Intersectionality is the hot academic term in American politics these days, referring to the intersection of race-centric issues and class-centric concerns which affect both politics and policy. The debate about intersectionality is intense among members of the Democratic Party’s diverse coalitions.
Serena Jameka Williams would make an excellent Democratic Party candidate, because as she showed in her dramatic win over Simona Halep at the Australian Open on Monday, she is a member of multiple classes in tennis. She is both the ruling class and the working class at the same time.
Serena’s first three matches in Melbourne were demonstrations of ruling-class superiority. Serena dropped a total of nine games in those three matches and breezed to the fourth round with barely a sweat. The million-dollar serve and the Cadillac groundstrokes demolished opponents who had no chance. Serena towered over her opponents, putting them in their place.
In the first set of the Halep match, the same dynamic existed. Serena won the set in 20 minutes, and it seemed that this member of tennis royalty would enjoy another brief “advancement ceremony.”
The woman who wears the crown of “World No. 1 WTA tennis player” interrupted the proceedings.
Simona Halep did what the great tennis players do. She did what Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina have been doing at this tournament: taking punches and throwing punches back. Great tennis players learn how to provide robust resistance when a match isn’t going their way. They figure out how to stay on court, stay in a point, stay in the hunt, stay in the moment, and extend their lives long enough to win the point they weren’t winning in the first set. It might mean a change of tactics. It might mean more urgency in hitting or running. It might mean greater concentration on defense… or all of the above. Halep did a little bit of everything in changing the course of the match. Her adjustments and heightened resolve were so profound that the 20-minute first set did not turn into a 55-minute win for Serena.
In the middle of the third set, with Halep up 3-2, the World No. 1 had break points on Serena’s serve. This wasn’t just a match which had become closer than many expected. It was a match Halep was genuinely on the verge of winning.
This is when Serena’s ruling-class identity gave way to her working-class identity.
Do we remember Serena for her dominance or for her dependability in tight scoreboard situations? The best answer: both. It is precisely Serena’s ability to fight through cliff-edge moments which has given her 23 major singles titles as opposed to seven or 10 or 13. How many times have we seen her fight back from a 2-0 deficit in a third set, or walk through the cauldron of late-match situations against players she has left at the threshold, such as Elena Dementieva at Wimbledon in 2009?
No athlete wins ALL of these close shaves. Playing 100 close matches won’t mean that an iconic athlete will win all 100, or even 90, but whereas the ordinary player might split them, the legends win a large share of them.
Roughly five hours before this match began, NFL football superstar Tom Brady — the quarterback of the New England Patriots — made his ninth Super Bowl in the past 18 years, a feat of enduring top-tier consistency which boggles the mind.
Serena is — and has been for some time — a fellow resident of that highest place in the sporting pantheon. She, the Big 3, LeBron James, Ronaldo, Messi, Sidney Crosby, and a few very select others own that kind of stature in their respective sports.
That she continues to find ways through an increasingly deep and formidable WTA Tour says it all.
Halep insisted that this match would not become a runaway. Serena met that insistence with the iron will of her own at 2-3 in that third set. As soon as she held for 3-3 and staved off three break points, the champion within surged to the forefront, and though Halep continued to compete well, her first serve deserted her long enough for Serena to make inroads on it and get the break she needed to close down the match.
If you have seen it once, you have seen it a million times, much like a Brady-led fourth-quarter comeback in January. Yet, what makes Serena (like Brady) so special is that she has been doing this for two decades, not just a handful of seasons or in occasional, scattered moments. No, this is who she is as a tennis player. This is what she does. She makes something extraordinarily difficult seem like a mere matter of course, because fans are so conditioned to expect it. It is little different with Brady.
Serena has the riches of a queen but a blue-collar mentality. Her ability to reside in multiple classes gives her the intersectional edge over her competitors.
She’s Serena Williams, and she approved this message. If she ever entered politics, intersectionality would be an easy idea for her to sell.