The comment is almost apocryphal now. Asked by some reporter covering the tennis beat which of his daughters was the best without hesitation he said Serena, who was barely on anyone's radar at the time. The reaction was "what does this crazy black man know?" That reaction resulted in a lot of time and money being spent to create an answer to Venus Williams. Meanwhile Serena, cat suit and all, did her thing almost in the shadows. She won, but unlike her sister she seemed freer to express her inner self.
Fast forward to October 27, 2013 and the WTA YEC in tennis crazy Istanbul, Turkey. Having played a full schedule this year Serena Williams came into Istanbul the favorite to win the crown and the title of Best of 2013.
Barely challenged in her first three Round Robin matches there was a lot of surprise when Jelena Jankovic, the Clown Princess of the WTA, pushed Serena around the court. Was the Great One hurt? Tired? Disinterested since she would end the year at #1 no matter what?
After recouping and winning the match Serena said that she was tired, that she had simply run into the proverbial wall. But she still had one match to win before she could find a beach somewhere and chill out for a few weeks. That match was against Li Na who, like Serena, came into the final undefeated. Li had not won a set off of Serena since practically the Year 1 but that was all to change. The Li Na who played the first set looked nothing like the Li Na fans knew. She was nearly perfect at the net. Whatever offense Serena tried to generate she negated. Serena was so flustered she was hitting the ball to where Li was standing instead of to the open court. That's stuff she does in her sleep. Li started the second set much like she had the first although Serena showed signs of waking up. She had no legs. She was playing on instinct as Alicia Molik, half of the commentary team along with Kevin Skinner, said. And it looked as if she were on her way to a loss.
I'm going to go slightly off topic for a minute. A win by Li would've been great for WTA CEO Stacy Allaster who has overseen a transfer of WTA tournaments from Europe and the United States to Asia. During the semi final a young woman from Singapore did the coin toss. And in the group picture taken after the event Stacy positioned herself between Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai, the doubles champions.
I think this is an amazing picture. No serious tennis fan expects the atmosphere provided by Istanbul at next years Year End Championship Yet Stacy is implying that China will provide next years champion. That's a tall order for a country that is obsessed with table tennis. I for one will miss Istanbul. The fans there provided the only full and enthusiastic houses for women's tennis for the last three years.
But back to today's match. First Serena braided her hair. She was wearing A LOT of hair for this tournament and some wags speculated that the weight of it was weighing her down. She began to wake up towards the end of the first set after she braided her hair though but that wasn't what turned the match.
The man with the Golden voice, Kader Nouni, rather loudly told Li to tell her coach to "stop it". She knew what he meant. It was said with the mic open so Carlos Rodriguez knew what it meant. For the next five to ten minutes Molik and Skinner praised Rodriguez to the hilt while on court Li Na, no longer having her coach choreograph her every move and shot, began to play like she always does against Serena.
It remains to be seen how many bloggers and commentators pick that as the turning point. It took years of fans calling Rodriguez and his former pupil out for the obvious coaching and her inability to think on court without his "guidance". Sunday the dependance on him Rodriguez fosters in his charges and what happens when he can't do his thing was painfully obvious. Li wasn't the player she'd been for a set and a half. Serena lifted her game but it wasn't a "dramatic" come back. It was Serena showing that even running on fumes she's the best woman on the court everything else being equal.
In my opinion Serena had to win today. It was the win she needed to stop anyone from saying she had not had the best year in recent memory reducing all of the rivals to sad wannabes. Give Victoria Azarenka credit. She showed up in Istanbul. A mysterious, recurring shoulder injury kept someone else away from any competition after Wimbledon.
But that is the stuff to talk about until players report for Hopman Cup at the end of December. Right now the moment belongs to Serena Jameka Williams and her team. They helped her keep body and mind together and they, along with their boss, can hold that trophy up high. And at the end Serena gave a shout out to the man who put her on the road to her triumph this year, her father, Richard Williams.