Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players ever. In fact many would say she is the greatest female player of all time. A few days ago Serena Williams lost to Roberta Vinci of Italy in the Semi-Final of the US Open. Had she won, she would have been one match away from a rare calendar Grand Slam (Australian, French, Wimbledon and US Opens), a feat that has not been achieved since Steffi Graf swept the Grand Slam events in 1988.
No athlete, however successful, can be happy at being defeated even if the result is accepted with grace. Great athletes compete to win. They can take defeats and will often use them as reasons to work harder at their game so they can do better next time. Serena doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. Her place in history is already assured.
Her older sister Venus, also a champion whose achievements although not as spectacular are still praiseworthy, had this to say about a possible Serena loss in the Semi-Final or Final: “If it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to make or break you. We don’t have anything to prove. She has nothing to prove. She’s really the best ever, so what are you going to do? Just try to make it. If you don’t, then that’s that and go to the next one.”
It didn’t happen. Serena will move on. But she left something behind that was beautiful and profound, something that had nothing to do with tennis. It didn’t happen at the end of the Semi-Final, but at the end of the previous match, the Quarter-Final.
It was not the first time she had beaten Venus, but this match was special. Venus is already 35 but was showing the kind of form that won her many titles at the turn of the century when she, not Serena, was the ‘better sister’. Serena was No. 1 and was expected to win. She did. It was, according to Serena, one of the toughest matches she had played ‘in a really, really, really long time’. All the more reason for Venus to be disappointed.
Strangely, though, it was the loser who was consoling the winner. Venus was all smiles as she held her sister in her arms. They both would have known and now we know too that on this particular occasion it was somehow tougher for the winner.
No one knows what the sisters said to each other at the net when the match was over. Serena said she doesn’t remember anything at all. Venus wasn’t sure either: ‘I just said “I’m so happy for you”. I don’t remember what else I said after that. Just moments. Just the moments.’
Sisters are like that. Siblings, in general, are like that. It’s not the words that count for often the words are harsh and unforgiving. It’s the gestures that matter. It’s the moments.