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Is Serena's time up?

DISPUTE: Serena Williams

WHEN SERENA Williams met Naomi Osaka in the finale of the Women’s Championship at the US Open, there was only going to be one winner. Us.
Because either way, we - black people, were never going to lose with one black woman on one side of the net and another black woman (albeit with an infusion of Haitian and Japanese blood) on the other side.

Just when we were fearing that the dominance by black women in the ladies’ game thanks to the Williams sisters was coming to an end, here comes another name to watch out for and who, all things being equal, will be a fixture at the very top of the tennis game for the next 10 or 20 years.

I say it is us – black people – who are the ultimate winners. Even though it was 20-year- old Osaka who won the battle of the titans. However, she is the first to acknowledge what difference her childhood hero, 17 years her senior – who she was facing across the net – had made to her childhood ambitions to be a tennis player.

Let’s be real, the Williams sisters have been the most influential sports people of the last two decades. More influential than Tiger Woods or anyone else.

Tiger Woods was influential and then went off the boil, ingloriously, after a very public altercation with his wife which just seemed to zap away his indisputable powers in the same way that Samson lost his strength (coincidentally perhaps) as he lost his dreadlocks.

And Serena suffered a not too dissimilar public altercation last weekend in the women's final against her black sista, Naomi Osaka. The umpire was out of order, I get that, but Serena was far too emotional to not let it affect her play.

She went into meltdown, instead of resorting to the cold, steel temperament that has kept her at the top of her game for the last 20 years. She is not the greatest women’s tennis player ever for nothing. She has taken on all comers and was toughened on the mean tennis courts of Compton, California, back be- fore Compton became middle class as it is now, back when the area was still in NWA’s words: “Straight outta Compton...” – and yet she fell apart because an umpire was not treating her with respect. And I get that, I really do.

For centuries we have been disrespected. For no real reason whatsoever. That’s why we went through the whole of the 1990s saying ‘Nuff respect’ to each other. Everybody knows that we don’t like being dissed.

Ask any white person, they will tell you – black people are extremely sensitive about being dissed. So why wasn’t the umpire briefed? He should have been told that you have to treat the greatest tennis player in the women’s game ever with respect - not just because she's black.

But I am divided in my loyalty to Serena in this respect: the other black player on the other side of the net should also be treated with respect. When you’ve got two black women playing each other in the nal of a grand slam, as the Williams sisters often did, then you have to offer the same deference to the one as to the other.

So here’s the rub, if Serena was getting coaching on court (she denies this, but her coach confirms that he had given her coaching on the court) then out of deference and respect to Naomi Osaka, the umpire had to diss Serena.

It’s hard to swallow, I know, but here you have two women who could claim that they have an historic sensitivity to being dissed because of enslavement. Having said that, Osaka is half- Haitian half-Japanese.

In fact, it’s the Japanese side of her that has been played up by the press, with her being the rst Japanese person to win a grand slam. But, then again, she is also the rst Haitian person to have won a grand slam.

In my view, that is surely the nobler cause. Haiti could do with a grand slam right about now given what it has been through since the hurricane and the earthquake and everything else that it has had to endure over the last decade or so.

To me, Naomi Osaka looks more like a sister than Japanese. Certainly, that is how I claim her. But can we as a people claim her when the press is determined to snatch her away from us and hand her - game, set and match to Japan?

Because we need her. We need Naomi Osaka. Our children need Naomi Osaka.
The Williams’ sisters cannot carry on for ever. That is what Serena’s outburst last weekend speaks to.


The clock is ticking against her in her bid to equal Margaret Court’s record number of grand slams. She needs to win one more to equal it, but that is proving harder than she expected, despite her coming back from maternity after a birth in which she almost died.

She is remarkable, but time catches up with us all and, as the clock ticks, so does the panic and frustration that Serena displayed against the umpire in the US Open women’s final. I would never normally bet against her, but I’m worried that Serena ain’t gonna make it. In which case, she needs to pass the banner on to the next in line to her throne which, dare i say, is Naomi Osaka.

If our kids can look up to her in the way that they have looked up to Serena and Venus Williams, if they can be inspired by Naomi Osaka in the way that they have been inspired by Serena and Venus... well, they’ll be okay. I’m certain of that.

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