After a high-profile controversial incident at the French Open, Michael Graham says Serena Williams must be more careful to protect the campaign for equality in tennis.
There is a colossal amount to admire about Serena Williams. Her personal strength, sheer talent, and pure individuality combines to make her an absolute force of nature and credit to sport and, frankly, humanity, never mind just tennis.
Not least among the things to admire about Williams is her commitment to the cause of equality in tennis, whether that’s based on gender, ethnicity, race, or anything else. It is probably the most important cause tennis has right now and Williams is it’s chief knight.
That’s an important declaration for me to make because what I am about to say does not change my wider view of her, and nor is it said lightly.
What Serena Williams reportedly did at the French Open on Saturday to Dominic Thiem damages Serena Williams’ credibility on the equality issue and therefore harms the cause itself, and that’s a big worry.
For those unaware, following her French Open third round exit to Sofia Kenin, Williams is reported to have asked for Dominic Thiem, who was just starting his media duties, to be moved from the main interview room so she didn’t have to wait to speak to the press.
“I don’t really get it, seriously. I mean, what the hell? No, but it’s a joke, really…I have to leave the room because she’s coming?”
[Hears of possible delay]
“I leave also then. I’m not standing around. I can also do what I want.”
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 1, 2019
Now, it’s understandable that Williams would be disappointed after her defeat and would probably want to get away to her family as soon as possible. She is also, traditionally, not one to stick around when it comes to press duties.
The problem, surely, is the lack of respect for a fellow professional, and it’s that very respect upon which any strides in equality will be carried.
Dominic Thiem is ranked fourth in the world in the men’s game. He is a favourite for Roland Garros, recent Masters champion, has recently beaten Rafael Nadal on clay and, unlike Williams, is still involved in the French Open.
By absolutely every possible measure, he is worthy of the utmost respect from his fellow-professionals.
One disclaimer it’s worth inserting here is that there is a degree of uncertainty about what prompted the treatment that Thiem received.
Was it Williams who insisted? Was it French Open officials that insisted? Did Williams have a schedule and told them it was now or never? Did Williams refuse to go into the smaller, secondary room? Did the press ask for Williams specifically? It’s hard to know the details right now.
What we do know, though, and what we can say absolutely and without question, is that Dominic Thiem was not treated equally. He was treated with disrespect and dismissal based on who and what he is – i.e. not Serena Williams.
In other words, it was a display of all the things we are sure we don’t want in tennis, all the things we campaign to put an end to.
Because equality, by definition, is not a one-way street. It’s something that some have and some don’t. It’s certainly not a case of taking it from someone and giving it to someone else. Either we all have it, or none of us have it.
That’s the fight that’s being fought, and Serena Williams’ name being attached to this, by her own design or not, in a real ‘don’t you know who I am’ kind of a way, is as damaging to that cause as anything positive she has done has been helpful to it.
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