I enjoyed the 2015 match between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open, but, alas, I had to be subjected to Chris Evert’s snide commentary. Evert concedes Serena is probably the best who’s played the game but can’t seem to get past Serena’s athleticism. In fact, according to Evert, it’s all Serena has or has ever needed to win. If I, an average tennis player, can see how Serena sets up a point, varies her pattern of play, and changes her shot selection when necessary, I’m sure Evert, the former pro, does too.
But yesterday, Evert made the statement, one she’s proffered before, that the only difference between Serena and Maria is Serena’s athleticism. Really? It reminds me of assertions sports commentators have made in the past about black athletes, alluding they were all brawn and no brains. Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis, and a few others I recall got called on it.
In no sport does the best player win on just athleticism, why would Evert think tennis is any different? On one tennis website that discusses what’s necessary to win constantly, they state: “Tennis players who consistently win their matches bring more to the court than a killer forehand or serve. Winning is an art that involves the ability to observe your opponent and act on what you see. It also takes mental fortitude and an ability to protect, and even mask, your own weaknesses.”
Mental fortitude! You will never hear that from Evert. Here’s my take on Evert, giving her the benefit of a doubt she’s not merely a hater. The game has passed her by. Evert can’t conceive of a female player who has combined the characteristics of mental toughness, intelligence, self-confidence, focus, determination, and yes, athleticism, to dominate for so long.
But I’m not taking the hater label off the table entirely. Evert then comments that Sharapova makes more money than Serena through endorsements and knows it irritates Serena. It’s like some schoolyard kid who watches their friend lose a foot race and says, “Yeah, well, the other guy’s dad drives a beat-up car.”
Okay. My mother always told me to be nice, so I won’t call Evert a hater. But, I can’t call her uninformed either. So, I’ll let the reader come to their own conclusion.