Sunday, August 14, 2011

Is Mary Jo a Serena hater?

Understand that this is a word I never use. It’s a word I don’t like. Its overuse is probably the main reason I never venture into tennis forums anymore. It’s not nice to be called a hater. The accusation makes me flinch even though I am the one making it. Understand therefore that I do not use this word lightly. I am seriously interrogating the question of whether Mary Jo Fernández, the brown-skinned Latina minority woman who frequently commentates on ESPN, may be a hater of Serena Williams.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect everyone to be a fan of Serena Williams. It is perfectly OK with me if Mary Jo doesn’t like Serena. There’s no law that says she has to – although as the Fed Cup captain you’d think it would occur to her that being a hater is not exactly going to help her effectiveness.

But as a tennis commentator, one would expect at least a balanced and fair presentation of the facts about a player. The best commentators know how to leave their personal biases out of their commentary. When a commentator’s hatefulness begins to intrude, it affects the quality of her commentary.

I have felt for a long time that Mary Jo is not just a Serena hater but a Williams hater. But yesterday is the first time I challenged myself to look closely at why I feel this way. I asked myself, what exactly is it that Mary Jo does that gives me the impression that she is a Serena hater? I sat in front of the TV with pen and notepad. I had a case to make.

The match was about to start: Serena vs. Azarenka at the semifinals of the Roger’s Cup in Toronto. Chris Fowler served as host. First they discussed Tsonga vs. Djokovic. Everyone gave Tsonga a chance but agreed that the Djokovic train was unstoppable. There was no hate. Then they switched to talking Serena vs. Azarenka. Mary Jo picked Azarenka for the win. That was fine with me. She is entitled to her opinion.

Brad Gilbert disagreed, as circumspectly as he could. Mary Jo rebutted, a growing tone of querulous sourness in her voice. And I realized right away that that is part of why I have the impression that she is a hater. Whenever she talks about Serena her voice remains dour, sour, negative and gripy. Even when she praises Serena, there is never any excitement or happiness in her voice. She seems to remain dour, sour, negative.

Then Darren Cahill spoke. His first words were: “I like Serena”. And my gut went ding ding ding! Why would Cahill need to say “I like Serena” if he did not intuitively pick up on the fact that he was responding to someone who disliked her? Brad and Darren picked Serena for the win. Chris Fowler went along with Mary Jo but he was clearly just being politic. He had no bitch in this fight. 

I picked Serena – but in all fairness, I always do.

The match started. I paid more attention to Mary Jo than to what was happening on the court. After all, I knew what Azarenka was going to do. She plays windshield-wiper tennis, side to side to boring side. No other strategy, no other technique, no creativity. Just mind-numbing side-to-side bashing like a gazillion other baseline banshees on the WTA tour.

I also trusted that Serena knew this. I trusted that Serena knew that Azarenka always starts strong and then begins to fade. I knew that Serena would deconstruct her like a predictable puzzle. I knew that Azarenka would have her moments, but that this match, as Cahill and Gilbert had predicted, was going to be on Serena’s racket. There was no need to pay attention. I could give the hater all of my focus and solve this puzzle once and for all. (Part 1 of 2)


TennisAce said...

Looking forward to reading Part 2

Anonymous said...

agree with TennisAce, please write it soon :)

happygeek said...

... and that makes 3 of us. :-)

Tennis Perspectives said...

Because I'm a devoted fan of the Williams, I find your take quite interesting. I'm not sure if I would agree entirely. I do think there are moments there is failure on the part of the tennis community, and that include the tennis media as well, to move beyond "selective" acceptance or unacceptance. Serena Williams is a dilema for the tennis community, as well, as her sister. From the very beginning they have not been a product of a controlled development of tennis. Therefore they are not judged on their tennis talent or results of that talent. I always find it amusing when at the beginning of a televised tournament, there is a mentioned of how many Americans in the tournament. There '5 Americans' and the William Sisters. Well aren't they Americans too. Mary Jo is on the cuff of being a hater, in my view she isn't quite there yet.

tennischick said...

On the cuff huh? How exactly does that work? Is that like being a little bit pregnant? LOL!

Thanks of course for all of the comments.

Anonymous said...

Totally and completely agree with Part 1. I have always thought Mary Jo was a hater of the Williams in general. The lady commentating with John McEnroe I think her name is Mary Caruillo she is worse than Mary Jo.

Some comments have been down right VICIOUS and unprofessional. I just mute the TV rather than listen to them.

Lara L. said...

Did Mary Jo say something to Serena after the U.S. Open 2009 foot fault outburst?

If you watch the video I think Mary Jo says something to her as Serena walks out of the arena. And it didn't look nice. Makes me wonder...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

John said..

I totally agree. I don't know why the network put up with her. You would think Serena never won a match never mind 16 grand slams. Serena just won a match @ the Open 6-3, 6-0 & you think she lost by that score. So sad.

Anonymous said...

Man,I thought I only felt that Mary Jo is the Biggest Williams Hater. Lets not leave out Chris Evert and occassionally Pam Shriver.
Mary Carillo in my mind is far from a Williams hater.Mary jo was the Olympic coach in 2012 and got to see wat the Williams sister act is really about. Serena knows that the haters are around but she shows them whos the Best

Scott Ellis said...

I'm not as subtle, I hate serena.She's a jackass with a chip on her shoulder.

Anonymous said...

I think most people dislike Serena. Like many pro athletes she is a self-absorbed, spoiled brat. Unlike many pro athletes, she has trouble giving here opponents who beat her credit for their play and usually attributes her loss to an off day.
The embarrassment she suffered over her US open disgraceful aggression toward a line judge could of more easily been forgiven had she acknowledged her mistake, taken responsibility for it and apologized. Chalking it up to a competitive personality opens the door for millions of teenagers who view her as a role model to do the same.

Anonymous said...

Hater going to hate

sydney allen said...

This is a very interesting article because I have been following Tennis for some 20 yrs ,and unfortunately there has always been a black lash in Tennis which just goes along with the sideways attitudes of many white Americans,it's really sad to see this happening in 2015, when will it ever end, there have been many white player mostly men who have had bad attitudes and displayed bad attitudes of the courts, but transgressions are forgiven,let's move forward,because it is what it is. Hater will die Haters

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