Serena Williams' case for the greatest women's tennis player of all time can establish critical evidence Saturday. A Wimbledon final win against Angelique Kerber would give Williams her 22nd Grand Slam title, tying Steffi Graf for an Open Era record.
Of course, if Williams does accomplish the feat, not all will rejoice. A contingent of tennis fans will throw shade at the 34-year-old. Consider that after Serena won her semifinal match BBC Sport sent a tweet reading:
Her match lasted just 48 minutes ... but Serena Williams says female players deserve equal pay."
The tweet was deleted soon after and replaced with a more objective take. The article being promoted in the new tweet reports on comments Williams made about equal pay after her 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Elena Vesnina.
"I don't deserve to be paid less because of my sex," Williams says.
It would be easy to dismiss the deleted tweet as likely being the work of an intern who has already been scolded for trying too hard to be clever. But it also underscores this point: People do not like Serena Williams.
If you are going to hate Serena, hate her for the right reasons. It's like using curse words. If you are going to use them, use them right. Tweeting a snarky comment because Serena stands up for what she believes is weak. She is still subject to be critiqued, despite her incredible accomplishments, but let's be fair about it. Here are four points, representing one for each Grand Slam event:
--She wins. People hate the New York Yankees, New England Patriots and Duke basketball. That is fine. If you are a fan of Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Martina Hingis, Amelie Mauresmo or Maria Sharpova fan, this is totally warranted.
--She's a baby. Serena is a drama queen. After failing to complete the calendar Grand Slam last year, losing in the U.S. Open semifinals, Serena suspended play for the rest of the year. The argument has validity.
--She's disrespectful. This is a little bit different than being a baby. Williams fights with umpires and is usually short with the media in press conferences. OK, fine, hate her for that.
--She's overrated. How can you call Serena the greatest of all-time when her 21 Grand Slam titles and 27 Grand Slam final appearances (28 on Saturday) are still short of Graf's 22 and 31. And Graf retired at age 30, while Serena is 34. Did we just forget about this?
But don't hate her for her message. In fact, as an African-American woman who grew up in Compton, California, she is uniquely qualified to be fighting for equality. Her story has made Serena just as inspirational or influential as any male tennis player, many of whom do not carry the weight of social progress on their shoulders. If anyone should be speaking out, it ought to be Serena.
Whenever discussing Serena, it would be naive to ignore race. She tackles the issue herself, despite knowing that by doing so, she invites more backlash from the haters. Between her singles and doubles matches Thursday, Serena took time to send out this tweet:
In London I have to wake up to this. He was black. Shot 4 times? When will something be done- no REALLY be done?!?! pic.twitter.com/OaLn60G6nm
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) July 7, 2016
Consider the progress that has been made because she is willing to take principled stands. Remember it was 15 years ago that the Williams sisters were booed at Indian Wells. Venus had withdrawn from her semifinal match against Serena at the last minute. The next day during the final, as fans Venus and father Richard Williams sat in the stands, fans launched racial slurs at them while 19-year-old Serena wept through the match, a three-set win over Kim Clijsters. If you haven't seen it, watch the videos.
The Williams sisters boycotted the event from 2002-2014.
When Serena decided the time was right to return in 2015, the fans at the venue that once made her feel unsafe gave her a standing ovation.
Most tennis fans get it. Most tennis fans appreciate the greatness of Serena.
It's fine if you're one of those who doesn't. But if you're going to hate, hate for the right reasons.
Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.