The US just lost the Fed Cup title to Italy. The US would more than likely have won the Fed Cup title if either of the Williams sisters had played. The US would definitely have won the Fed Cup title if both of the sisters had played. The US needs the Williams sisters. That is the plain truth.
But said truth is not at all simple. And while I would really prefer to treat with the relationship between Serena Williams and the country she happens to represent in international tournaments, I have no choice but to include her sister in the discourse because in all things tennis, they are treated as part of a package deal, the one punished for the errors of the other, the one booed for the non-performance of the other, the one included in a veiled reference to “some people” even though the other made it completely clear from the start that she was not going to play Fed Cup.
From the beginning something went horrifically wrong in the relationship between the tennis establishment and these two African-American sisters. And it’s not entirely the fault of the tennis establishment. From the start the sisters seemed kind of stand-offish, a bit removed, members of a closed society of family who depended on and supported each other but were open to very few outsiders. Richard’s refusal to allow his daughters to play Junior tennis irked more than a few. His refusal to properly acknowledge the role of coaches like Rick Macci to the development of his daughters’ games remains unpardonable for some.
But Tennis USA also made its share of mistakes. It embraced the blond Sharapova so completely you’d swear she wasn’t Russian and playing against the USA for Fed Cup. Sharapova remained a media and corporate darling even after being fined for cheating and illegal coaching. She remained the “It” girl of tennis even after it was clear that her coach was not her father as listed, but Michael Joyce who only recently had the honor of being properly credited for his years of hard labor.
Despite this, I believe that the Williams legacy will be tremendous in the world of tennis. And I believe that they will be lasting inspirations to girls everywhere, not just girls of a darker shade of pale.
I took part in a new tennis clinic yesterday and one of the participants was a talented blonde junior who was there to beat up on the rest of us. During a break I overheard a white woman asking her who her tennis inspirations were. Without missing a beat she replied, “Venus and Serena. Although I kinda prefer Venus because she is tall like me”.
And so I was disappointed to read Oudin’s interview after the US lost at Fed Cup to Italy. In her post-match interview, Oudin was quoted as saying, “For me, this is what I wanted. I wanted to come here. I wanted to play for my country. I don't know, other people choose different things. Some people, I guess, didn't want to play as badly as I did. But I think that the team that we had here really wanted to be here. I think that was what should have happened. I mean, you don't want people here that don't want to be here. Next year we're gonna have people that want to be here again. That's what you want. You don't want people that don't want to be here or play for their country. Even if you lose, if you give it everything you have, then that's the best you can do.”
The “some people” in that extract could only be the Williams sisters. These are the same sisters that Oudin previously credited for inspiring her as a child. How soon we forget.
Oudin is too young in her career to be making these kinds of comments. I get her disappointment. I get that it sucks that while she should be playing tennis for her country, Serena was busy pushing her book in London and talking again about wanting to have an acting career as an action figure. I also get that Oudin is young and not yet practiced in the skills of politics. I get that she may not be privy to the bigger picture, the darker machinations of people who seem motivated only by the desire to once and for all humble Serena Williams. But I really wish Oudin had not said this.