Last Friday, I witnessed the Queen of Serene lose her cool–and the match–at the U.S. Open Semifinal. Not only did Serena Williams lose the match to an unseeded, barely-ranked, weak-backhand-stroke tennis player, she lost her shot at the historic Calendar-Year Grand Slam and a chance to tie Steffi Graf’s record of 22 grand slam titles–the most of any woman in the Open Era. During an interview prior to the match, Serena said that she was surprised to hear that her obtaining the ever-elusive calendar grand slam would mean a lot to her family. Of course the win would have meant a lot to her family and fans alike. The hopes and dreams of countless little girls from around the country, hoping for just a sprinkle of the “black girl magic” that Serena embodies, seemed to depend on her winning the U.S. Open title. She must have felt this crushing weight as she lifted her racquet to serve two double faults, in a row, at a crucial moment in the third set.
This wasn’t my first trip to the U.S. Open, but this was the first time I had seen either Williams sister play in person. Serena handled the first set like the boss chick that she is. The mood in Arthur Ashe stadium was as light and bubbly as the sparkling Perrier Jouet in my champagne flute. However, the arena steadily filled with tension during the second set as Serena attempted to close out her opponent, but was unable to. She started to look tight and wasn’t moving as fluidly as prior matches. Fans in the stadium attempted to pump her up with occasional yells of “Serena!” Someone even yelled, “Serena, move your legs!”–echoing the advice of amateur commentators and tennis fanatics to my left and right.
The tension in the room mounted as the third set strained on. By this point, Serena was all in. She pumped her fists and cheered herself on at each winner, and lamented each ball she hit into the net or outside of the lines. When she failed to return a serve, her back arched and then slumped, the body language of defeat. Her emotions were oozing out, saltier than sweat from the afternoon sun. She slowly dragged her feet to the court’s baseline after a breakpoint. Her lethargic attitude was frustrating and painful to watch. It was frustrating because I know she’s a champion and have seen her come back and win from being much farther behind than she was that day. It was painful because she was actually beating herself with her high percentage of unforced errors. As her opponent edged closer to victory, many spectators sitting in my vicinity began roaring, cheering against Serena.
I didn’t believe she would lose until it was over. I sat stunned, unsure of what to do next. Fortunately, the Perrier Jouet stand wasn’t too far. I watched a few minutes of the replay on ESPN, and it feels foreign to what I experienced that day. Unlike t.v. viewers, I had no influence from professional sports commentators, or random statistics captioned across the bottom of the screen. All I had was raw emotion, points won, and opportunities lost. People have actually asked me if I was okay–how I was handling having to witness the defeat of a champion as fierce as Serena. All I could reply was that the match that everyone seemed to be talking about, that ESPN has replayed numerous times–I was there. Also, you never know what may happen tomorrow, especially with a tennis player as headstrong as Serena. This week, she’s serving up fashion on the catwalk for NYC’s fashion week. One can’t predict when she’ll transition to her other endeavors full time. She’s done it before, leaving an un-fillable hole in the tennis world.
I don’t think that will actually happen though. At least, not yet. And despite this heartbreaking loss, Serena’s reign as the Queen of Tennis continues.