The Queen is dead long live the Queen, are the words offered when one queen passes on, only to be replaced by another. It may be too early to say that Sloane Stephens is the new queen of American tennis, but her victory over Serena Williams has thrust her into the limelight and also a semi final berth at the Australian Open against world number one Victoria Azarenka.
Serena Williams having taken out Wimbledon and the US Open in 2012 was looking to win her third major in a row, after returning from injury, but she was beaten by the 19 year old fellow American who admitted to having pictures of her opponent on her bedroom wall.
Sure Serena Williams had back spasms during the game which clearly affected her game, but Stephens still had to concentrate on her own game and despite some nerves overcame one of the games greats, her former idol.
Stephens is tipped to be Serena Williams successor by US tennis but her victory shows just how important heroes and heroines are on influencing the next generation of sports stars. Althea Gibson may have been the first African American woman to break down the colour barrier when she dominated tennis in the 1950’s when she won the Australian Open and French Open in 1957 as well as Wimbledon and the US Open in ’57 and ’58. She was no doubt influenced by the deeds of Lucy Diggs- Slowe, who was the first African American to win a major sports title when she won the American Tennis Association’s first title. She was the first person from her school to attend Howard university and there she was one of the founding members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; which Gibson was later to become a member of. These women and their feats no doubt inspired other African American female players that have come and gone, the likes of Zina Garrison and Chanda Rubin. It is however the Williams sisters who have most emphatically stamped their mark on the game in recent times and inspired a whole new generation of African Americans to believe that black women can play tennis, they can win major tournaments and that they can become the world number one.
Everyone needs heroes and the Williams sisters have been heroines to a whole generation who are now coming up behind them to fulfil their dream of emulating them.
Serena Williams loss may have been painful to her, but the comment from the young Sloane Stephens spoke volumes when she said she may put posters of her self up on her wall replacing those of Williams. Rest assured around the world many a tennis loving young girl will indeed be putting up her poster, and cheering her on for the rest of this tournament and many in years to come. Just as Serena Williams inspired Sloane Stephens to achieve her dream, so too will she inspire others, and that has to be good for tennis and sport in general.
Footnote: Althea Gibson became the first African American woman to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour, in 1964. A truly remarkable sportswoman.