Hail Sloan Stephens for her US Open win!

With pregnant Serena Williams sidelined, I really thought (or hoped) her sister Venus, age 37, would finally match Roger Federer, age 36, by becoming the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam title.

After all, Venus made it all the way to the final at the first slam of the year, the Australian Open, only to lose to Serena. Venus got knocked out in the round of 16 at the French Open; but she made it back to the final at Wimbledon, only to lose, in humiliating fashion, to lower-ranked Garbine Muguruza.

Sadly, she got knocked out in the semi-finals at this last Slam of the year, losing to unranked Sloane Stephens. More to the point, Serena returns next year, and there are many formidable young players now bidding for top ranking.

Never again?
This is why I fear Venus will never have another year as successful as this, let alone one during which she wins another coveted Grand Slam. She has 7; Serena, a record-setting 23.

Accordingly, the homage I paid to Venus in a July 2017 column might prove my last tribute to her – as a Grand Slam finalist.

But how about that Sloane Stephens, age 24? She has jumped more than 900 spots in the world rankings in a month and is now a Grand Slam champion, winning the U.S. Open against No. 15 seed and fellow American Madison Keys.

According to CNN, “Stephens is the first American woman other than the Williams sisters to win a Grand Slam title in 15 years.” It’s also worth noting that the semi-finals were all-American too, and three of those four Americans are Black.

The elation I felt for Stephens more than compensated for the disappointment I felt for Venus. And I hope it’s not damning Stephens with unfair expectations to say that she reminds me so much of Serena.

Many to come?
I’d be shocked if Stephens does not win many more Grand Slams. Here’s to these young Americans eventually taking the baton and dominating women’s tennis the way the Williams sisters have over the past 15.

That said, I can’t resist sharing the delight I derived from watching that sourpuss glamazon, Maria Sharapova, get knocked out in the round of 16, especially after Caroline Wozniacki criticized of Sharapova’s playing at Arthur Ashe Stadium for one of her U.S. Open matches.

Wozniacki was upset about the “star treatment” of Sharapova got even after she was suspended for failing a performance-enhancing drugs test.

Wozniacki echoed what I’m on record saying about Sharapova. Given the way Serena has dominated tennis over the past 10 years, we should demand explanations from the corporate heads who continually chose Sharapova instead of Serena to endorse their products. Think of the message this sent, especially to young Black girls about unfair treatment and to young White girls about preferential treatment.

Last year I wrote, “Perhaps [now that Sharapova has been exposed as just another Russian doper] major sponsors will sign Serena and make her the world’s highest-paid female athlete, belatedly.”

She’s No. 1
Sure enough, many corporate sponsors turned to Serena during Sharapova’s suspension. Do much so that, according to Forbes, Serena finally topped the annual list of highest-paid female athletes last year.

Serena earned $28.9 million ($8.9 million from prize money, $20 million from endorsement deals); Sharapova was second – even though several sponsors dropped her – with $21.9 million ($1.9 million from prize money, $20 million from endorsement deals).

But I hope Serena proved to sponsors of all types that she is every bit as marketable as Sharapova. For this would pave the way for them to see young Black players as primary, not just substitute, endorsers.

In Stephens’s case, this should be very easy to do. After all, she clearly has the potential to match not only Serena’s play on the court but also Sharapova’s appeal in commercial ads.

With that endearing smile, she could probably sell tanning beds to Black folks. Not since Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics has an athlete performed and looked like such a sponsor’s dream.

Congratulations, Sloane!

Anthony L. Hall is a native of The Bahamas with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at www.theipinionsjournal.com.

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