In Praise of Serena Williams

13 Sep

In Praise of Serena Williams


Serena Williams is a wonder of our time, fantastic as an athlete, enthralling as a competitor, and above all, a shining example of what it is possible to achieve if raw talent and a caring, brave, and moral sensibility is nurtured toward greatness.


Such praise would have seemed superfluous before the final of U.S. Open some days ago, when Williams fought her best against a harsh referee and a super-gifted court challenge mounted by Naomi Osaka, a rising star who may someday realize that her victory over the greatest woman tennis player ever, still near the top of her game, was made more special rather than diminished by the drama and controversy stirred by her celebrity opponent.


It should also be given much greater attention that Serena’s fierce fighting spirit while on the court is complemented by her generosity to her opponent after the match ended, whether she wins or loses. She invariably finds the right gracious and tender words to celebrate her opponent, even as here when she was deeply upset by the experience of this particular defeat. Serena especially encourages young players who have achieved so much against the odds.


We need to remember that Serena, and her wonderful sister, Venus, rose to these heights from a background in the downtrodden Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles where crime and drugs clamp down on human development and make ambition seem to many of its residents to be a futile waste of energy. Surely, her determined, defiant, politically incorrect father, Richard Williams, deserves extraordinary recognition for bringing his daughters to such athletic and societal prominence, and the overall strength of the Williams’ family seems to have also had an amazing character-building effect. To round out this remarkable story, both Serena and Venus have always expressed love, gratitude, and loyalty for what their parents and siblings contributed to their success.  

We should not deny Serena the benefit of the doubt, which means appreciating that ‘the real Serena’ is her demeanor after the competitive drama has ended, and her emotional intensity is so quickly displaced by humility, grace, and empathy. It is this gift of competitive heroics that have so often turned defeat into victory over the years that have helped make her so beloved by the most ardent tennis fans over the years.


I was struck some years ago when Serena during the trophy ceremony after winning the French Open responded in French to the delight of the crowd. What has long impressed me about both sisters is that they live life fully, and in ways that express interests and concerns that reach beyond tennis is a variety of directions, which is unusual for star athletes who are consumed by the demands of their sport, at least during their prime years.


In this time of Trump and Trumpism, we should seize the opportunity to celebrate the luminous presence of Serena Williams in our midst: a champion, a warrior for women and against racism, a woman of great charm and warmth, and a beacon of decency.

8 Responses to “In Praise of Serena Williams”

  1. Karen K Abuyazd September 13, 2018 at 10:16 am #

    Bravo, Richard. Well said.

    • Richard Falk September 13, 2018 at 12:57 pm #

      Especially YOUR words bring me a joyful smile. Hope you are fine, as fine as the world permits.


  2. Leif Petersen September 13, 2018 at 10:47 am #

    Serena’s behaviour was unacceptable. She did not respect ruled like no coaching because SHE was above it. She threatened, bullied and abused the umpire, as if he was subhuman, and shamed the other officials as well.
    Osaka played fantastic, she was the better player, and the gracious one, and I don’t think she enjoys her triump any less.
    Just because you are competitive or have a bad day or childhood – or because you’re a woman – there’s no excuse for Serena.

    • Ben September 13, 2018 at 5:57 pm #

      I suppose if you didn’t read the article above your response would make sense,in light of it I’m a little baffled.

  3. Paul Wapner September 13, 2018 at 11:25 am #

    This is a sweet tribute. The key question, however, is: could you have gotten a point off Serena when you were in your heyday?

    • Richard Falk September 13, 2018 at 12:55 pm #

      What made you think my heyday was in the past? But even back then my serve might
      have baffled Serena for a game or two, and then she is known to double fault when
      really nervous or I make a bad call!

      • Paul Wapner September 14, 2018 at 11:11 am #

        If I remember accurately, you could make it to the net before the ball on your own serve so, yes, I suppose your serve would baffle Serena. And, yes, how silly of me to talk about your heyday in the past. By the way, decades ago said that you would double my graduate student stipend if I beat you in squash. I’m finally ready!

        I love how sports are so central to your world and how you can stay a player and fan amidst the cascade of political responsibilities.

      • Richard Falk September 14, 2018 at 12:25 pm #

        Your memory is as cruel as ever! yet unimpaired by the passage of time..

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