During a brief wave of match-fixing hysteria two years ago, a whizzkid with a laptop drew up a list of tennis players who attracted unusual betting patterns.
One of them was Lleyton Hewitt, which made a strange kind of sense.
Not because it is possible to imagine him throwing a match – you cannot – but because he is a two-time former slam champion who soldiered on into his late 30s despite a ranking in the low 100s and several bionic body parts. No wonder the punters did not know what to make of him.
Yet if Hewitt perplexed the tennis world, then Serena Williams is blowing our minds. During the annual Wimbledon spring press conference, last week, the hosts’ confident answers on prize money and site development suddenly dried up when they were asked whether she deserved a discretional seeding.
Philip Brook and Richard Lewis, the tournament’s chairman and chief executive, looked at each other in confusion.
The All England Club should perhaps have anticipated the question, given Williams had told The New York Times: “If you want to have a baby and take a few months off … you shouldn’t have to be penalised for that. Pregnancy is not an injury.”
But then this is uncharted territory for the game’s administrators.
Williams is the ultimate anomaly and no one is quite sure how to deal with her.
Arguably the greatest player of all, she is now trying to regain her former stature at 36 — an age at which no woman has won a major title.
And in case defeating time was not a big enough challenge on its own, she is attempting to do so with a baby daughter in tow. After much rustling of papers, Brook and Lewis deferred the seeding question until their meeting on June 26.
It might seem a stretch to place a woman whose ranking now stands at No 449 among the 32 protected players.
In the end, though, tennis stands and falls by the drawing power of its big names.
We are not talking about a star here as much as a supernova.
And the light shines all the more brightly in a darkening sky.
With Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Maria Sharapova all struggling for fitness or form, Williams’s international appeal becomes especially valuable.
As if to underline this point, a five-part documentary series entitled Being Serena opened its run on Thursday. Williams thus became part of an elite group – including feminist icon Gloria Steinem, news anchor Anderson Cooper and director Steven Spielberg – whose lives have been put on screen by cable behemoth HBO.
The cameras started rolling late in her pregnancy, so tennis was not the focus of the opening episode.
Yet the way she kept referring back to her sport reminded us that, despite her recent withdrawal from next week’s event in Madrid, her ambitions still burn bright.
“There’s no escaping the fear … that I can’t be both the best mother and the best tennis player in the world,” Williams said.
“I guess my only choice is to live and find out.”
This is no small undertaking.
As a black woman who grew up in the notorious Los Angeles ghetto of Compton, Williams was already playing the video game of life on something close to its maximum-difficulty setting.
With this latest comeback, she has turned that dial up to 11.
Yet her husband, Alexis Ohanian, was right to suggest that she “has another gear she can shift into, both mentally and physically”.
Should Williams somehow deliver an eighth Wimbledon title this summer, it will go down as one of the greatest stories in sport.—Yahoo
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