Serena Williams‘ latest victory, earning Sportsperson of the Year kudos from Sports Illustrated, arrived with fanfare and then a sigh. Those in the know saw it coming: the inevitable backlash to her historic status at SI’s SOTY. Pardon their interruptions and my use of acronyms.
Serena will do what she wants, and haters shall hate. (Just ask her some-kind-of-friend Taylor Swift.) Some balked at her award. “Novak Djokovic deserved it!” “Steph Curry got robbed!” “That poor horse, American Pharoah, will never know the pain of this outrage!” Others took umbrage at Serena’s sultry pose on this SI cover. A scribe for the Chicago Sun-Times intimated that she beckons onlookers to come hither with the pose.
Conversely, a Bleacher Report writer, notably a woman, hailed Serena as a pillar of strength and excellence. Vox put out a typically sweeping review of the reasons why Serena suffers detractors (read: fools) and why she ultimately deserved the SI honor.
USA Today and many others made note of her hilarious equine quip at the SI award ceremony itself: “I’ve lived through tragedies and controversies … and horses.” The awards speech was a family affair: Her sister Venus was the one to introduce her champion sister on stage.
The truth is that the SI cover shot was Serena’s own idea, which the magazine pointed out quickly and with near-relief. Its stance on the matter might have seemed proactive and defensive at the same time, but an explainer article did serve up more clicks. Audiences can’t get enough of Serena this year, be they on or away from the courts.
And then Serena proceeded to wear a backless, strapless dress with a lacy, see-through midriff to the SI ceremony itself. She knows full well what she’s doing. She’s the quintessential pro, one who knows how to court triumph and disaster and public opinion all year long with aplomb.
Roberta Vinci may have upended Serena in their U.S. Open semifinal encounter to win the day and New York Times’ year-end “best performances” kudos. Serena won the year.
In the end, it’s perhaps best said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Some people find a sinewy gam slung over an armchair to be sexy. Others may be turned on by more buttoned-up attire. Serena will never please everyone. No one can. Not even Chris Evert putting on her best Mary Poppins.
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