All day they were hyping it.
Venus and Serena Williams — the first sisters in more than a hundred years to face each other for the Women's Title in a Grand Slam Tennis event. And it would be televised in prime time. Not since 1973 when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a tennis match billed as the "Battle of the Sexes," had a woman played tennis in prime time. It had taken 28 years to see such a spectacle again.
The conventional wisdom for too long was that watching women play sports was just not as exciting, professional, or popular as watching men. Who made that decision?
They decided sports were for men. We, women weren't supposed to be interested, and if we were, it was because we wanted to see men in their tight football pants. Yes, I heard such statements from men in sports journalism.
Diana Ross Kicks Off Historic Match
There is much to be said of the Williams's' sisters' historic match. There was hoopla and pageantry. Diana Ross led a chorus of young girls in a rendition of God Bless America, a huge flag unfurled on the court by U.S. servicemen. There was a woman announcer, a woman judge, and young ball girls dashed across the court. The Arthur Ashe stadium, named for the first black male tennis star, was packed with twenty-three thousand men, women, and children, the rich and famous, and ordinary people of every race, color and creed.
What had brought this diverse crowd out on a breezy Saturday night in September? A championship match between two young black sisters at the top of the world of women's tennis, who had been born in Compton, California, one of the poorest and most crime-ridden cities in America.
Venus and Serena, under the strict tutelage of their father Richard, learned to play the game on the cracked pavement of a public tennis court. In a sport usually reserved for the country club set of wealthy white people, the Williams' sisters grew up and became masters of it.
So I curled up in front of the TV set Saturday, not so much to see the match. I didn't care who won or lost. I wanted to see history in the making. As an African American woman, who was also born in an area of mean streets, I wanted to experience the pride of watching members of my gender, race, and class, demonstrate their excellence to the world. Throughout the 69-minute match I thrilled at the speed with which they served the ball, the power of their volleys, and the lunges and swerves their strong athletic bodies made all over the court.
When Venus beat her younger sister, she hugged Serena and seemed to be even sorry that she had outplayed her. It was as if tennis is one thing, but family is the main thing. In their interviews after the match, they showed that they consider themselves to be sisters first. In our competitive society, they imparted an important lesson.
As they left the court, after graciously accepting their trophies and prize money, I could utter only one overworked phrase: "You go, girls." And I'm sure they will, as far as they can.