Carson: There’s a certain beauty in individual sport
Alex Carson | Monday, September 14, 2015
It was all planned out perfectly.
I’d come in here today and sound off on the weekend at the U.S. Open, where the greatest women’s tennis player the world has ever seen had completed her most impressive accomplishment.
Except Friday afternoon, while I labored through the end of the day, a funny thing happened: Serena Williams lost.
The fact she lost maybe isn’t the shocking part: She’s 33, plays a sport that’s moderately fluky, and had all the pressure in the world on her shoulders as she pursued tennis’ first calendar grand slam since German Steffi Graf did it in 1988. It was the perfect scenario for a let down.
Instead, she lost to unranked Italian Roberta Vinci in a three-set shocker.
Had it been older sister Venus who took Serena out, or perhaps second-seeded Simona Halep, we wouldn’t have batted much of an eye. Sure, it still would’ve been a little surprising to see the world’s greatest player come so close to completing history without grabbing it, but it at least would’ve felt like a proper result.
Vinci entered the tournament with 300-to-1 odds of winning it. A $10 bet on Vinci on the morning of the semifinal would’ve netted you a nice $150 return. When you factor in that women’s tennis is a three-set game, rather than the five of the men’s one (hence “moderately fluky”), those are astronomically long odds of winning a match.
Yet Friday’s tennis in New York reminded us of the beauty of individual sport: on any day, at any place, any one competitor can rise up, high enough to knock off the world’s best — and it’s what will forever remain so intriguing about individual sport.
Think back to 2008, when we watched American swimmer Michael Phelps pursue a record haul at the Beijing Olympics. Entered in eight races, we watched on the edges of our seats, more waiting to see if anyone could beat the greatest talent the world had to offer, rather than waiting to see if he could beat them.
Or think about in a year, when we’ll be checking in on the 2016 Summer Games from Rio de Janeiro. Sure, we all want to see Usain Bolt go faster than anyone ever has before, but we’ll also be seeing if anyone could be faster than the man himself. I mean, think about it: what if someone’s quicker than Usain Bolt next year? For a time period that seems just quicker than the blink of an eye, someone could have it in them.
At the end of the day, no matter the specific discipline, individual sport is incredibly compelling. As a kid, it was about watching Tiger Woods walk to the 18th, looking to finish off another major final, or seeing Roger Federer cruise to another win on the world’s biggest stage, that remained so mesmerizing.
That’s what this weekend was supposed to feel like — college football on one TV, history at the tennis on the other. Serena was going to complete her slam, at 33, and cement her status as the greatest player to ever compete.
But of course, that didn’t happen. Whatever it was, the stage, the pressure, her opponent or, well, simply Drake’s appearance in the crowd, there was something Friday that kept Serena from what seemed like a date of destiny.
Give full credit to Vinci. Despite losing Saturday’s final to Flavia Pennetta, she booked her spot in history forever with a stunning upset and a great post-match interview, where her simple response of, “No,” was the perfect one when asked what made her think she could get the job done.
It was a result beyond words.
Regardless of what happens from here, Serena’s the greatest player women’s tennis has ever seen. Period. While she didn’t complete the calendar grand slam, she still sits atop women’s tennis at 33, undergoing her second reign at the top of the sport. After winning Wimbledon this summer, she held all four grand slam titles concurrently for the second time in her career, 11 years after doing it the first time, completing the “Serena slam” once more.
Her power and dominance over the game is remarkable, and that doesn’t get into the off-the-court obstacles she’s always faced.
But she’s human. That’s what Friday reminded us.
On one day, she wasn’t the best tennis player in the world. And that’s all it took for history to be dashed.
Don’t you love that?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.