international tennis

On Women's Day 2017, a tribute to Serena and Venus for leading women's tennis from the forefront

The Williams sisters have ensured that their presence in women's tennis goes beyond mere involvement.

Back in 2016, on the day before Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka were to play the women’s singles final in Indian Wells, the then tournament director of the event, Raymond Moore, created quite a controversy for himself.

Moore, who was interviewed on the eve of the final, went on to say, “You know, in my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the Women’s Tennis Association because they ride on the coattails of the men. They [women’s players] don’t make any decisions, and they are lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have.”

Moore’s verbal overstepping in an attempt to come off as glib cost him his standing – and position – within the global tennis community. But, the harsh reality is that women’s tennis, in spite of the denigration it has experienced and overcome, continues to be regarded as an adjunct to its male counterpart. Though, now it has been couched overtly, lest the discussion veers out of control for moderation.

The Venus and Serena Williams factor

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Every Women’s Day, invariably, the women’s side of the game throws up a few customary names and a handful of anecdotes associated with them as a reminder of the acknowledgement of their contribution. This year, the retelling of such nostalgic description has been overseen by the Williams sisters, each of whom who has presented a divergent – yet – intersecting narrative to the tale of women’s tennis.

Though Serena Williams’ late withdrawal in Indian Wells has led to a reshuffling in the women’s draw, her decision to play again in the tournament in 2015 after having boycotted it for 14 years – even after two years – still sends off a powerful message. So does her sister, Venus’ decision to follow suit, ending a racially-motivated stand-off with inclusiveness.

Encompassing almost the length of the longevity of their careers, Venus and Serena Williams’s coming of age tennis story and their larger-than-life personalities is then gathered into a career – and life – defining nutshell, at the Indian Wells.

The handing of the baton

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It has been nearly forty-four years since Billie Jean King, an audacious and self-styled revolutionary, established the WTA with the intention to end the gender-based disparity in the two sections of the game, and towards enabling women’s tennis on an equal footing with that of the men’s, especially on the monetary front. The US Open, the first to acknowledge her initiative, helped partly achieve her objective when it offered parity in its prize money to both its men’s and women’s singles champions, commencing at the 1973 edition of the tournament.

While the Australian and French Opens followed suit, in the succeeding years, Wimbledon, much-coveted as it is steeped in its traditions, had no qualms in remaining the sole exception to the equal prize money debate for the longest running time.

And, in a way, its continuance to hold on to its traditional ways was also indicative of the players being (inadvertently) remiss in having the tournament face up to its responsibilities.

For, in the decades since Jean King left the mainstream tennis arena, while there had been no stopping of the influx of women entering the tennis domain, rarely was there a voice raised as stridently as the American towards effective bridging of this detractive gap, between one Major and the others.

That is, all except for Jean King’s fellow countrywoman and the elder Williams sibling, who took it upon herself to address the imbalance before finally getting the point across to the All England Club that organises the tournament, which too started awarding an equal prize cheque in 2007. Coincidentally, Venus Williams won that year, defeating France’s Marion Bartoli in the final.

Bridging the past and the future

Aside of the prize money aspect, while most players still maintain a stoic silence on topics that move away from tennis into the social diaspora, the Williams sisters are leading from the forefront there as well.

Then, be it the 23-time Grand Slam champion making pointed references to the sexist connotations prevalent in the current global society, and repeatedly challenging and questioning them head-on. Or be it the seven-time Major winner diffusing worrisome remarks about her racial heritage with her subdued elegance, without letting it affect her on-court performance.

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In that, the Williams’ are proving to be a bridge connecting tennis’ present and future to its seemingly long-lost past. Most specifically, to Althea Gibson, the player who changed the face of women’s tennis long before it could accept that it needed to be changed and in ways it hadn’t even considered modifying itself, extending beyond to just one special day in which to recount the absoluteness of its feel-good poignancy.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.