When you’re a world-wide celebrity, top of your game athlete and one of the most dominant tennis players to ever step on a court, odds are people are eventually going to ask you some ridiculously bad questions along the way.
Certainly that’s true for Serena Williams. You would just hope those questions don’t come from credentialed tennis reporters. And you definitely wouldn’t want to put up with any nonsense at an event like the French Open.
Unfortunately for Williams, that was unavoidable this year at Roland Garros.
A writer for an American outlet found himself on the wrong side of an incredibly awkward and demeaning conversation with Williams after she defeated Julia Görges to face one-time rival Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
‘100% HEARSAY’: Serena’s explosive criticism of Sharapova book
Take a look for yourself:
I have never physically cringed as hard as when I read this in Serena’s transcript. Wow. pic.twitter.com/60wnSWG6En
— Jeff Donaldson (@jddtennis) June 2, 2018
The reporter in question here is Bill Simons of Inside Tennis, which according to its own website, “is considered by many to be the most compelling tennis magazine in America.”
There is a lot going on here, so let’s start with the most obvious: it is never ever acceptable to refer to an athlete as “Baby” in a press conference unless it is his or her given name.
I’m floored – “we’re in this together baby”. And who waits 14 years to ask Serena Williams a dull, sexist and racist question about Maria Sharapova? https://t.co/AJiFH0lc8r
— Lauren Dobson-Hughes (@ldobsonhughes) June 3, 2018
As for the real meat of this interview, what on Earth does a pre-President Donald Trump quote from 2004 about a completely different tournament have anything to do with Williams at the 2018 French Open? Simons appears to have skipped over dog-whistling and gone straight to pulling out a bullhorn.
Western media sha! Serena Williams has beaten Maria Sharapova in 19 of 21 matches in 14 years yet u keep reporting them as rivals! When will this head to head signal superiority to you? Real Madrid & Barca are rivals. Real Madrid and Levante are not rivals.
— Pius Adesanmi (@pius_adesanmi) June 3, 2018
We can even try to pretend that when Simons references Trump’s “incredible analysis” he is using the term to say, “it’s impossible anyone could think like this.” Because, again, what does the physical appearance of Sharapova or Williams have to do with winning a tennis match? Unfortunately, it seems more likely that Simons needed 14 years to pass before he could work up the audacity to blurt out such a misogynistic question.
If you’re wondering how Simons worked this exchange into his own story that day, you have to suffer through numerous paragraphs where he takes credit for Williams’ return to Indian Wells before addressing his own comments about Sharapova and Trump.
“Serena understandably didn’t want to comment on that.” Simons wrote, sidestepping the absurdity of his own actions.
Simons later took to Twitter to apologise for the horrible questioning.
I apologize if my awkward ques seemed 2 empower Trump or attack Serena/I SO admire her/I've spent lifetime fighting racism/sexism/homophobia.Started campaign 2 name US Open Stad 4 Ashe/Lobbied long 2 get Serena 2 return to I. Wells/Called out police violence vs Blake/I'm so sorry
— INSIDE TENNIS (@BillSimons1) June 4, 2018
Still, Williams handled the query like a weak serve and quickly moved on, noting that she hasn’t been intimidated by anyone and that’s all she has to say about that.
That she answered the question at all instead of walking out like LeBron James after being asked about J.R. Smith is amazing in itself.