The True Meaning of 24 …

Tennis hesitantly wants Serena Williams to wear the number 24. Never mind that it is an individual sport and the players do not wear numbers. The image is worth billions, but is that enough for the old country club owners?

24 Grand Slams. This is the latest goalpost the sport has dangled as a barrier to Williams’ undeniable legacy. She has already surpassed Billie Jean King (12), Chris Evert (18), Martina Navratilova (18) and Steffi Graff (22). One of the sport’s most compromised if not problematic figures, Margaret Court, has 24* Grand Slams. Of course the story is in the asterisk, the small print.

The 24 grand slam argument is so flawed, its defenders should be ousted, if not flogged; don’t disregard the slavery imagery. Serena has the most grand slams in the open era. Helen Moody’s 19 grand slams were earned between 1923 and 1938. Before the open era began in 1968, only amateurs were allowed to compete. Only eleven of Court’s grand slams were won in the open era. Serena is being asked to surpass a woman whose record meets less than fifty percent, 45.8% to be specific, of the criteria. Wait, there is more. In the early years of the open era, most of the field did not include the Australian Open in their schedule. This would further reduce her open era record to 29%. In what alternative universe is Court or Moody’s record relevant? Kind of apples and oranges, huh?

Asking Williams to meet this feat is akin to the ridiculous and unfair taxes and tests Blacks took in the not so distant past. She may also have to guess the number of pennies in a jar to secure her legacy. Men’s Tennis is quite different. At seventeen grand slams Djokovic too is working to best Federer’s 20 and Nadal’s 19. His goalpost is clear and concrete. So Why does the erroneous 24 grand slam milestone narrative persist for Serena?

The 24 grand slam narrative is used so often, it has become a trope, figurative, cliche. It is the norm.

Othering in tennis is not new. Racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism run rampant. The welcome mad was not laid for: Ash, Gibson, Navratilova, the original nine… Even though the sport’s top player, indeed the face of sport, is black, the sport is far more right than left, white supremacy than BLM; the old guard has their arms tightly wrapped around the reigns, refusing all attempts at growth, evolution, transformation. The sport refuses to rethink itself. Dumbfounding, seriously, Tennis is no NBA. It is much more aligned with the NFL. Like them, it will have to be dragged, tricked, shamed, fiscally threatened to change.

In numerology 24 is a family, harmony, idealism, and companionship number. Well tennis is a different world…

Whether the 24 narrative was planned or naturally coalesced, it is vile. The projection is that it will be profitable. It has thus far, and it will continue. It will prop-up the sport. It is an easy, repeatable soundbite. Every time she loses, four finals thus far, it is used. And when she wins, it will catapult the sport into global news and history.

The matter is not only financial. Many of Serena’s record competitors are commentators who were perturbed by their displacement. The vociferous, Evert and Navaratoila, adamantly dispute Serena’s records. They claim, slams were not the barometer of success when they played. For them, the ever changing categories of tier and premier level events were as important. The implication is that Serena cheated. Her success and theirs cannot be compared. Serena played a lighter, smarter schedule, meeting WTA requirements. Chandra Rubin is the only commentator who has vehemently denounced this erroneous narrative.

For the people in the back: SERENA ALREADY HAS THE OPEN ERA RECORD. Let’s stop diminishing and start appreciating all players getting ready to battle for a #USOpen title

Twitter, Chandra Rubin

Disingenuous, if not duplicitous. too many commentators reinforce the 24 Grand Slam narrative ad nauseam. When pushed, the argument drifts to, she isn’t at the top of her game anymore. Health. Motherhood. Marriage. She has lost her edge. Incessantly her age, thirty-nine this month, is attached to her inevitable decline. Commentators, i.e. tennis analysts, rarely note the depth of the women’s landscape. The US Open began with twelve slam winners. This field is very different than the one Serena entered twenty years ago. Power tennis is no longer new. Keys, Doi, Gauff and many others blast forehands and serves impressively. More importantly, they know her game, most intimately. They have had years to study it. Strategize.

They are ready… And she is under the microscope. The headlines are unnerving. The pressure must be unbearable. Most would crumble. She has pushed on. It must be said, her game is less ferocious, consistent, complete. The issue is not a forehand, serve, movement, fitness. It is anxiety and focus. It takes more time to find the zone. She no longer intimidates the field. It is littered with women for whom she has trailed the path.

With Covid 19 pushing six of the top ten women to forego this slam, the ‘this is her best chance’ refrain is nauseating. Yet another way to affix an asterik to 24 if she grabs US Open 2020.

Like Kobe, Lakers #24, Serena is otherwordly, one-of-a-kind. Her greatness is unquestionable. She is one of a handful of players known outside the sport. For many, she is tennis, not just Women’s Tennis! When she reaches 24 the narrative will change, afterall 24 is a semiperfect number. 24 won’t be enough, nor will 25, 26, 27… I hope she knows that she has always been enough.

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