Wimbledon the epicentre of world lawn tennis loves its champions. The indomitable Roger Federer, the warrior-like Rafael Nadal, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Boris Becker, Jimmy Connors and even the bad boy of tennis himself John McEnroe. Wimbledon loves its champions unless your surname happens to be Williams.
The Williams sisters have dominated tennis for over a decade. Venus ‘lags’ behind her younger sibling with 9 grand slam wins overall, but with 5 titles has a superior Wimbledon record over her younger sister.
However, Serena with 12 grand slam wins –three at Wimbledon-is two years her junior, still at the very top of her game and in the company of the all-time greats. And yet when you watch her brilliance at Wimbledon you wonder why the crowd always roots for the other player?
Somebody not accustomed to who’s who at these championships, would have been forgiven in believing that the Russian Maria Sharapova was an English rose out to beat her nemesis Serena Williams. Every Sharapova point was greeted with jubilant applause whilst a determined Williams shot only elicited a polite or begrudging acknowledgement.
Of the many excuses to explain the lack of warmth the Wimbledon crowd has towards the Williams sisters the most common comments are:
‘Well, they are not endearing’, ‘they don’t communicate with the crowd’, or ‘they seem aloof and unapproachable’.
All of which may or may not be true, but is no more or no less a celebrity bubble than for the vast majority of players-many of whom cannot say they are great champions who keep coming back and winning.
The elephant in the room here, of course, is race, which many Black people you sense, but cannot prove. Every now and again you get the proof in the shape of the overt racist comments:
‘why don’t you hit the ball in the net like an n……’
yelled one tennis fan in Australia, coincidently when Serena was playing Sharapova.
So how do you best describe a crowd that simply won’t support you?
Maybe we need a Lewis Hamilton of tennis to turn things around. Until then you are better off watching the Williams sisters with the sound turned down.
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