Every few years, the New York Times magazine publishes an incredible piece about tennis. There’s David Foster Wallace’s unforgettable profile of Roger Federer, and now, John Jeremiah Sullivan delivers a fascinating look at Venus and Serena Williams, touching on their Jehovah’s Witness faith, their promoter/coach father, their lower-profile mother, and how being booed at the French Open is very different than getting racist yells at Indian Wells. Serena’s explanation:
“I don’t know if my dad said something. But I don’t need to go back there. They don’t like me. I don’t need to be there. If you can boo a teenager, and you can be white and 60 years old, you know what? I’m cool on you. I can understand maybe if they were 20, 15. But like at the French Open, the crowd boos you, but they’re young, they’re kids, they’re a younger crowd. It is what it is. You just know every time you go to Paris, you get booed, but you see so many kids in the crowd. At Indian Wells, everybody goes there when they’re retired. It’s like Palm Beach. I thought, People like Martin Luther King Jr. boycotted things. And this is nothing on that level. Look at Muhammad Ali, he didn’t even play, he went to jail because he didn’t want to go to war. The least I can do is stand up for my people and not go there. That’s the very least I can do. It’s not even that hard of a decision. I get a vacation on those two weeks. It’s like the easiest decision of my career. They can penalize me to death, I’m never going back.”
Great profile, well worth a read, especially for Venus’ description of her gold-medal-winning shot from the Olympics.