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Photo courtesy of moi

“Ladies and gentlemen, due to the humid conditions, Millman is going to change his attire.”

In the middle of the second set on during the men’s quarterfinal at the US Open on Wednesday night, with his opponent, Novak Djokovic, up a set already, unseeded John Millman took a precautionary measure with regard to his attire. He was sweating through his shirt, his shorts and maybe his shoes and hat, and he wasn’t going to stand for it anymore. For all intents and purposes, it’s been the story of the tournament in Flushing Meadows: the heat is just too damn hot.

The weather is a clichéd topic, one befitting casual acquaintances at a party while waiting for someone better to arrive, anyone who rides public transit at any time and Al Roker. At best, it should merely be tertiary fare for the final Grand Slam of the year. Yet, it has defined many of the matches so far, including Millman’s shocking, four-set upset of Roger Federer in the round of 16. Mother Nature would not sway Novak Djokovic so easily.

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Photograph by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I’m not at all qualified to discuss sports, professional or otherwise. Or, at least, not in the view of the people who believe Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment is anything other than a morally righteous comeuppance, an inevitable reaction to a decorated athlete of color speaking his mind. How dare a person have thoughts beyond their scope of expertise? Can’t he just keep quiet, perform for the fans and accept his sizable paycheck? Why doesn’t he #sticktosports?

Given that thought process, none of us are qualified to form an opinion on, really, anything. Your dentist shouldn’t tell you what he thinks about the Mets’ starting rotation, nor should your accountant divulge his thoughts on Gary Bettman’s perpetual dismantling of professional hockey. Drill the teeth, find the tax breaks, shut up and do your job. Most notably, of course, the current POTUS wouldn’t be anywhere near his position had much of his base applied to him the same logic they – liberally – apply to athletes, given his complete lack of political experience and expertise prior to assuming the role[1].

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“Open” is a peculiarly malleable word, one which shifts with the times and becomes whatever the ones weaponizing it desire. Fields can be open, as can forums; countries, well – that’s up to big wigs.

Merriam-Webster takes one opportunity to define something that is open as “enterable by both amateur and professional,” as well as, primarily, “having no enclosing or confining barrier.” When confronted with the realities of the 2017 Australian Open, it is vital to keep these two, in particular, in mind. The former is a matter of practice and formality; the latter is a guide to understanding the drafts that continue to slip through the windows of two tennis players born just under two months apart 35 years ago: Serena Williams and Roger Federer.

Over the past few days, I’ve been struggling to comprehend what I watched happen in the finals at the first major of the year. Literally half a world away[1], four tennis players on the wrong side of 30[2] survived tough draws, lucky breaks, stunning upsets and injury scares to reach a pair of Grand Slam finals which would’ve appeared unremarkable a decade ago but which, in 2017, were downright anachronistic.

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Stan Wawrinka poses with the trophy after his match against Novak Djokovic.

USA Today

The English poet Francis Quarles, noted paraphrase royalty, once wrote, “The way to bliss lies not on beds of down, And he that has no cross deserves no crown.” As was more or less his M.O., and the standard run of play in seventeenth century literature, he was drawing largely from The Bible, though you could be forgiven if in a vacuum you thought he may have been discussing the rise of Stan Wawrinka, 2016 U.S. Open men’s champion.

Four sets: that’s all Stan Wawrinka needed to upend Novak Djokovic in the men’s final of the U.S. Open, which he captured in a magnificent 6-7 (1-7), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 win that elicited some of the best shot-making either player has ever flashed. Once an underperforming prodigy, Wawrinka is now, against most well-meaning odds, a three-time major champion as well as, for the moment, the king of New York.

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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.

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Serena Williams

Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated via AP

On Monday, Sports Illustrated announced that Serena Williams was the recipient of its annual Sportsperson of the Year Award, a marvelous gesture for a certainly deserving and wholly underappreciated athlete. That gig comes with a stirring S.L. Price cover profile and recognition for a year well done. Unfortunately, what should be an innocuous distinction seems also to be accompanied by the anger of fans whose preferred choice in the matter, a non-human, finished second.

In the wake of Serena’s selection as Sportsperson of the Year, horse Twitter revealed itself.

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Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates beating Switzerland's Roger Federer by eating a blade

AFP

In the parlance of modern tennis, Roger Federer has become the default, that against which any and all challengers fill in a blank as some kind of placeholder until the younger, better next generation arrives. For many players over the last decade, most notably Spanish clay court foil Rafael Nadal, it is a frustrating truth which is, nevertheless, true, because playing in the shadow of a man who has won seventeen Grand Slam titles since 2003 leaves you in a begrudging negative space, an elephant graveyard where hyenas battle for Federer’s scraps.

Unlike Nadal, Andy Murray and other would-be mutineers, however, Novak Djokovic has always looked like he feels comfortable in that negative space. His rocketing serves, his maddening return game, his consumption of grass: this is the one they colloquially call “the Joker,” and he is the best tennis player alive.

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