Serena and Venus Williams are on their way to a sister to sister final at Wimbledon but I’m not paying much attention. What’s my problem?

Two sportscasters were talking about the current state of U.S. sports on the radio this afternoon. The U.S. is currently ranked 30th in the world in soccer, failed to reach the semifinals in the World Baseball Classic even though it was held in the U.S. and baseball is the national pastime, settled for the bronze medal in basketball at the last Olympics, and didn’t get a male tennis player past the third round at Wimbledon.

The U.S. still reigns supreme in U.S. football but that’s only because no other country plays it. And then there are the Williams sisters. Serena and Venus Williams are on course to meet in the finals at Wimbledon on Saturday. Neither sister has dropped a set yet and Serena bageled Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals.

Still, I found myself watching Andy Murray to see if he could reproduce another stunning match and take out Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals – he couldn’t – and checking in on Roger Federer to see if he’d have one of those off days that have taken him out of some big events this year – he didn’t, he took Mario Ancic out in straight sets.

I now realize that I have an attitude about the sisters and what’s up with that?

  1. Identity problem. This refers to Serena. I can’t get a bead on her. Venus reads pretty clearly. She’s an earnest and positive, even giggly, woman who loves her sister and family and works pretty hard at tennis. Serena? I don’t really know who she is. There’s the viciously competitive player who will not be denied when she wants it bad enough; the one who voiced the word “bitch” during a match with Justine Henin. There’s the all-business on court player who doesn’t mess around with bathroom breaks and other non-tennis tactics – unlike Henin – she just plays the game. There’s the player who is known to dismiss opponents as unimportant to the outcome of a match even after they’ve beaten her. There’s the woman who vamps on the fashion runway and peers out coyly from her WTA headshot. Is she viciously competitive and in your face or is she a coy ingénue? In your face is acceptable and beneficial in the world of competitive sports but it doesn’t go over well in the world of entertainment and sometimes I’m not sure which version of Serena I’m looking at.
  2. Jilted lover. I was burned by the sisters when they took off for alternative careers in acting and fashion and I’m hesitant to fall in love again. It wasn’t totally their fault. Both sisters had extensive problems with injuries and that accounted for some of their layoffs, but their lack of total dedication to the game frustrated me enough to transfer my tennis love elsewhere.
  3. Gender issues. I have some gender issues: I relate better to male athletes than I do to female athletes. I was riding home from Baja on a bus last week with a woman who is a longtime friend of Billie Jean King and she was rather mystified as to how this could be. Try explaining your preference for watching male athletes to a longtime friend of Billie Jean who was a founder of the WTA, is partially responsible for Title IX – the bedrock of U.S. law forbidding discrimination against women, and started the Women’s Sports Foundation. I took a few hard swallows before I managed to assure this woman that I was beyond thankful to Billie Jean but it’s just the way I’m wired. I like to watch the men. She grudgingly accepted my preference and mumbled something along the lines of, “At least you know what you like.”
  4. Aloofness. Again, this is not Serena or Venus’ fault but it is their father’s fault. The sisters have been held apart since their early days. Richard Williams didn’t let them play junior events, he just talked them up nonstop and ran them out for display now and then for a few sets with Chris Evert or some other tennis luminary to whet our appetite. He cried racism from early on in his daughters’ career and though the sisters have no doubt suffered from exactly that, as recently as this year Richard called Evert and Tracy Austin “white trash” and said that Venus and Serena will never be accepted in tennis.

Despite all that, I do plan to watch Serena and Venus if they play in the final because it’s the first time they’ve played in a slam since 2005 and Serena beat Venus in the last two finals they played here. If both players are on, it’ll be a killer of a match and I’ll always watch something like that.

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