Serena and Venus give us an American story we can all get behind
Serena and Venus Williams have each overcome age and injury to meet in the Australian Open singles final. We can look to their story of perseverance and seemingly timeless strength to unite us.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, sisters Venus and Serena Williams will meet at Rod Laver Arena in the Australian Open final. While it will mark their ninth meeting in a Grand Slam championship match, it’s their first such clash since 2009. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
In case you’ve somehow slept through the past week, it’s been a contentious stretch in American politics and society — no matter which side of the aisle your political persuasions lie. The election and inauguration of President Donald Trump has sparked perhaps the greatest divide of our country in this generation.
But during this same period of time, the Williams sisters have been dominating their competition a world away in Melbourne. The 36-year-old Venus handily topped her opponents and returned to a form we haven’t seen from her in years. On Thursday, she rallied after losing the first set to beat fellow American Coco Vandeweghe. It was a gusty display of perseverance from a woman who all but defines it.
Serena, 35, did what we almost expect her to do by now and held off all of her opponents in straight sets. On Thursday, she defeated 34-year old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni to set up the all-Williams final.
Admittedly, I was unable to stay up to watch Serena’s match late Wednesday night and into Thursday morning. But I found myself awake in the early dawn hours on the East coast, immediately checking my phone to see the results. Discovering that Serena had won provided a moment of pure joy and amid the current realities of life. I still find myself giddy with excitement when thinking about Saturday’s match.
Since the 1990s, when they were teenage prodigies, Venus and Serena have been the face of American and women’s tennis. Their story has long captivated us — from learning the traditionally white sport on the courts of Compton, California, to becoming two of the most revered players in tennis. They’ve elevated the game to new heights.
While age and injuries have slowed or ended the careers of many of their peers, the sisters have courageously continued despite many challenges. With so many societal obstacles now facing American women — particularly women of color — it’s perhaps more fitting than ever that these two will battle on one of the sport’s grandest of stages.
Serena has been a staple of Grand Slam title matches for much of her career, but Venus has struggled in recent years with Sjögren’s syndrome. She revealed her diagnosis in 2011 — a debilitating autoimmune disease that causes extreme fatigue and can result in organ and muscle damage. Venus could have retired after the medical discovery; at the time, she already was considered older for a professional tennis player. With seven Grand Slam singles titles to her name and 12 doubles titles won with Serena, she had already cemented herself as one of the best ever to play the game.
But Venus didn’t quit. Instead, she recommitted herself to the sport she loved. She radically changed her diet, becoming a vegan to help decrease inflammation in her body, and altered her exercise regime, doing everything she can to keep her symptoms at bay.
While she hasn’t won a Grand Slam singles title since 2008, she has impressively clawed her way back in the rankings and won several WTA titles, two Wimbledon doubles titles, an Olympic doubles gold medal (2012) and even a mixed-doubles silver medal in Rio.
And now Venus is the oldest woman to reach the Australian Open finals in Open-era history. Her journey has been an inspiring display of courage and determination to anyone who has ever tried to overcome adversity. No matter if she wins or loses in the final, Venus should be a symbol for all who feel the odds are stacked against them.
And amid Serena’s continued success, she’s also suffered severe injuries. From a cut to her foot in 2010 that required surgery, to a life-threatening blood clot on her lung in 2011, the younger Williams sister missed nearly a year on tour and had to fight back in order to return. Since coming back, she’s been the most dominant player on tour, winning nine Grand Slam singles titles and tying Steffi Graf’s record Open-era record.
While facing different obstacles and paths, both Venus and Serena have endured and come to this very place and moment together. This is the time when we need them the most — the seemingly ageless sisters who might perfectly epitomize the American dream. They’ve given us something to cheer for, and that is something we can all support.