Serena Williams

July 06, 2010 7:06 AM


Thank the Lord for Serena Williams, and while you’re at it thank her father Richard for the hours spent on developing her serve.

It not only carried her to her 13th Grand Slam title in women’s tennis, where she rules the world, but it made up for page after page and photo after photo of World Cup soccer.

I understand the World Cup is just that, far more World than the American hyped but untrue World Series. I appreciate the skill and stamina of guys who can run back and forth for 90 minutes chasing a ball, and the dexterity they display in handling it with their feet.

But frankly, Uruguay against the Netherlands and Germany vs. Spain, and all that led up to those meetings and produced 10 (count ’em, 10) large photographs in the Sunday edition alone of my home reading, was more than my short attention span could bear.

I was impressed that Miroslav Klose scored his 14th World Cup goal for Germany, and that Ronaldo of Brazil is the only player to have scored more, with 15, but it was the first and probably the last time I will hear Miroslav Klose’s name, unless he catches up with Ronaldo in this week’s games.

Ronaldo and Pele and all the single-named guys of South American soccer greatness always remind me of street urchins without families, although they may be towering wealthy world figures in a sport that truly spans the globe. When whole countries you never heard of play and play well in a competition, it is entitled to call itself a World Cup. But the saturation coverage it got this year in the American press, particularly after the U.S. team left the scene early, was somewhat mystifying. Either sports editors thought the U.S. was going all the way and then found themselves stranded out on a distant limb, or some super publicists did an exceptional job, or the timing was such here at home that there was not much else to cover, or the sport quietly is winning wide favor at high schools and colleges here, or – perhaps – soccer is coming of age in America.

Despite that fact, I will be happy to see it go after this week. Those guys running back and forth over that big field wear me out.

Back to Serena Williams and her father. She recounted after her fourth Wimbledon singles victory last week how he had forced her and her older sister Venus to stay after hours of practice and work on their serves, like a basketball coach ordering players to stay after practice and do a few hundred free throws.

Serena’s serve stood her in good stead last week, with 9 aces in the final and 89 in the tournament. Martina Navratilova, who should know, called it the best in the history of women’s tennis.

That sport, incidentally, now has the same worldwide spread as soccer. On her way to the championship victory over Vera Zvonareva of Russia, Serena put away Vera’s better known compatriot Maria Sharapova, Li Na of China and Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic.

Her sister Venus, meanwhile, was eliminated early by 82nd ranked Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, and on the men’s side Andy Roddick, the main U.S. hope, was knocked out by Yen-Hsun Lu, also ranked 82nd, of Taiwan.

These world class players from around the globe are impressive athletes, but after struggling through the web of names I settled on Billie Jean King’s victory over men’s star Bobby Riggs back in 1973 as the most gripping of all tennis matches.

I watched it in the Columbus, Ohio, airport while waiting for a plane home to Chicago. The fact that it still resonates in my memory so vividly after 37 years says much about its drama, and it was, without much question, a turning point for women’s tennis everywhere.