What was the most impressive aspect of Serena Williams’ win over Victoria Azarenka in the Rome final on Sunday? There were the big serves and the winning ground strokes, of course; few players have dominated their closest competiti...
What was the most impressive aspect of Serena Williams’ win over Victoria Azarenka in the Rome final on Sunday? There were the big serves and the winning ground strokes, of course; few players have dominated their closest competition as thoroughly as the women’s No. 1 has this spring. But while her play was excellent, it was hardly a shock; we’ve been watching Serena hit and run circles around her opponents for 15 years now. It’s what she did afterward, in her victory speech, that surprised and impressed me the most: She spoke in Italian. According to most knowledgeable reports, it wasn’t perfect Italian; there may have been a few Spanish words that made their way in as well. But it was good enough to earn the appreciation of the trophy presenter, and the applause of the Roman audience. Whatever they thought of Serena's pronunciation, the effort alone from an American must have stunned them.
But that’s Serena, and to me that speech was one more indication of why she’s been so successful. She showed no fear, she embraced the challenge with a smile, and she didn’t seem at all concerned about failing. Take it from one of her typically unilingual countryman: It’s easier for me to imagine hitting my forehand as well as Serena than it is giving any kind of speech in a language other than English.
That's always been the Williams way. Whether it’s playing tennis or launching themselves into life in Europe, they tend not to recognize any limits to what they can do. Serena, who trains at the Mouratoglou Academy in Paris, has had an apartment in that city for years, can speak passable French, and has no problem using its bike-sharing plan to cycle her way through its chaotic streets. Venus, who is also a lifelong globe-trotter and a person of many interests, said last week that Rome is her favorite city (outside of her hometown in Florida). The sisters have a downright un-American attitude toward the world, in the best possible way.
It’s also an attitude that some of their male counterparts from the U.S. could do well to imitate. At the same time that I was watching Serena roll through Rome, I was reading updates from other American players about their own adventures in Europe. The men, as a whole, didn’t sound as content as Serena.
The last I heard, John Isner was beginning his first run through the entirety of The Sopranos, 14 years after its debut. In 2012, Isner’s promising season was undone by his disastrous spring trip to Europe. He complained then of the long, dull days on the road; a year later, he still seems to have a lot of time on his hands.
In another part of France, Ryan Harrison was taking pictures of the foul weather that greeted him there, pointing incredulously at the tiny cars on the cramped streets, and wondering how to eat the gigantic whole fish that was placed in front of him at a local restaurant. Harrison finished his fish tweet with the hashtag, “Is This Real Life?”
Only Jack Sock sounded pleased to be in France, though that didn’t mean he had embraced the local food or culture. The Kansas native tweeted, with satisfaction, that his quest to find a Chipotle in Paris had proven successful. (I can’t really blame him. I myself once went to bed hungry in Paris because the only thing open at 1:00 A.M. was a McDonald’s, and I would rather have starved than eaten at a McDonald’s in Paris. I guess I can’t scold Sock for doing the more sensible thing and finding something he liked for lunch.)
With tennis players, struggling to savor life in Europe is a tradition dating back, at the very least, to Vitas Gerualitis. Even as he was winning the Italian Open in the last 1970s, the brash Brooklynite still maintained that Rome was the “a--hole of the universe.” As a teenager, Gerulaitis's friend John McEnroe was fueled by pizza grease in London and Paris.