Just weeks after winning the French Open in dominating fashion, Serena Williams’ fourth-round exit at Wimbledon came as quite a shock to the tennis world. Williams’ 34-match win streak came to an end thanks to the strong play of 23-seed Sabine Lisicki from Germany, taking down Williams -a five-time Wimbledon champion- in three sets.
This particular loss will not define Williams’ tournament or even prove to be the most memorable aspect of her time at Wimbledon, as her off-court controversy dominated the headlines.
Comments attributed to Williams in a Rolling Stone Magazine article caused an uproar in the week leading up to Wimbledon. First, excerpts from the article emerged quoting Williams criticizing a teenage rape victim from Steubenville, OH.
The writer also asserted that “mean girl” comments made by Williams in a phone conversation he overheard were about fellow tennis star Maria Sharapova, to which the world No. 3 responded with a low blow of her own during a Wimbledon press conference.
The public fallout from her comments in print put Williams on the defensive, prompting a series of half-apologies, followed - days later - by words of seemingly sincere remorse.
Serena’s faux pas reinforced the delicacy of the balancing act performed by public figures.
Williams’ attempt at openness (in letting a writer into her home for the Rolling Stone article) proves just how important managers, handlers and PR professionals are to maintaining the success and longevity of their clients’ brands.
Much to reporters’ chagrin, some athletes know better. They refrain from using twitter. They don’t say much during press conferences or locker room interviews. They don’t want to bother trying to censor themselves to appease everybody (an impossible feat) or they know their limitations, acknowledging that public speaking won’t put them in a position to succeed.
Had Williams made such controversial statements as a younger champion not yet possessing a Hall of Fame resume, it might not have hurt her career on the court, but the hoopla could have impacted endorsement deals and other areas of her professional life.
Whether she likes it or not, Williams is a role model to many, not just children. As a young girl home schooled and raised in Compton, she is a wonderful example of where work ethic and dedication can take a person. As someone who oozes both feminism and power, it’s interesting and disheartening that each instance of Williams’ recent negativity was aimed at other women.
Williams is entitled to her opinion but perhaps these last few weeks in London have served as a reminder that her actions are bigger than herself and more important than winning or losing.
During last year’s Wimbledon tournament, I wrote an article about the heinous grunting in tennis after Caroline Wozniaki, one of the top women on tour, criticized a fellow player’s incessant noise making.
"I think there are some players who do it on purpose," Wozniaki told The Guardian during Wimbledon in 2011. "They don’t do it in practice and then they come into the match and they grunt. I think they [officials] could definitely cut it.
"If you grunt really loudly your opponent cannot hear how you hit the ball. Because the grunt is so loud, you think the ball is coming fast and suddenly the ball just goes slowly. In tight moments, maybe the grunt helps them with getting less nervous.”
The Women’s Tennis Association heard the complaints of Wozniaki and the fans loud and clear, as a new plan to curb excessive grunting and shrieking is now in the works. WTA chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster addressed the situation at Wimbledon last year saying the matter deserved attention and she followed through big time, unveiling a few measures to be taken in the future.
According to USA Today:
The umbrella scenario, unanimously green-lighted this month at Roland Garros in Paris by representatives of the four majors, the International Tennis Federation and the WTA players’ council, would include:
• The development of a handheld device — a kind of Hawk-Eye for noise — for umpires to objectively measure on-court grunting levels.
• A new rule setting acceptable and non-acceptable noise levels based on acoustical data gathering and analysis.
• Education at large tennis academies, national development programs and at all levels of junior and lower-tier professional events.
The new measures are designed not to punish or affect current players, instead aiming to start at the youth level in hopes of curbing unnecessary noise before it ever becomes a habit.
If you’ve never noticed just how nasty the vocal emissions can get on a tennis court, well, you’ve probably never watched a match and therefor likely wouldn’t be reading this blog post. But just in case, here’s a reminder, care of last year’s The Guardian article:
“The shrieks of the 2004 Wimbledon champion [Maria Sharapova] have been compared to a pneumatic drill and have been measured at more than 100 decibels. [Victoria] Azarenka’s grunts are longer and higher-pitched, and were described by one Wimbledon watcher this year as “like Mickey Mouse in distress.”
Umm, I’d say that’s a fair assessment. I’ve watched many a match on mute because the grunting drives me nuts. I’m all for the this new, seemingly diplomatic larynx legislation, especially considering the WTA consulted current and former players, as well as sports science and psychology experts.
But what about the guys? According to the USA Today article, ATP spokesperson Kate Gordon expressed that “the issue is not perceived to be a problem on the ATP World Tour and has not been raised.”
Hey ATP, I just watched the men’s doubles final at Wimbledon, complete with a +3 hour-long soundtrack of low groans and grunts. Sure, the boys aren’t typically murdering our ears with high-pitch squeals made famously annoying by the girls, but their sounds are bothersome all the same.
The ladies are often guilty of disturbing the peace, but so are the gentleman. The same rules should apply to both tours. The WTA does not yet have an implementation schedule for this new plan, but I’m looking forward to the day when I won’t have to even think about muting my TV during a match.