June 21, 2011 -- Getting to know a tennis star, like any other sport's star, is difficult.
We can ascertain what they might be like at a dinner table, walk in the park, or during a family gathering from what we see in the media. But the fact is we really don't know them.
We can't interact with them off the courts except through peripheral exchanges like a YouTube video, or glossy magazine article, or in a TV commercial. Roger Federer's Rolex ads display grace and good looks. Rafael Nadal's Armani underwear ads make women swoon. A Tag Heuer wristwatch never looked better than on Maria Sharapova's wrist.
But little essence of their true character is revealed through our gazes. Instead we integrate tennis stars into our worlds through imagination. Maybe you were lucky enough to find a pair of Sharapova signature flats from Cole Haan in that new hot tangerine color. You look down and think ... Maria. She might have a pair just like them, which could mean you and Marie share the same great taste in shoes. It's a tiny window to intimacy.
So today's emotional outpouring from Serena Williams, after her first round win on Centre Court Wimbledon, the last major she played before her year-long hiatus, threw the door wide open for fans. They experienced a normally controlled environment, which is Serena Williams. Her spontaneous tears came as a surprise to her, to the thousands witnessing them, and to the press.
"I usually don't cry," she told the BBC immediately after she left the court. "It's been so hard. I didn't expect to play. I never cry with joy for anything."
Wow! Serena came to life amidst tears and admissions. She let the air out. She did it in front of the world.
And we needed to see that after such a long break away from tennis and so much confusion from what actually happened with her foot a year ago, and then her serious stomach problems with blood clots. Operations. More operations. Walking in a boot. Being on the brink of death, as she told the press recently.
Serena has said she has heart. That she loves playing and winning. She also has displayed some downright rage. No one has forgotten the rant pointed directly at the poor Asian lineswoman at the U. S. Open a couple years back.
But today at Wimbledon, Serena helped herself overcome the strain of those months of surgeries and hospital visits that probably have been tucked far away from public view. Bets are she sleeps well tonight. Bets are she will have more fans tomorrow. Why? We know her better. She's like us -- she cries for release. Common ground builds relationships.
Yesterday on Radio Wimbledon, Nick Bollettieri, the guru of tennis academies world wide, said, "We need some characters [in tennis], a little bit more zippy zappy with players."
Serena Williams wasn't 'zippy zappy' today, but she was perfectly marvelous in her authenticity. It was a lovely way to introduce the 'Midsummer's Day,' the longest of the year -- a refreshing transformation of one tennis star.
And what about Mrs. Mirka Federer taking a snapshot of her husband shaking hands with Mikhail Kukushkin, after Roger's first round victory? These two have been smitten with each other ever since they met, or so the story goes. They have a set of twin daughters, which will be two at the end of July.
The picture taking, though, showed us that their love endures. That they feel what we feel toward our spouses, children, and family.
Our desire to reel in real tennis stars has become more difficult, in part, because of tennis's growth and the business of sports. Top-level players travel with entourages. Their courtside boxes are chuck full of coaches, physios, managers, public relations experts, administrative staff, plus family and friends. They provide protection from the outside and safety from the inside.
Responses from players in press conferences have become dull, to some extent, too. They have morphed into politicians through talking points. If a reporter asks about that, we'll answer this.
Some of this professional polish serves a purpose. Players don't want to cross the line between their profession and the public. They love fans and sincerely thank them after a win. However, the amount of familiarity is controlled.
To relate on another level calls for loss of control. That's what happened with Serena today. Bravo! Welcome back. Her victory over Aravane Rezai was her 200th Grand Slam win. Williams is now 44-0 in first-round matches at a major tournament. Let The Championships roll on.