By Alex P. Vidal
“You can be whatever size you are, and you can be beautiful both inside and out. We’re always told what’s beautiful and what’s not, and that’s not right.”—Serena Williams
I WROTE two weeks ago I would miss the opening day of the 2022 US Open in Flushing, Queens on August 29 “because of a prior commitment” and Serena Williams’ announcement she would retire from tennis at age 40 before losing to Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-4 in the second round of the Canadian Open in Toronto in August.
Serena, now a mother, has always been a big attraction at least in the US Open. A darling of the press, she’s more popular—and controversial, perhaps, than her sister Venus.
It’s not easy to ignore or forget Serena if you love tennis. It’s not easy to skip the last tournament where fans will have the final glimpse of her superb skills and charisma.
When she moves it’s like watching a behemoth holding a racket tightly and hitting the ball in the middle of the acrylic hard courts.
I was wrong to assume the 23-time Grand Slam champion from Michigan would no longer see action in the US Open weeks after the Canadian Open.
I thought, just like many tennis fans, the Toronto debacle was her last.
A week before the 2022 US Open opening matches, however, I learned from advertisements in Times Square that Serena was still competing and, in fact, attempting to make history by both equaling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 major singles titles, and winning an Open Era record seventh US Open title.
Serena has been a true-blue superstar regardless of the result of the tournament that she had participated, although some of her body critiques have come in the form of questioning her gender.
The National Post ran a column in 2006 discussing Serena’s weight, including her butt size.
The column included a comment that occupants in the hotel room below hers must have “spent the night dodging plaster” after the tennis player said she intended to celebrate a victory by dancing.
The 2022 US Open turned out to be Williams’ final tournament before her retirement, 24 years after her US Open debut in 1998.
Thus, I found myself queuing in a long line at the back entrance of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at the Flushing Meadow in Corona Park, Flushing on that day afternoon.
Ticket on the US Open program was $20, while ticket on the opening day was $5. Tournament poster was $25.
With a bevy of celebrities paying tribute August 29 night in Arthur Ashe Stadium ranging from former president Bill Clinton to Mike Tyson, the 40-year-old Serena dismissed 80th-ranked Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, 6-3, 6-3.
A six-time U.S. Open champion, Serena repulsed No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round on August 31. She will next face Ajla Tomljanovic in round 3. The longer she stays and advances in the next round, the more some people will forget that she is retiring after the US Open.
The Insider ran a story that In 2014, Shamil Tarpischev, then president of the Russian Tennis Federation, was suspended for a year and fined $25,000 for referring to the Williams’ sisters as “brothers.”
These comments haven’t been limited to tennis officials and media members.
After Serena’s 2012 Wimbledon victory, one writer pulled dozens of tweets calling Williams a “man” or “gorilla.”
After a contentious US Open final in 2018, in which Serena received three code violations and lost a game, the Australian newspaper The Herald Sun printed a cartoon that depicted Serena as an angry baby stomping on the ground.
The cartoon drew criticism for what some thought were racist depictions—the size of Serena’s nose and lips were exaggerated while Naomi Osaka—who is also Black—was portrayed as a white woman.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)