July 5, 2009
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williams-sisters2by Brad Eastland, The Sports Philosopher….


      It’s hard enough being siblings without having to fake stuff.

      Makes me wonder if that’s what Venus did the other day.  

      Oh yeah, did you see Venus and Serena Williams play in the Wimbledon final the other day?   Great theater, as always.   They are both so visually breathtaking: big sis Venus, well over six feet tall with the wingspan of a condor, and little sis Serena, she of the Dwight Howard shoulders and the thighs reminiscent of Earl Campbell.   They have such physical and athletic authority over every other player on the women’s tour.   It’s just not fair that they have the most shot-making talent too.

     The story of the Williams sisters remains one of the greatest and most improbable in modern sports history.   For sisters—African Americans to boot—to go from the steamy concrete courts of Compton to the genteel grass playgrounds of Wimbledon, and for each to be great enough to reach the finals to play against the other for the championship four times, while overcoming along the way financial hardships, race prejudice, the murder of their sister, and of course the invisible unspoken barriers which hide behind accepted social norms and silly social preconceptions, and at the end of the road for them to become bar none the two best players on Earth is an accomplishment that simply staggers the imagination.   Sure would make a great column.

      I may write that column someday.   But not now.

      Instead, I want to talk a little bit about the innate weirdness of their having to play against each other.

      I know a little bit about what that feels like.   My late brother Chris and I used to compete at everything.   School, sports, board games, poker, Pacman, stand-up comedy, you name it.   And we always played to win.   There was a fine local novelist who once wrote, “true brothers never finish in a tie”.   Gad, what was that guy’s name….okay, it was me.   (A shameless plug, so what.) 

     Anyway, for example, one of my fondest memories was the time I beat him at golf and he responded by calmly wrapping a 3-wood around a tree.   That’s real sibling rivalry, folks.   Conversely, one of my least favorite memories is when we played one-on-one basketball, because whenever I would get close to tying the score he would simply rough me up under the boards and then—after tossing me out of the way and laying it up and in—he’d call a foul on me.   I could go on.     

      But this is a sibling-rivalry-meets-tennis column, so we shall focus on tennis and sibling rivalry.   I can remember the last time I played my brother Chris in tennis like it was yesterday.  (Never mind that our final match took place before Venus and Serena were born.)   I remember we played at the local Jay-Cee, Pasadena City College.   PCC for short.   We had gotten in a heated argument over who would win if we played a tennis match right friggin’ now etc etc blah blah blah, and one of us called the other’s bluff and next thing you know we’re driving down to PCC with a couple of wood racquets and my brand-new can of bright-yellow tennis balls.

      When it came to tennis, I had two big advantages over my older brother.   One, he wasn’t a very good tennis player.   I was no good either, but much better than he.   But by itself that might not have been enough.   After all, he was three years older, and just by being older he could possibly have willed and connived and generally intimidated his way to victory.   The way Venus did in the beginning with Serena; ‘first couple years on tour, Serena was flat-out afraid to beat her.   Psychologically at least.   It’s confusing when you’re the younger one, believe me I know.   And she, though younger, was and is the better player.   So being better might not have been enough for me either.  

      But my other and far-greater advantage, my ace in the hole, was that tennis is a game that richly rewards patience and composure.

      Chris was a very talented guy, may he rest in peace, with many fine qualities.   Alas, patience and composure were not among them.   As long as I kept the ball in play, and allowed him to self-destruct and stoke the coals of his own anger, I knew I’d be fine.

      I don’t remember the exact score, other than it was a delicious straight-sets beat-down.   I think it was 6-4, 6-2, something like that.   I ended the match with a booming serve down the T, a clean ace.   We did not smile and shake hands at the net, or anything so gentlemanly as what they do at Wimbledon, nor did I do anything else which might have drawn me into close proximity with him….

      In fact, when it was over, I took great care to not even speak to him.   God, no.   I had just beaten him at sports and I was his little brother, two factors which in tandem are the ultimate sin, the last thing in the world he wanted was lip from me.   I tried to act bored and casual, but most of all I dared not speak, lest he correctly interpret anything I might say as tacit evidence of even a small degree of the sweet satisfaction I was feeling inside, at which point my personal safety would have been immediately at risk.  

      I did notice he was putting forth an unusual amount of effort to collect the tennis balls, though.   I didn’t get it at first.   Chris was never big on things like extra effort or pitching in, it didn’t make sense.   I should have been able to figure it out, but I was too busy feeling proud of myself.   Anyway, he scurried around the court like a huge, out-of-shape lemming, gathering up my three brand-new tennis balls like they were nuts for the winter.

      But rather than put the precious balls in the can (and that was pretty much the exact moment when I finally divined his nefarious intent), my big brother instead proceeded to hit by far his three best shots of the day.   He grabbed hold of his racquet as if it were a war club, and then, one-by-one, he tossed the balls into the air—swinging the racquet as if he were indeed some wild ancient swordsman splitting enemy skulls for king and country—and one-by-one he launched all three balls in tremendous parabolic arcs all the way over the PCC Planetarium.   On the fly.   Next time you’re in Pasadena you should head down Hill Street and drive by PCC.   You’ll see what I mean.    It’s truly a prodigious clout from the tennis courts to all the way over the Planetarium on the fly.

      He didn’t say one word to me about losing my tennis balls.   He didn’t say one word to me all the way home.   Naturally, I myself was as silent as a deaf-mute church mouse with laryngitis and chapped lips.   Intellect and fear make good doubles partners.

      Isn’t that what Venus should have done?   The other day, when she lost.   You just know she wanted to!   Wouldn’t it have been great if instead of prancing to the net, smiling, shaking her little sister’s hand and kissing her cheek, she had motioned to the ball girl for a couple of balls, stepped back, drew back her racquet, and fired the missiles directly into the Royal Box?   Maybe with a choice swear word or two accompanying each deadly salvo?   Maybe one of them might have bounced right off the Duke of Kent’s bald head, ‘wiped that smug expression right off his stuck-up privileged blotchy pink face.   Anyway, that’s the way Life would play out if I were in charge….

      But seriously, all of you out there with siblings; you remember what it was like growing up, right?   I ask you, based on your own experience, which example feels more genuine—Venus, gracious and smiling, hugging and kissing her sister immediately after a suffering a humiliating straight-sets defeat at her hands, in front of the whole world no less?   Or my brother’s honest and straightforward expression of his anger and humiliation, smacking my tennis balls over the Planetarium.   Hm?   Yeah, that’s what I thought.

     Losing to your sibling—especially your younger sibling—shouldn’t produce a smooch and a smile, Wimbledon tradition be hanged.   That’s all I’m saying.

brad-eastlandThe Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, and sports nut, in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of Brad’s fiction work can be discovered within the links below :





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