US OPEN: Serena Williams – Tennis Player, Caring Mother, Cultural Leader

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Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

OSAKA AND THE END OF INNOCENCE: In her presser after her win, Inside Tennis had this fun exchange with 20-year old Naomi Osaka:

INSIDE TENNIS: The other day [your coach] Sascha said he thought you had a [certain] innocence…[And that] people could learn from that quality. Do you think you have that quality? NAOMI OSAKA: I’m not sure (laughter). Hmm. I’m not really sure because, like, sometimes people tell me I’m naïve. I’m not really sure if that is like similar to innocence. For me innocence is, like, this little baby, right, that was just born. For me that’s what innocence means.

IT: No, it’s being not jaded, being unspoiled, not being caught up in a lot of bad stuff.
NO: How do you know I’m not caught up in bad stuff (smiling)?

IT: I’m asking.
NO: Yeah, I guess I like to think that I’m not.

BURT REYNOLDS – THE TENNIS CONNECTION: The late Burt Reynolds and Chris Evert  were an item for a while.

JUST WONDERING: What if the roof had been closed when Roger melted down against John Millman?

TONIGHT’S TAKEAWAY: Mary Joe Fernandez said, “It’s great to see Serena impose her game not just with power, but with positioning and willingness to move forward.”

SERENA AND BLACK MOTHERHOOD – A CUTTING-EDGE TAKE: In her press conference Serena said, “I definitely don’t feel myself yet…I don’t feel like me. My mom said it takes a full year to kind of get back… The emotions and expectations…it’s a lot…Even my body is different. I actually weigh less than I did before…but it’s distributed differently now. My stomach is a little bigger… I’m still waiting to get to be the Serena that I was, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be.”

Her courageous, open comments brought to mind a cutting-edge article on black women in The Undefeated which said Serena “will always be carrying her baby weight…It’s the weight of dramatically less time, exponentially more responsibilities and a whole new future of greater expectations. It doesn’t necessarily correlate to the readout on the scale…[but] that comes with bringing a new human being into the world…
“’Last week was not easy for me,’ Williams posted on Instagram earlier this month. She was in a funk, she said. “Mostly, I felt like I was not a good mom…It’s totally normal to feel like I’m not doing enough…I’m trying to be the best athlete I can be…I’m here to say: if you are having a rough day or week – it’s ok–I am, too!! There’s always tomm!’…[Williams was] thinking out loud….

in a nation with a long history of commodifying, politicizing or devaluing black motherhood. This country has a dangerous habit of codifying black mother stereotypes — loving mammy to white babies, dangerous breeder of welfare-dependent black ones — while hollowing out, discounting or simply ignoring the joys, complexities and interior lives of black women with children…

“Erika Nicole Kendall, who writes a blog called A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss…calls motherhood its own endurance sport. She marvels at Williams and the ‘mental energy of being on the court, but also knowing, ‘Oh, God, did I order this? Did I take care of this?’”

In July Williams tweeted that she wept after not seeing Olympia’s first steps because she was training. She told Time, “I’ve had meltdowns. It’s been a really tough 11 months.”
 Serena also combatted postpartum depression. She explained, ‘Because, as black women, we are rarely given the opportunity to say, you know what? I am actually hurting…I need a very particular kind of support.”

The Undefeated noted, “Pregnancy brings differences in spatial awareness and muscles may have atrophied…[Williams] told Vogue that after her daughter was born, “everything went bad.” Medical personnel didn’t believe her when she told them she was having a pulmonary embolism…and she almost died.
 “Not having doctors listen to the greatest athlete of our time, knowing that she had that experience the way that the woman who lives down the block from me in Brooklyn had that experience, that’s crazy to me,” said Kendall. 

Dorothy Roberts, a University of Pennsylvania professor, talked about “the maternal mortality for black women at a meeting of black sociologists and people shouted out, ‘Serena! Serena!’…She has come to represent…this issue that has been covered up for so long.

Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes…[They] 
are disbelieved about and underrated for their physical pain…Stereotypes rooted in slavery and exploitation contend that black women’s bodies are overly fertile while their concerns for their children are underdeveloped, said Roberts. But because of Williams’ celebrity and the love that many people have for her, her raising these health concerns…validates what many black women have experienced.” In May Serena wrote by a picture of her in her catsuit, “For all the moms out there who had a, tough recovery from pregnancy — here you go. If I can do it, so can you. Love you all!!”

Black women “’have been juggling it all for centuries, but the reality is we’re not fully formed,” said author Tamara Winfrey Harris. “Williams allows us to see that, embrace it and make community around it. There is an assumption that is bound up with the idea of strong black womanhood, that because a lot of our foremothers had to juggle all this stuff, and had to keep working when they had…difficulty healing after a pregnancy, that somehow they were especially equipped for it.” Harris said. 

“But now we have Williams, telling us how all this new baby stuff feels at every point: Up jive early, miss my baby girl, sleep deprived. Ugh! She’s at the line, serving up her motherhood for public consumption. Harris said. “Serena, Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, these are avatars for black womanhood.’”

SERENA BY THE NUMBERS:
24 – Slam singles titles Serena will have if she wins the US Open
66 – Minutes it took to beat Anastasija Sevastova
31 – Winners vs. Sevastova (against 20 unforced errors)
24 – Net points won vs. Sevastova (out of 28 played)
6 – US Open titles
8 – US Open finals
0 – Wins over Naomi Osaka, against one loss
2 – Sets lost to Naomi Osaka
1 – Set lost at this year’s Open, to Kaia Kanepi
1 – Age of Serena’s daughter Alexis Olympia, born on September 1 last year
3 – Number of coaches Serena’s had (father Richard, mother Oracene Price and Patrick Mouratoglou)
72 – WTA singles titles
319 – Weeks at No. 1
86,383,301 – Career prize money, in dollars
39 – Total number of Slam titles, including doubles
3 – Wonderful outfits she’s worn at Slams this year (black bodysuit at the French Open, all-white at Wimbledon, and lavender and black tutus at the Open)
4 – Olympic medals, all Gold
129 – Miles per hour of her fastest serve ever
17 – Age when the 36-year-old won her first Slam, the US Open
2 – Number of Slam singles finals this summer
30 – Number of Slam singles finals in her career
0 – Number of Slam singles finals as a junior. She didn’t play any majors as a junior
10 – Number of months after her childbirth before she reached the Wimbledon final
30 – Yards between Serena’s seat and the altar at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding
0 – Slam wins as a mother
18 – Wins over Venus
12 – Losses to Venus
3 – Williamses on court when she won her last Slam (Serena and the in-vitro Olympia and Venus)
0 – Number of female athletes who get more attention than Serena

QUOTEBOOK:
“I feel nervous for you when she looks up and starts yelling at you. All the best.” – Pam Shriver to Anastasija Sevastova’s coach-boyfriend Ronald Schmidt
“I’ve been working hard on my volleys. I’ve won a few doubles championships. Usually I just come up [to the net] to shake hands.” – Serena

OLD ACQUAINTANCES: “I don’t know if it’s going to be emotional or not for Serena because she spent a lot of time with him.” – Patrick Mouratogllou on Serena facing a player coached by her former hitting partner, Sascha Bajin

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