This weekend, Serena Williams and Roger Federer each won their respective singles titles at the Australian Open, the first major tennis tournament of 2017. The achievement by two of the greatest tennis players of all-time was remarkable for several reasons: Serena Williams set an Open Era record with 23 Grand Slam singles titles under her belt. Roger Federer extended his record as the male tennis player with the most Grand Slam titles with his 18th win. And both players, at the ripe old tennis age of 35, demonstrated athletic excellence in a sport dominated by 20-somethings (I should also note that the Australian Open women’s final also featured Serena’s sister, Venus Williams, 36, who is also excelling at an age when most other players have chosen to retire). To celebrate these achievements, I’d like to share two of my favorite profiles of Serena and Roger.
Rankine’s 2015 essay on Serena Williams and black excellence:
I asked how winning felt for her. I was imagining winning as a free space, one where the unconscious racist shenanigans of umpires, or the narratives about her body, her ‘‘unnatural’’ power, her perceived crassness no longer mattered. Unless racism destroyed the moment of winning so completely, as it did at Indian Wells, I thought it had to be the rare space free of all the stresses of black life. But Serena made it clear that she doesn’t desire to dissociate from her history and her culture. She understands that even when she’s focused only on winning, she is still representing. ‘‘I play for me,’’ Serena told me, ‘‘but I also play and represent something much greater than me. I embrace that. I love that. I want that. So ultimately, when I am out there on the court, I am playing for me.’’
Wallace’s classic ode to Federer, about the experience of watching the pro play live at Wimbledon:
The metaphysical explanation is that Roger Federer is one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws. Good analogues here include Michael Jordan,(7) who could not only jump inhumanly high but actually hang there a beat or two longer than gravity allows, and Muhammad Ali, who really could “float” across the canvas and land two or three jabs in the clock-time required for one. There are probably a half-dozen other examples since 1960. And Federer is of this type — a type that one could call genius, or mutant, or avatar. He is never hurried or off-balance. The approaching ball hangs, for him, a split-second longer than it ought to. His movements are lithe rather than athletic. Like Ali, Jordan, Maradona, and Gretzky, he seems both less and more substantial than the men he faces.