Day 14: On Serenity
For those of you who don't know me, I have to declare an obsession. I've had a love affair with tennis from my first lesson at five years old. I used to spend hours on the court, blessed with two talented tennis coach uncles who taught me and still teach me a thing or two, whether in hard core sessions on Rafa Nadal's home island of Majorca, or half frozen in the rain in a Scottish park in December. At 33, I have come to terms with the fact that I may never win Wimbledon so much of my joy is in watching the brilliance of what would have been my tennis generation enter the golden twighlight of their careers.
As it's Aussie Open finals day tomorrow, I'll write about Roger and Rafa then, but today, and this era must belong to Serena Williams.
We have never seen one like her. Commentators obsess over her power but the thing that strikes you about her most is that this is a true athlete who completed the evolution begun by Steffi Graf - melding the necessity for skill and court craft with the genuine professional physicality and iron competitive will.
We've seen Serena win matches while sick through aura alone. There is no greater player in the women's game and there never has been.
I was lucky enough to meet Serena once and even got to share a dance floor with her (And her Entourage of about 12 people). It is one of the few moments in my life where I felt genuinely starstruck, hardly able to find words. She is part of a generation that have raised the level of the game I love beyond anything I could have imagined when picking balls up on my racquet as a kid.
As a writer, I've always had an obsession with the mortality of heroes. I'm easily bored by movies where impervious heroes battle it out, hand to hand, even though neither one can really be damaged by the other. Not so with the heroes of sport, where every passing day beyond a certain moment diminishes the body's ability to enact the instructions and instincts it has relied upon for so long. As one of my favourite authors, David Gemmel wrote in his book, Winter Warriors of his character Rage, the ageing Gladiator.
"I am not great. Not any more. Today I am merely good, and tomorrow I will be embarrassing."
There is no greater beauty for me than watching someone who has truly achieved that greatness, lose that inch of speed, that split second of reaction time but through awesome, Serena-like force of will, rage against the diminution of their light and hold back the advance of the one opponent they know will ultimately defeat them, the greatest, just as it defeats us all.
This is one of the strongest reasons I have to write. It still gives me chills and the inspiration to keep the flame of my own talent and ambition alive in dark moments and dark times.
Thank you Serena for being a light.