with you personally. I don’t know what else i’m trying to say other than the match and the process of aging itself feels best expressed by the rings of a tree. As a kid, I was taught when you slice open the trunk of a tree, you can tell how old the tree is by counting the rings. They are all there — the young years and the older years, and that’s how life feels. You are the sum of all your ages and they all feel fresh and they co-exist in the same time period. Something ten years ago might feel just as vibrant in your memory as yesterday. That’s my best explanation of human consciousness. It is all happening at the same time (all of your ages, I mean), and I find that incredibly, incredibly wild.