Today, CNN published an interview with Serena Williams’ tennis coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, under the histrionic title, “The man who rescued Serena Williams.” But the tennis superstar, often referred to simply as Serena, is one of the toughest competitors in any sport and, of all people, did not need to be “rescued” by anyone. The depiction of Serena as a “damsel in distress” — waiting to be saved by her Prince Charming — couldn’t be further from the truth.
Without a doubt, Mourathoglou is a well-regarded coach and Serena has performed incredibly well since their partnership began in 2012, winning four Grand Slams and 16 tournaments overall. But the reality is Mourathoglou struck gold when Serena agreed to take him on. Prior to teaming up with Serena he coached a string of promising but largely anonymous professional players, none of whom ever won a Grand Slam and only one of which — Marcos Baghdatis — ever cracked the top 10 of the world rankings. Just before Serena agreed to work with him, he was coaching Grigor Dimitrov, a Bulgarian player currently ranked 23rd. Serena, on the other hand, won 13 Grand Slams and had been the top ranked woman in the world (5 different times) prior to ever working with Mourthoglou. So who “rescued” whom?
Yes, coming off of an injury in 2012, Serena’s world ranking had plummeted and she had a disappointing first round exit from the French Open. But she had up and down in her career before. In 2006, she was ranked 139th in the world and needed a wild card entry to the U.S. Open. By 2008, she won the U.S. Open and regained her number one ranking.
As CNN notes, Serena and Mourathoglou are rumored to be dating. The idea that, struggling with her game, Serena need a “man” to set her straight is a tempting confirmation of cliched gender stereotypes. But the reality is, as Mourathoglou notes at the end of his CNN interview, Serena is the fully capable of straightening herself out, “Come on, you don’t need your coach every time you’re broken. You have to think what you should do and look for a solution, and this is something that Serena really has in herself.”