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Queen Serena and the Myth of Invincibility

Although Serena sometimes seems invincible, her loss at the US Open reminded Tameka Cage Conley that it's ok -- and perfectly human -- to come up short sometimes too.

The golden stitch in the hem of greatness is the illusion of invincibility. We see it in our sports heroes and crave it in our everyday living, whether personal or professional. If the goal is to lose a few pounds, we sneer at the box of donuts in the communal office and eat a salad. We bite into an apple and imagine it’s chocolate. We kill a Zuumba workout and go hard in yoga. We want to slaughter every opposition, kill every doubt, watch every hater and naysayer crumble beneath the weight of their criticism. If the voice of doubt wins, we don’t. And no one ever wants to lose. It’s proof there is a Serena Williams in everyone.

So when Roberta Vinci defeated Serena (2-6, 6-4, 6-4)–my all-around hero and empress of the death stare–in the Semifinals of the US Open, I was depressed for days. I’d imagined Serena victorious on championship point, flat on her back, then straight into a double fist pump to her team before she jumped up and down like a lively schoolgirl as she reached Steffi Graf’s lofty 22 Grand Slam titles. Of course, Steffi would be there to give Serena the trophy, and the two legends would hug it out beneath the New York lights, glow within a glow, when the cameras flashed. Queen Serena would rule the world and show how unbreakable she is, how absolutely astonishing her power, wisdom, resolve, skills and all-around goddess-ness happen to be. Like the US and the rest of the world, I’d seen the vision. Surely, it would come to pass.

I'm a better writer, cook, and confidante when Serena wins. If Serena lost, what's that say about me? Try human.
Yet Vinci’s win proved that even goddesses have a weak spot in the flow of their ethereal blue gowns, and for Serena, that was perhaps the quarterfinal match against big sister Venus, her “toughest opponent.” The match was not just high quality but emotionally draining. Serena had to fight for every point, and it looked like it. She seemed worn, like her great big heart–the greatest asset of any warrior–was being broken each time she hit a winner or smashed a serve her sister could not return. Though critics gave Serena the edge, it was not easy. It was war. She was the victor, but there were battle scars. So against Vinci, a lesser opponent, Serena was slow and weary. The death stare was gone and for too much of the match, she looked as if she’d already lost. I was hurt. I was angry. I wanted to give Serena a hug. I wanted a hug. Serena deserved this win. I deserved this win. When Serena wins, I win. I am a better writer, a greater cook, a more dignified friend and confidante when Serena wins. If Serena lost, what might that say about me?

Try…human. Try good days, bad days. Try, I did my best. Try, no one is a machine or goddess or empress, not even Serena Jameka Williams, the beloved tennis star with a body fit for the baddest angel in the sky.

But check it. The Australian Open starts January 18. Serena is notorious and at her fiercest when playing Down Under. I imagine her winning. I can’t help it. But if she doesn’t, she doesn’t. She’s still the greatest women’s tennis player in history, and really, has nothing else to prove.

About the Author

Tameka Cage Conley, PhD is a literary artist who writes poetry, fiction, plays, and essays. She has received writing fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Workshop, and the August Wilson Center. Her work has appeared in a number of literary journals and magazines. She is at work on a first novel and poetry collection.

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