In an uncertain era, the success of Venus and Serena tells a story of the greatness that already exists in the United States
It was to be Serenas day. But the impact of an all-Williams final at the Australian Open cannot be overstated.
Before Serenas victory over Venus in Melbourne, the 23rd major title of her glittering career, the last time the two sisters went head-to-head in a grand slam final was at Wimbledon in 2009. Serena bested Venus in a tough two-set match. At the time, the sisters had won multiple titles in their already storied careers, which began with family practice sessions on the dilapidated courts of Compton.
Off the court, another breakthrough: Barack Obama had recently been sworn in as the nations first African American president. When Serena was winning Wimbledon, Obama was only months into his first term. As fraught as his legacy may be, history will likely regard him as the most inclusive president the country has ever had.
Obamas presence at the helm of the nation was a newfound symbol of possibility. It was the first time that a man who wasnt white and wealthy occupied the Oval Office.
And the Williams sisters have represented something similar for American tennis, and the sport at large, carrying a legacy that dates back to the triumphs of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. Theyve defied the odds, as a family, and as sisters, to achieve unrivaled excellence on their own terms.
Both sisters, black women, have pushed past abject racism at major tournaments, sexist and misogynist characterizations of their physicality and their bodies, and many other indignities as urban-raised women playing a sport associated with wealthy suburban whites.
And as they moved through the draw in Melbourne, a businessman named Donald Trump became the US president.
His record, and his campaign, ran antithetical to almost anything Obama and the Williams sisters represent. Trump bragged of grabbing women by their genitals; various sexual harassment and rape claims emerged last year. His company faced a lawsuit from the US Justice Department in 1973, which was settled with no admission of wrongdoing, where Trumps real-estate business allegedly discriminated against black people. He advocated immigration bans for Muslims, and rallied for building a wall with Mexico two promises he seems intent on keeping based on recently filed executive orders.
A vote for Trump was a vote to Make America Great Again or so he claimed.
Although the all-Williams final has nothing to do with Trump directly because we can indeed celebrate their latest feat independent of politics their mere presence and achievement in the sport, as two black women, tells a story of the greatness that already exists in America.
For scores of fans, and for up-and-coming tennis players, the Williams sisters have demonstrated whats possible when two individuals, with the support of family, community, and each other, power through adversity and absurdity to reach the highest heights of their craft.
Their stories, and their careers, have inspired a generation including the likes of 25-year-old American pro Coco Vandeweghe, who, before their semi-final match, said shed long counted Venus as a hero. Or even 21-year-old Madison Keys, the heir apparent to Serenas throne.
And on a personal level, although Im far from a professional tennis player, I once dreamed about that possibility. As a kid who grew up on Chicagos South Side, I didnt see or notice much about tennis; I was being pushed towards basketball or football. Thats until I happened upon Venus playing in the 2000 Wimbledon final, against Lindsay Davenport. I remember sitting on my aunts bed, as an 11-year-old, watching the match on an 80s color TV set.
After seeing Venus win, I thought: Maybe I can try and play that sport someday. I do so now. Many of my friends would say something similar after watching the Williams sisters in their youth, and as they aged along with them.
But now, at 36 and 35 respectively, Venus and Serena still appear to have a few more good years left. When they last met at a grand slam, in the 2015 US Open quarter-finals, many fans wondered if that would be the last time theyd see the sisters across the net from each other at a major. Itd become something fans expected during the early-to-mid 2000s, before injuries, health issues, and other life events posed as twists in the sisters tales.
We cant be sure if this years Australian Open will be the last time. For all we know, 2017 could be 2002-03 all over again, when Serena prevailed in four consecutive grand slam finals over Venus, winning her first of two Serena slams.
Whatever happens, however much longer they play professionally, what the Williams sisters have given to fans is more than enough, both on and off the court. Theyve approached their careers with style, humor, aplomb, and even pointed snark when need be.
And they, as individuals and as a family unit, are but one example of Americas promise one theyve achieved for themselves, one theyve presented as a possibility to a new generation, and as part of a larger promise thats yet to be fulfilled for black people, women, and other marginalized people, who now live amid fear and resistance in the age of Trump.