Saturday, July 30, 2011

Presence Felt

Serena Williams played her first matches on U.S. soil since 2009 this week. So far, so good.

If you've never seen Serena Williams play tennis live and in person, you really ought to. And if, when you finally do, you don't come away saying "oh, so this is why everybody basically loses their doo-doo talking about her all the time," then I'll be surprised. I'll be beyond surprised. I'll be shocked.

Why? Because this weekend I finally learned what I always kind of knew, first hand: Seeing is believing.

You can watch Serena on TV all night. Sure you can. Do it 'til the cows come home. Watch re-runs of her epic Grand Slam finals. Get yourself an HDTV or, better yet, 3DTV. But no matter how much you watch her -- even if you do it with the sound turned up as loud as it can go and a Wilson racquet in your sweaty palms -- it will never be like it is in person, where you can see her and hear her, feel the pulse of her tennis, and the accompanying pulse of the crowd as it oohs and aahs, hangs on her every serve, and gasps in admiration at every one of her laser-guided groundies that seem to clear the net with improbably little margin, screaming -- no steaming -- into the empty corners of the court.

There are very few guarantees in life, but this is one I'm fairly confident in making: If you watch Serena play tennis in person, you will come away impressed. Inspired even. And if you're like me and you get emotional when you see an art form expressed at the pinnacle of its potential, then it just might bring on those quivers of appreciation that go hand-in-hand with getting your socks rocked off.

You may love loving her or you may hate hating her, but until you've seen the beauty of Serena William's game in person, you haven't seen anything.

I know because I hadn't seen anything until this weekend, when Serena took the court against Maria Sharapova.

Two days later, I'm a believer. I'm devout, and I don't think there's any turning back. All at once, as I watched Serena power returns like a cleanup hitter with a green light on a 3-0 count, names of the greatest athletes to ever play their sports started flooding my brain: Michael Jordan, Willie Mays, Martina Navratilova.

Where does Serena fit into all this? I thought.

I'm not sure, but I was sure that it was not at all ridiculous to think of her in the same context as Martina, as Mays and Jordan, as all the other Hall of Famers across the sports spectrum that could somehow slow their sport down to a crawl while to their competitors it was just one big blur.

She's just rounding back into form after a dreadfully dark period, and yet I found myself mesmerized by how complete her game was at this point in her comeback. All you ever hear about is power this, power that when people talk of Serena, but what truly sets her apart are the subtleties. Power is a common possession on the WTA Tour; what sets Serena's game apart are all the trappings that come with the power.

The poise; the desire; the ability to hit off either foot; the reaction time; the fast twitch muscles; the ability to open up the court with angles and to close the door with precision; the ability to locate the second serve, no matter the pressure level; the charisma; the pride, particularly when she is challenged; the ability to control and simultaneously feed off her emotional spectrum; the ability to work a crowd while simultaneously silently intimidating her opponent; the courage to let her opponent and the crowd know when she really wants a game, set,or match.

I could go on. I could write a list as long as the PA announcer's pre-match list of her career accomplishments. I could tell you all again and again what you've already read over and over.

But it's probably best if you buy a ticket somewhere that Serena is playing this summer and see for yourself.

If you've already seen her play, I don't need to tell you anything. You've already got your tickets, because whether you love to love her or hate to hate her, you surely like the buzz.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Beautiful stuff Chris. I think every tennis fan owes it to himself/herself to watch her play live.

    I was talking to an exchange student from Taiwan who's a big tennis fan (both men and women) and all he could talk about was Serena Williams. Love it.

  3. I totally agree. Very well stated and well-written. I couldn't have said it better myself.

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