The outstanding sportswriter (and, full disclosure, friend of mine) L. Jon Wertheim often says that Venus and Serena Williams’ remarkable rise to the top of the tennis world is the most under-covered story in sports.
The first time he wrote that, I scoffed. Come on, who doesn’t know about the Williams sisters? Even non-tennis fans I know are good on the basics: Two young African-American girls, raised in gang-infested Compton, Calif. and coached by their Dad, rise up together and become two of the greatest players in the history of a lily-white sport, inspiring thousands of young people and becoming legends.
Everybody knows that, right? Sure. But the longer their careers have gone, and the more championships they’ve won and long absences they’ve taken from the court due to injuries or illness, the story has only gotten more astonishing.
These two women, these two sisters, individually have had two of the greatest tennis careers ever. But the fact that they’ve played each other 27 times, and have 29 Grand Slam singles titles between them, and their first meeting was in 1997 when most of us were still learning what the Internet was… I mean, how is this not a bigger story?
Can you imagine if LeBron James had a slightly younger brother, and they competed against each other for championships all the time? Or if Tom Brady’s sibling went against him in the Super Bowl once or twice? It’d be the biggest story in America for 20 years.
But because tennis is sadly not a major spectator sport in the U.S., I think Wertheim’s right: The enormity of what these 2 have accomplished is not talked about enough.
I’m an odd duck when it comes to the Williams sisters, in that I’ve always liked and admired Venus while I find Serena repellent and an awful sportsman, though her behavior and off-court attitude have improved in recent years. They play for an Australian Open title Saturday night, improbably, and it feels like a delicious treat because most of us tennis fans never thought we’d see it again.
Venus has always struck me as a thoughtful, intelligent observer of tennis and sports, and what she said following her semifinal win Thursday has stayed with me. Check out this quote about why we watch sports:
“What I will say about sport, I think why people love sport so much, is because you see everything in a line. In that moment there’s no do-over, no re-take, no voice-over. It’s triumph and disaster measured in real time. This is why people live and die for sport, because you can’t fake it. You can’t. You either do or you don’t.”
Triumph and disaster measured in real-time. I love that.
I don’t expect you to wake up at 3:30 a.m. Eastern time to watch their match in the wee hours Saturday morning. But ESPN2 is showing the final at 9 a.m. Saturday. Tune in, and see history we’ll likely never see again, from two remarkable champions who were born to the same parents.
**Next up, this is all kinds of fantastic. A comedy show in the Netherlands decided to make a welcome video for Donald Trump, telling him all the wonderful things about their country. It’s hilarious and brilliant; fast forward to the 36-second mark for the beginning of the piece.
You go, Dutchmen.
**Finally today, this is a good news story that warmed my heart. A Muslim woman in Cincinnati, Ohio named Hend Amry was concerned the morning after Donald Trump was inaugurated. She and her family have always been OK in her community, but still, this was a possibly life-altering event.
A white neighbor of hers thought she might be upset. So he wrote this amazing note and put it on her uncle’s front door: