Redemption Song

Nearly three-quarters of the way to its conclusion, #manypeople seem comfortable writing off 2016 as a failed experiment, the kind of revolution around the sun we’d sooner edit-undo than save as draft so that we know not to make the same mistakes twice. Not that it isn’t tempting, given the tornado of seemingly every sociopolitical attitude storming past social courtesies on its way to enraged prominence, the tortoises of Twitter emerging only to present a counterpoint to happiness and the deaths of nearly every celebrity you never expected to let you down, even against the undefeated specter of mortality.

Largely overshadowed when set against that intense bleakness is the fact that 2016 has been a banner year for redemption. In the last eight months, we have borne witness to: Nick Saban’s Alabama going Omar for the ring[1], Villanova stealing the highest-stakes game of H-O-R-S-E in college basketball history, an outstanding Broncos defense carrying Peyton Manning’s rotten skeleton to a walk-off like no other[2] only two years after an historic Super Bowl humiliation, LeBron James delivering the city of Cleveland a more thrilling high than anything you could read about in VICE[3], Michael Phelps death-staring down Chad Le Clos and, just a week ago, Neymar exacting some revenge against a team which had bestowed such a beating so comprehensive that one hand was not enough to denote it with accuracy.

One could be forgiven for assuming that the next reclamation in line, at the top of her game and coming off a disappointing Olympics, belongs to one Serena Williams.

Forgive me for illuminating this 2016 in vivacious detail for a moment, and flash back to this time last year: Serena Williams was entering the U.S. Open as the overwhelming favorite, having won each of the first three Grand Slam tournaments in dominant fashion[4]. As the defending champion, she was. By virtue of being the defending champion in Flushing, for the second time in her illustrious career, she was the holder of all four titles simultaneously, an achievement so good and rare as to be appropriated in modern parlance via her first name, which works alliteratively: the Serena Slam.

Then, of course, the fall: after breezing her way to another semifinal[5], a mixture of counterattacks, superior defensive playmaking and a wonderful return game saw Williams fall to Roberta Vinci in three sets in the semifinal, much to the dismay of a thoroughly captivated American crowd. Despite retaining the No. 1 ranking for the entire season, and despite the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated alike deeming her a superior athlete to a horse[6], Serena had fallen short in an all-important quest, perhaps the only person this side of pre-2016 LeBron who could win so much while still eliciting feelings of enormous disappointment.

So, 2016. Telling the year to go home because it’s drunk or wake us all up from a simultaneous, Facebook-curated nightmare is insufficient; here we sit, with the cards we’ve been dealt, watching the initial smirk gradually fading off the face of the dealer as he realizes the final ace up his sleeve is in a cabinet back at home, rubbing up against manila envelopes and old bank records.

Despite her not-quite-as-historically-insane-as-2015 year thus far, Serena Williams doesn’t have to win the 2016 U.S. Open, which would break her tie with Steffi Graf for the most major wins in the Open Era, but redemption is the flavor of the season. Within two weeks’ time, for Serena at least, it could very well be that a year we all wished to forget will hold the U.S. Open Final we will always, fondly, remember.

[1] Not that we all really wanted that, but it’s also the exception with regard to the death of inevitability, another theme of the year; we all know it belongs to Alabama right now the way the original Jules Rimet Trophy belonged to Brazil.

[2] And, subsequently, to a Lionel Richie-soundtracked supermarket on Sunday mornings, apparently

[3] Never forget coming back from being down 3-1 against a 73-win team, because the Warriors sure as hell won’t

[4] As 33 years young, by the way, a time by which most pro tennis players are happy just to notch a few first round wins over rookies in Cincinnati, or wherever

[5] At the expense of her sister, Venus, with whom she shared another all-time classic three-set match in the quarterfinal

[6] Love to the Pharoah though, despite his misspelled handle


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