On Monday at Wimbledon, Serena Williams went down in straight sets to Marion Bartoli, ending her comeback at the All England Club much earlier than expected.
Likewise, Venus Williams went down in straight sets to Tsvetana Pironkova, the Bulgarian who knocked her out of last year's tournament, as well. It marks the first time in five years that neither sister will play the Wimbledon quarterfinals. "Definitely not our best day," Venus told the media.
"I think we both envisioned seeing this day going a little bit different," she added. So did the rest of us. Upsets are always surprising, but there's something different about seeing the Williams sisters lose. Watching Serena vs. Bartoli on Monday, you could see her hit another gear that the rest of women's tennis just can't match.
With Bartoli up 6-5 and serving for the match, Serena broke back and hammered home a handful of crucial points to force a tiebreak. It seemed like only a matter of time before nature took its course.
It's not that Bartoli wasn't playing well (her ability to extend points frustrated Serena all day long), but even when she won points, it felt like survival. When Serena turns it on, watching her pound the ball against her female peers is like watching a lion maul a yellow lab.
So when Serena surged late in the match, it felt like the natural order being restored. Less survival than evolution. She can do things on tennis court that other women just can't. But it all came too late Monday, and Serena came undone in the second set tiebreak that ultimately ended her tournament.
It was a reminder that as ferocious as she seems, she's not perfect. But it was also of a reminder that women's tennis becomes something different when Serena (or her sister) is at her best.
When Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer met in the finals of the French Open a few weeks ago, it gave way to all sorts of flowery odes to their rivalry. "Two tennis Gods at the top of their game," went the rhetoric, "going toe to toe for immortality." They've both perfected the game like a science, and when they play one another, tennis becomes art.
But for me, my favorite tennis rivalry will always be Agassi and Sampras. Instead of two immortals, we had Agassi, the impossibly human protagonist, and Sampras, the emotionless juggernaut on the other side. Man vs. machine. It wasn't so much art as a comic book, and you didn't have to be David Foster Wallace to appreciate the aesthetics. Serena offers the same appeal.
It's true in all sports. We love to watch inferior players match wits with juggernauts like Serena, the Miami Heat, or the New England Patriots. And that's all fine, so long as we remember they make their sports more interesting. So when people say tennis "needs" the Williams sisters, it's not that tennis needs Serena or Venus to win every tournament for marketing's sake.
But just for entertainment's sake... They're the only true giants the women's side has to offer, and the longer they play, the more chances we have to watch some poor human try to pull of the impossible. Women's tennis has plenty of likable stars, but they shine brightest opposite players like Venus and Serena. Like the Heat or the Patriots, watching opponents try to stop the juggernaut becomes a spectacle in itself.
So yeah, it was a lot fun to watch Marion Bartoli on Monday. She earned every point, she didn't bend when Serena pushed back, and she survived. Everybody loves an underdog success story.
"Beating Serena is almost like a dream come true," Bartoli said afterward.
But for the sake of women's tennis, it's too bad the dream came true this soon.
With that, let's get into another edition of Talking Points...
It's officially summer now. The NBA Draft has come and gone, and the sports world is on the brink of a six week hibernation until football begins to creep over the horizon to save us from our lifeless spiral into other pursuits like books and family. Or, say, women's tennis.
But summer's punishment is also summer's gift. Instead of focusing on important news, someone like Darnell Dockett can live-tweet a police search, and BOOM. Most entertaining story of the day:
Really, Darnell Dockett's world just seems like a Kaleidoscope of awesomeness. As Holly points out, just look at the bio information on his Twitter account.
Location: SOMEWHERE STEALING CABLE!
Bio: CEO of I don't give a f*ck records. I have a midget addiction. Charlie Sheen's my homeboy. I eat ants. I got a sex tape called Oprah on the Nine-Oh coming soon!
I know what you're thinking, and it's a great question: How has Roger Goodell not had him murdered yet? In any case, Dockett's surviving, albeit in spite of a bunch of hatin' policemen.
See, a lot of people may see something like this as pure ignorance. The sort of behavior that should be mocked by cooler heads and discouraged at every turn. But to me, Darnell Dockett's just living the dream. We've all wanted to treat cops this way at one point or another, and Dockett's got enough money and fame to do it without worrying about the consequences. To me, that's awesome, and anybody that wants to tsk-tsk him for it can kiss my ass. *turns up radio*
Did Somebody Say "Dance-Off"? A promo for the 2011 ESPYs.
Did William Shakespeare Smoke Weed? A group of British scientists are doing their best to find out. But the answer is yes, of course he did, under the little known corollary that all of history's greatest minds did copious amounts of drugs. Because think about it. If you'd lived during the 16th Century, back when there was nothing to do but have sex, eat, and sleep, wouldn't you partake in any mind-altering substance you could get your hands on? If Shakespeare smoked pot or did anything else, then good for him, ya know?
Also, this is pretty awesome:
...whether or not Shakespeare smoked pot, one thing we know for sure is that he sincerely did not want to be dug up. His tombstone actually places a curse on anyone who does so, reading: "'Blessed be the man that spares these stones/ And cursed be he that moves my bones'—Thackeray."
That Shakespeare was a clever fella. Dig him up at your own risk.
A Look At The State Of The U.S. Soccer Program. Courtesy of Bill Barnwell at Grantland:
What should the goal of the national team be? Should it be to win as many games as possible? To defend the country's honor and foster a sense of civic pride? To get Landon Donovan on late-night talk shows? The goal of the USMNT should be very simple: To win a World Cup. Every single decision Bob Bradley and U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati make should be considered with that idea in mind. Instead, the minds in charge of the USMNT have consistently employed a strategy based around quick fixes and short-term victories.
Basically, instead of seizing the chance to give younger players much-needed experience, the US opted to stick with veterans that would give them a better chance in the Gold Cup. Seems reasonable, no? Except that those same veterans will be too old to star for the United States once the World Cup arrives in 2014. By benching the young players now, Bradley does a disservice to the future in the name feigning competitiveness in the present.
This is a problem, Barnwell writes.
There would have been no shame in losing to Mexico with a young, developing team that could take the experience into the World Cup qualifying phase next year. Instead, Bradley clearly believed that he could win the Gold Cup with another run from his team of veterans.
The fact that he failed at both is a catastrophe for the current USMNT and its future. Let's hope, though, this humiliating and counter-productive loss to Mexico will finally be the wake-up call U.S. Soccer has needed for years.
Quick aside: at Boston College, the administration has always wanted a college football team that could be competitive in the ACC, but they were never willing to take the steps to field a team that could actually compete for a National Title. This meant that we had a chance against some of the best teams in the country, but we rarely actually won. It creates this cycle among BC fans... We dare to dream, then someone like Florida State or Virginia Tech reminds us what world class really looks like.
This is how it feels to be U.S. soccer fan. At some point, the novelty of competing will get old, and we'll need to take steps to win on the world stage. Sometimes that means sacrificing standards in the short term. Because really, competing in the short term is less encouraging if you're sacrificing opportunities at more meaningful long-term progress. Will it ever change?
At BC, at least, the answer is no, not until we fire the people in charge.
What Happens When Humans Fight Lions? Best story of the day [via Spencer]
After 20 minutes of watching the swaggering and speech-making, the lion briefly roused itself for a short roar when Mr. Al Essawy thrust his spear a little too close. But when Mr. Al Essawy hardened his jaw and grinned aggressively, the lion sat down, apparently unmoved even when Mr. Al Essawy called it a coward.
That was enough for Mr. Al Essawy to declare victory. He emerged from the cage, and friends and relatives lifted him onto their shoulders.
Some biblical sh**t right there. But the humans obviously cheated:
The generally celebratory crowd harbored a few skeptics. A local man from a nearby village who said he was paid to help build the cage, Walid Al Bahair, alleged the lion's handlers had starved the beast for three days leading up to the fight, then treated it to the feast of entire donkey just hours before the fight.
Honestly, watching that lion devour a donkey would have been a much better show.
Finally, Darnell Dockett's 99 Problems [via I Don't Give A F**k Records]. Seriously, an NFL player basically live-tweeted the second verse to this Jay-Z song this afternoon.
Isn't summer awesome?!