Saturday, July 14, 2018

Serena Williams: Finding Happiness Amidst Defeat

In the 2013 documentary "Venus and Serena," Serena Williams admits "I hate losing more than I enjoy winning." One need not be an ardent tennis fan to see how true this is for the 23-time Grand Slam winner. She is the fiercest of competitors, thriving under pressure. However, today, though playing in the 2018 Wimbledon finals to share the record of all time wins with Margaret Smith, she fell in straight sets 6-3, 6-3 to the 11th ranked Angelique Kerber of Germany. The trophy ceremony lasted almost as long as the match. I sat watching her uncomfortably figuring she was hating every minute of it. I was wrong. 
I looked at the seven-time Wimbledon champion and understood a quote offered by Phil Knight in his memoir Shoe Dog. He wrote, "happiness is not a what but a how." Indeed, Serena confirmed for me that her journey, like any journey we take toward greatness, must be appreciated in the moment. It requires a bigger and broader perspective than what the outcome offers. Was she happy she lost? No. But her overall insight and demeanor said something different.

As much as I'm sure the player who loses the match would like to exit the "ring" quickly and quietly, the finalists at Wimbledon must stay for all of the tradition that Wimbledon offers. The All-England Lawn and Tennis Club is led by royalty. The Duke of Kent greets and thanks those who make the match possible—ball girls and boys, the chair umpire, etc. and presents beautiful hardware to the players who made it through the draw of 128 players.

I kept my gaze on Serena as she was handed the trophy for second place. I figured she wanted to throw it like a frisbee. I wondered how much she was having to fake her smile. Is that a grimace? Would she snap the plate in two after leaving Centre Court? Instead, the 25 seed, offered warm and sincere congratulations to the champion are gracious words for all to consider, as she held off tears. 

To Wimbledon announcer Sue Barker she said, “It was such an amazing tournament for me,” her voice breaking. “I was really happy to get this far. It’s obviously disappointing but I can’t be disappointed. I’m literally just getting started.

Barker responded by telling Williams, "you're a superhero supermum.” Holding back the tears, she paused, took a breath and offered as an authentic smile as she replied, “For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today, I tried. Angelique played out of her mind. She’s an incredible person and a really good friend so I’m really happy for her.”

I don't doubt that she was happy for Kerber. The "how" was evident. Kerber, a lefty played excellent defense. She made so few errors and responded so well to the best that Serena put on the court. For Kerber, the "what" is her first Wimbledon championship title. Maybe not her last...For Serena, I sincerely believe this loss will only fuel her to play better and at the US Open. Let's review the "how" and the "what" come September. I can't wait.

Thank you, Serena, for the manifold ways you continue to teach and inspire me.

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