The Final Outburst

Serena’s meltdown on court reinforces the worst mommyhood stereotypes

10/12/2018 1:41:45 AM
written By : Shobhaa De Print

This is the kind of story that demands taking a position. It is difficult to stay ‘neutral’ about the Serena Williams’ meltdown at the US Open and shrug philosophically, “It happens.” Suddenly, all those ugly issues that had been swept under the clay or grass carpet for decades, were out there — and millions of tennis fans watching the historic match were left shell-shocked by what they witnessed. All sorts of accusations and allegations started doing the rounds, even before the winner Naomi Osaka could savour her big moment and lift the cup. How unfortunate. And how avoidable!

Yes — avoidable. Serena Williams is a living legend. She is not just another world-class tennis player. She has already created history by thrashing opponents, just a year after delivering her baby girl. Serena had shared the details of the entire pregnancy with her countless fans, confessing how hard it had been for her to get back on the courts given the life-threatening blood clot she had suffered. We knew she was under tremendous emotional stress and missing her baby while on tour. We were aware she was a hands-on mom and felt guilty about not being there for her baby’s first steps and other milestones. We recalled her quote, “Tennis is just a game. Family is forever.” We empathised! We applauded! We cheered her on. And we desperately wanted her to win this particular championship. Sorry! But that’s not how it turned out. Too bad for Serena.

I am not qualified to comment on the chair umpire’s judgement calls, and whether or not Carlos Ramos was out of line when he penalised Serena. Going by the reports, he followed the rule book and didn’t make special concessions for the legend. That is his prerogative. The point is he cannot be faulted for exceeding his brief. As for Serena and her reaction, her supporters insist she was justified in calling him out. Was she also justified in calling him names? Come on! You call a professional chair umpire a ‘liar’ and a ‘thief’, and it’s okay? No, it most definitely isn’t! About her ‘baby blues’ — listen, honey, it is your call. You decided to get back on the circuit. Nobody forced you. And women across the world clapped when you won your first, post-baby match. It’s true. Serena emphatically demonstrated to professional female athletes that having a baby at the peak of one’s career is not the end of the world. The Mommy Crown was hers! Serena inspired all those mums who wanted to be out there, achieving their goals and ambitions. Her attitude conveyed an important message to these ladies: their dreams didn’t have to die in the delivery room. She urged them to go out there and ace their game.

Then came this! More’s the pity. Her behaviour reinforced the worst mommyhood stereotypes, about women who can’t cope with post-partum depression... about female hormones that are totally out of control. She really should have left the baby out of her battle with Ramos. The poor baby will be forced to live with her role in mommy’s public meltdown for all times to come!

In all this drama, the one person who was cheated out of her moment of glory, was the woman who thrashed Serena in straight sets — Naomi Osaka. Born in Chuo-Ku, Osaka, to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, Naomi became the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles tournament. Described as ‘bi-racial’ in Japan, the spunky 20- year-old, who lives in America and is not “entirely fluent” in Japanese, but totally fluent in English, was treated like some exotic ‘outsider’ who had the temerity to defeat an American icon. How twisted is that! Playing before a partisan, ill-mannered crowd that booed and displayed the worst match conduct, Naomi was forced to hide her face, wipe away tears and all but apologise for winning! She won hearts by displaying humility and grace under very difficult circumstances, when she said, “I just want to say ‘thank you’ for watching the match. It was always my dream to play Serena Williams in the US Open finals, so I am really glad I was able to do that. Thank you.” A true dream to play Serena Williams in the US Open finals, so I am really glad I was able to do that. Thank you.” A true champion was born in that instant.

What happens to Serena Williams going forward will be interesting to watch. Her fans and critics will be debating the racist/sexist implications for years to come. Serena has had an extraordinary run from the time she started playing on the circuit way back in 1995 as a 14-year-old. But, this is how it works, Serena. You have enjoyed a long and glorious innings. It is Naomi’s time now. Till then, do make the most of motherhood — tennis, too! Remember, the two are not mutually exclusive. And while you are at it, we are sure you will be concentrating on raising another world champion. Baby Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr — get a firm grip on that racquet now! 

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