The prevailing media narrative over the first third of the tennis year was the supposed, and completely ridiculous, mentor-mentee relationship between Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens.
We now know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that this was completely
staged invented…actually, I really don’t know what to call it. Granted, much of this entire farce was put forth by Stephens herself, but Serena wasn’t totally innocent either.
“She’s like one of my really good friends,” Stephens said to ESPN at the start of the year. “Everyone thinks she’s so mean, but she’s like the greatest person ever. We’re just young kids together. We never take anything too seriously.”
“I noticed Sloane I think years ago at TeamTennis maybe four years ago,” Serena said prior to their match in Melbourne. “I saw her in the locker room. She was another black girl. I was like, ‘Hey!’ That’s when I first noticed her. ‘What up, girl’?”
We never take anything too seriously. Oh?
After beating Bojana Jovanovski in a heated fourth round match in Australia, Stephens said that Serena told her “she should make more noise on-court” in her post match interview. We all know what happened next; Stephens defeated an injury hobbled Serena in three sets in the quarterfinals and quickly became the next media darling of American women’s tennis. Granted, since that match in Melbourne, Stephens is 2-8 while Serena is 15-1 with two titles.
Well, if Brisbane and Melbourne cracked the framework, then the perfect empire came crashing down on Friday when Stephens’ incredibly candid interview with Marin Cogan was released in ESPN: The Magazine. In it, the American #2…well, completely tears Serena a new one.
Some of the juiciest quotes are as follows:
“I’m annoyed, I’m over it,”she says of the Serena comparisons. I’ve always said Clijsters is my favorite player, so it’s kind of weird.” She attributes the media hype over her relationship to the star to “just being African American and they want to link to something.”
“She’s not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia…And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter.”
Her mom tries to slow her down, but Sloane is insistent. “Like, seriously! People should know. They think she’s so friendly and she’s so this and she’s so that — no, that’s not reality! You don’t unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?”
The interview peaks when Stephens recounts an incident from when she was 12, the first time she had seen Venus and Serena play in Delay Beach during Fed Cup. Her mom took Stephens and her brother to the tie to see the sisters play, and the family waited to try and get autographs.
“…I waited all day. They walked by three times and never signed our posters…I hung it up for a while. I was, like, devastated because they didn’t sign it, whatever, and then after that I was over it. I found a new player to like because I didn’t like them anymore.”
Rawr. It’s like this. The “mini-Serena” angle gave the mainstream sports (non-tennis) media, particularly in the United States, a reason to focus on tennis. Stephens’ win over Serena in Australia was the best thing she could’ve done for them…and the worst thing she could’ve done for everyone else. It was the changing of the guard, they said. The “new American hope” had arrived, they said. “Little Serena” was here to save us from the death of American tennis, they said.
“For the first 16 years of my life, she said one word to me and was never involved in my tennis whatsoever,” says Stephens. “I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal that she’s not involved now. If you mentor someone, that means you speak to them, that means you help them, that means you know about their life, that means you care about them. Are any of those things true at this moment? No…” I offer: “They want the next great American player.” Stephens says: “They want another Serena.”
Why Stephens and Serena (albeit briefly) felt the need to cater to this delusion rather than just be straight about their professional, competitive (lack of a) relationship from the get go remains a mystery to me.