“When I say the greatest athlete in a generation, I mean the greatest in any sport. Sorry, LeBron. Sorry, Tiger. Sorry, Derek. For fifteen years, over two generations of tennis, Williams has been a spectacular and constant yet oddly uncherished national treasure. She is wealthy and famous, but it seems that she should be more famous, the most famous. Anyone who likes sports should love Williams’s dazzling combination of talent, persistence, style, unpredictability, poise, and outsized, heart-on-her-sleeve flaws.
But not everyone loves her. Part of this is owing to the duelling -isms of American prejudice, sexism, and racism….
…But it’s not enough to say that Williams would be more uniformly adored if she were a white woman, or a man. Instead, the failure to fully appreciate her importance is perhaps evidence of our inability to appreciate the stubbornly unfamiliar narrative arc of her career. Williams is underloved because, at times, she has been unlovable and, in the end, mostly unrepentant about it—something that might be admired as iconoclastic in a male athlete, but rarely endears women to a wide audience….
[Recently,] after a disappointing showing in the three previous Grand Slam tournaments, Williams said that she adopted a new way of thinking about the game, to put less pressure on herself by appreciating what she had already accomplished. ‘That’s the beauty of my career,’ she said before the Open. ‘I don’t need to do anything at all. Everything I do from this day forward is a bonus. Actually, from yesterday. It doesn’t matter. Everything for me is just extra.’ This is surely wisdom, but it is also a form of sports sacrilege. I don’t have anything to prove; I have been great—so great, in fact, that at this point winning doesn’t even matter.”
Excerpted from an article by Ian Crouch for New Yorker Magazine
Photograph by Darron Cummings/AP