Tennis and Reality TV: The Ladies at Court

I have never been much of a Reality television fan, and less so since I became a Reality producer. For me, watching Reality is like being at work, all I see are the holes in the story, the poor coverage, and the glaring (or blaring) frankenbites (pieces of interviews that are combined to make the interviewee say something they most emphatically did not say).

The closest I have come to watching Reality is by watching tennis.  During the late nineties/early aughts I was a passionate fan of the Williams sisters partly because their play was just so mind-bogglingly awesome, and partly because, having been the odd person out in the country club tennis set, I had a (very small) inkling of the (evidently racist and classist) bullshit they were enduring.

So, in honor of Serena and Venus’ quarter-final meet up at the Open, here is the character breakdown for the Docusoap that was the women’s tennis circuit in the aughts.

I call it: The Ladies at Court.

Characters (note: I’m not gonna give too much back story on the sisters, because I assume we all know the Compton Courts and dad coaching bit by heart now):

Venus Williams: 

ARCHETYPE: The Older Sister

Character Arc: Started strong at 16, struggled with the idea of beating her sister, and later with injuries.

The oldest of the Williams sisters and (in my humble opinion) the one with the most finesse in the early aughts.  She won her first Grand Slam in 2000 at Wimbledon and gave one of the cutest winning dances on record.  After multiple Grand Slam wins, injuries began to plague her in the later aughts – causing her to lose more, frequently to her sister.  In my opinion Venus struggles/d against Serena because she still sees S as her little sis, and her face makes like this when she beats her.  Also has a fashion line (always a plus for any Reality character). 

Serena Williams:

ARCHETYPE: The Champion

Character Arc: From zero to world domination.

The best women’s tennis player of all time (her sister comes a close second, stats be damned).  Has had to put up with a lot of (barely concealed racist) shit including being booed at Charleston’s Indian Wells tournament after beating her sister, who withdrew from a match citing injuries (they have long been dogged by claims their matches are fixed by their father).  Is obsessed with winning, even against her soft-hearted sis (her face makes like this, in contrast). The only criticism I have of Serena is… Brett Ratner, REALLY??  Now this is much better.

Justine Henin:

ARCHETYPE: The Asshole

Character Arc: Struggled with her serve early on.  Later on struggled to just – you know – tell the truth.

A plucky Belgian player with an stunning single-handed backhand that was the envy of McEnroe (no slouch when it came to backhands himself).  Henin’s backstory includes her mother (and biggest supporter) dying when Justine was just 12.  She came up playing Kim Clijsters (another Belgian) who was slated to be her nemesis.  However, due to her own dumbass behavior (which included asking Serena to pause during a serve at the 2003 French Open and then denying that she’d made such a request when the Umpire called the service out) Serena became her true nemesis; which was really unfortunate for her, because you never, ever, want Serena to want to beat you more than she already does.  Addressing the press after the match in question, Henin defended herself by saying that given Serena’s power, it was fair play.  She has since come around on that.  

Kim Clijsters

ARCHETYPE: The Sweetheart

Character Arc: Chose to become a mother in the middle of her career, but came back to win Grand Slams.

The Belgian daughter of a soccer player and a gymnast (Belgium must have had a rocking tennis scene when she and Justine came up), Clijsters first came to notice when she almost beat Jennifer Capriati at the 2001 French Open.  The epic match went to three sets with Capriati finally prevailing 12 games to 10.  Clijsters is best known for being athletic and roundly beloved by other players (in an often bitchy locker room).  She also gave great gossip after dating noted asshat Lleyton Hewitt, and dumping him a week before their marriage. Clijsters was also the beneficiary of a 2009 US Open semi final win against Serena, after Serena was disqualified for threatening to shove a ball down a linesperson’s throat.  (She pretty much lost it after a bullshit foot fault call. While such behavior is not to be rewarded, it should be noted that Serena and Venus seldom, if ever, challenge calls; something inculcated in them by Richard Williams, who correctly perceived that it would not go down well if they behaved like the rest of the brats out there).  To her credit Clijsters failed to pile on Serena afterwards.

Amelie Mauresmo:


Character Arc: It’s all in the name.

An easy going and out lesbian player with a glorious backhand, Mauresmo was called “half a man” by Martina Hingis, (one of the most mathematically adroit players of all time, yet sadly, unapologetically bigoted). Lindsay Davenport, in turn, compared playing Mauresmo to “playing a guy.” Davenport later apologized (Hingis, true to form, did not).  Mauresmo struggled to make traction during the aughts due to the dominance of the Williams sisters, and, when they failed to prevail, Henin.  In 2006, when she finally had Henin on the ropes at the Australian Open, Mauresmo won by default after Henin claimed a stomach ailment (whether the ailment was real or merely one conjured up by the idea of losing, Henin was roundly criticized for her behavior.  When Mauresmo later won Wimbledon fair and square against Henin later that same year, apparently the press box broke out in applause.  Since retiring she has been coaching Andy Murray, which makes me like him (I previously had not, for no real reason).

Maria Sharapova:

ARCHETYPE: The Princess

Character arc: Started strong but has never been as good as she wanted to be (and as I would have like her to be).  

Is often viewed as overrated because of her looks, but is a powerful and passionate player (if not the sharpest tool in the shed).  Would probably have done a lot better in a less competitive environment, but was doomed to play and largely lose to Venus, Serena, Henin and Clijsters.  Still, she did bring us this and this.  And she did date Novak Djokovic, which resulted in this.

It remains to be seen whether or not a new crop of Ladies can compete in terms of pure drama, the way The Ladies at Court did in the aughts. It also remains to be seen whether or not I will ever be as captivated by another set of tennis characters.

In the meantime, can’t wait for the sisters’ matchup today. This time, for once, I think I’ll be pulling for Serena. She deserves her Slam already.

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