As of Saturday 8th July, Serena Williams became one of the two greatest female tennis players of all time. With her seventh Wimbledon title, the American equalled Steffi Graf’s 22 Grand Slams. She was already a sporting icon – but now she has the weight of history behind her.
So where was she on our newspaper front pages this morning?
The Sunday Times and Independent led with her victory, but last night the Sun, Daily Star, Observer, Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail and Sunday Express released covers of their Sunday editions devoid of even a photo of arguably the greatest female athlete of all time.
“That will be the picture on the front of the papers,” a BBC commentator had announced earlier as Serena marched to victory. Apparently not.
For a moment, let’s forget the sporting masterclass Serena delivered on that gusty afternoon on Centre Court. Forget the fact her player’s box was studded with stars like Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Instead let’s focus on the pure sporting achievement of a tennis player breaking a record that has stood since 1999 – a record she has wrestled with since the last time she lifted Wimbledon’s Venus Rosewater dish 12 months ago, faltering in the closing stages of the US, Australian and French Opens, and a record she met with a gutsy, imperious performance yesterday on tennis’s greatest stage.
In the words of her A-list pal Beyoncé, Serena slayed.
Of course, newspaper editors face tough decisions every day. Britain remains in the throes of a political crisis, while Britain’s Andy Murray will walk out on Centre Court later today in a bid to reclaim the Wimbledon title he won in 2013. Both stories stake a strong claim to our front pages.
But by promoting them, like the majority of our newspapers chose to do, you sideline women’s tennis in one of the rare moments it deserves to be championed.
The ladies’ game gets plenty of flack – arguably its fair share. As endless female players shuffle in and out of the top ten, failing to make their mark, it’s no surprise the fierce rivalry between Djokovic, Murray and Federer has hogged the headlines. I’m not about to argue the legitimacy of that.
But in Serena Williams we have a sporting sensation. On an average day she can easily topple her rivals; at her best she occupies a different stratosphere. She’s been world number one for 177 weeks, in hot pursuit of yet another Graf record.
Win or lose, Murray will be on the front pages come Monday and rightly so. After a turbulent two weeks, he carries the hopes of our beleaguered nation on his shoulders.
But didn’t Sunday morning belong to Serena? This is the woman who, when told she was considered one of the greatest female athletes of all time, simply replied: “I prefer the words, ‘One of the greatest athletes of all time’.”
She’s important. Important for the women’s game (god help it when she eventually retires) and important for women’s sport in general. But – most of all – she’s important for young girls growing up in Compton, Los Angeles and around the world, who thanks to her truly believe they can achieve anything.
I wish our media had chosen to proudly emblazon her message.