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What’s to Love?

2012 January 4
by Randy H. Milgrom
      After struggling to beat a lesser opponent in a recent first-round match, tennis star Serena Williams casually mentioned to reporters that she “doesn’t love” the game (though she did admit that she can’t live without it).
      Serena’s comments triggered a slew of analysis—most of it unkind. Many claim her admission that she doesn’t enjoy working out as proof that she doesn’t care as much as others. Some insist her unwillingness to play a full schedule is not a lack of love but an unwillingness to do what it takes—and what her competitors accept. They read into Serena’s statements, in other words, nothing but arrogance. Her comments aren’t self-revealing; they’re self-congratulatory.

     But those who characterize Serena’s disdain for the grind as laziness ingnore her upbringing. Williams and her older sister Venus were teenage tennis phemonena, groomed from birth by an overbearing father to dominate tennis by overpowering it. So it was not surprising to hear Serena, now 30, say, “I have never liked sports and could never understand how I became an athlete”—especially after reading the same sentiment in the autobiography of Andre Agassi, another tennis tot made to play by a domineering dad. By the time Agassi was able to think for himself, it was—he felt—too late to reverse course. Besides, he was good at it, and he realized that that was what he liked about tennis, and why he kept playing. It brought him riches and acclaim—and he loved that. But did he love tennis? Agassi says no.
     If Serena doesn’t love the game it’s because she didn’t come by it naturally. She started playing not for herself but for others. The desire didn’t come from within so she had to find something outside of herself that would make her keep playing. She can’t live without tennis at the moment because it’s what she knows, and still does, best. But Serena’s entitled to play—and to stop playing—on her own terms. She couldn’t control how and when she got into the game so she’s more than earned the right to control how and when she gets out.
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