The first question of Serena Williams in her postmatch media session Thursday probed her fashion sense — how she goes about picking her outfits (she designs them), and her preference in colors (loves white because she wears it so seldom). The second reference, naturally, was to her nail polish (an unmistakable bright red).
Eventually, it got around to tennis.
This might have been a perfect launch point, once, for another lambasting of Serena’s misplaced priorities, or at least with others’ obsession about that. It might have invited more admonishment over how her interests in stuff like clothing design and acting have sometimes made it seem tennis is what she does on the side, time permitting.
No more. Enough with that.
Maybe Serena had it right all along. Maybe the rest of us had it wrong.
We all seemed to know better than she did what was right for her and her career, didn’t we? We knew best. Serena was not playing in enough tournaments. She was not serious enough about the sport. She was not respecting it! She let outside interests distract her. She was wasting her true talent.
Wrong, wrong. All of it.
This is her life and her career, not ours. And it turns out the pace she has chosen for that career has been just right for her. It has kept her fresh, engaged. It has extended her prime. It has helped make her the oldest woman, at 31, to stand atop the tennis world — and with no decline in sight.
(The older I get, the stranger it seems that 31 in any context might be considered old. But enough of that lament.)
Serena needs no outside validation but deserves it, anyway. If she can win two tennis majors in 2012 while also recording a hip hop album (according to reports), well, that’s raising the bar on multitasking. More power to her.
This sport can heap pressure on aspiring pros before their acne is gone and leave them burned out early. Rare is the pro still at his or her peak at 31. But here was Serena, stepping from a tunnel Thursday into the sunlit breeze at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, and onto that distinctive purple court.
They say purple is the color of royalty.
Fitting, then, because Serena is still the queen.
“Ladies and gentleman,” began the stadium announcer, “the No. 1 player in the world …”
Nourishing, those words. Like youth serum.
“There’s nothing like when they announce you [as that],” Williams said. “For me it definitely gives you a little more confidence. A little more pep in your step. It’s just a great feeling. This keeps me going. I’m No.1. I’m pretty good at it still.”
She’s “pretty good” at tennis like LeBron James is at basketball. Serena exudes the same physical presence and aura of intimidation that LeBron does. She just seems palpably better. You know how a towering, dunking LeBron looked to the Celtics’ Jason Terry the other night? That’s how Serena must look to so many overmatched opponents.
The latest, on Thursday, was Italy’s Flavia Pennetta, a 6-1, 6-1 victim in Williams’ opening match of the annual two-week tournament in Key Biscayne, the sport’s “fifth major” in its 27th year just southeast of Miami.
The match was over the moment the two women’s sneakers hit the court. The mismatch was such that when Pennetta hit a winner in the final game of the second set, she lifted her arms and waved them to rev up the applause, so little of it had she earned.