How Serena Williams Made Women's Tennis the Hottest Sport You Always Knew

Sally YoungerContributor IISeptember 10, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09:  Serena Williams of the United States celebrates match point after defeating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus to win the women's singles final match on Day Fourteen of the 2012 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Let the men’s game bask. It’s a Golden Era, swaying comfortably between elder statesmen and their heirs apparent. Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer—kings without cabbages.

But across the stadium a feisty and epically talented American is fighting for her legend against a surge of fresh faces and renewed veterans, in a pool that includes whole nations—like China—never before so poised to seize greatness.

And she’s only got the best of three sets to do it.    

Serena Williams’ New York triumph over rankings queen Victoria Azarenka was never assured. The bout never dulled. By either metric—points or emotions—the championship veered.

The close of the Grand Slam season leaves women’s tennis in flux. With history, controversy and change on its side, the game’s greatest asset may be its raw edges.

Most thrilling of all—its soul is up for grabs.

Point—A Bing image search of ‘women’s tennis.’ Bosoms and undies, amply and predictably exhibited.

Of course. In athletics, as in all outlets of human expression in which females are even tangentially involved, sexuality simply is a factor. And like a feral retort against the restraint and propriety traditional to tennis, the game’s carnal factor is conspicuous. 


The best transcend it, the mediocre exploit it. No player escapes it.  

Counterpoint—But wade through the Sharapova-wedgie pics and there’s the John Brown University team shot. The crew from Abraham Baldwin Ag College makes the spread, so does a riotous junior squad from Texas. Eminently respectable all.

The point? Sex sells, but so does Title IX.

History lesson. The strongest popularity spurt known to sports in the past decade (women’s soccer) was fueled by three factors:

     1. a victorious, charismatic talent pool

     2. media coverage

     3. Girls played it, a lot.

Plotline? Mia Hamm fighting for a clean arena, Hope Solo fist-pumping Wembley.

Women’s tennis has all the same virtues, with the advantage of having been played professionally for as long as the men’s side.

The legends still have legs, their heiresses are stalking. New rivalries loom. Women’s tennis may just become the hottest sport we thought we knew.