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Maria, Serena, and Never Logging Off

NOT A RIVALRY!!! You shout, and no one argues with you. Did you know Serena hasn’t lost to her since 2004? Great piece of trivia; someone, somewhere, hasn’t heard that one before, and you’ve done them a great service by showing them the lie they’ve been brought up believing. People are waking up thanks to you, and in the forty-eight hours between now and when it happens I bet you can convince at least one more person that all that’s left to do is to ignore the match entirely.

But they won’t, and neither will you. No one will, because Maria Sharapova versus Serena Williams remains the biggest circus in tennis. We’ve got narratives and counternarratives and strawmen all over the place, stemming from commentators, fans, and even at various points the two women themselves. In her book, Maria writes that she thinks Serena hates her for being “the skinny kid that beat her, against all odds.” Well then. “I love playing her,” Serena Williams has said before, in reference to the ensuing decade-plus of continuous victory against Sharapova. “I just think it’s fun.”

So there you have it, everyone in this equation is Not Mad. No one cares, because caring is stupid, and by the way nice ad hominem, you just proved my point. Amidst all these blinding Facts and Logic one could theoretically lose sight of the fact that there really is something interesting here, if you’re earnestly—never!—trying to find it. Maria, seeded twenty-eighth, has played great this tournament, just today breezing through the second-seeded Karolína Plíšková en route to this new Thunderdome. Serena is playing her first matches since maternity leave and, in typical Serena fashion every time she returns from an absence, looks to be improving by the minute. It should be a good match at an interesting juncture in the seasons of two notable players. But remember: it is important not to care. Never give your enemy content.

Besides, there really are plenty of other things to look at right now. Look at Angelique Kerber, who gutted out two tiebreakers for a 7-6, 7-6 third-round victory over Kiki Bertens. Simona Halep, still somehow in pursuit of her first major, has played well too. There’s a whole bottom half of the draw filled with proven players and upstarts alike and all of them—all of them—should apparently be agonized over instead of Serena Williams versus Maria Sharapova, which will be a spectacle for the rubes.

This particular meeting between them really does feel readymade for 2018, is the thing. Poke and prod and you can find worthwhile conversations to be had on race, privilege, gender, capital, beauty standards, and countless other things that truly matter and will absolutely be argued in bad faith at the slightest possible notice by people who are aggressively ill-informed. The match itself will be, too. Someone, probably John McEnroe, will say something cringe-worthy about pregnancy weight. Someone else will pick a set point or something as the best time to muse over whether what Maria Sharapova did was “cheating.” Everything other than the tennis itself will lack coherence entirely, because that’s the goal here and everywhere, to fuel endless conversation meant only to fill space that would be unbearable if left empty. Welcome to The Discourse, baby.

Understand this, though: we are not above caring about this match. I am going to watch, and you are too, because the only thing worse than all that swirls around Serena Williams versus Maria Sharapova would be succumbing to the ironic distance required to ignore it. Pace yourself some other time.

Maybe this makes me a sucker. There might be nothing new to say about these two playing each other, and so people will trot out the old talking points, which is why you saw the collective groan from the tennis blogosphere at the exact moment we learned this match would happen. This shit again. But even that in itself is a Take; none of us are free.

I am going to watch. I am going to root for Serena Williams because I like it when she wins things, which feels like an inadequate reason to do anything anymore. I am going to try to focus solely on the tennis. In this, I will probably fail, because it’s 2018 and the instant Maria Sharapova throws her head back in despair it will be time to do the memes. My face when the Uber is late. That moment when your roommate takes the last La Croix. It’s Serena vs. Maria 2K18, which means it’s imperative to keep posting. Never log off.

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