On Second Thought

Serena at fault for this serve

By Kevin Paul Dupont
April 3, 2011

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The world just got a very different look at Serena Williams, one that certainly wouldn’t fly between the lines at Wimbledon. The fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club may have relaxed the dress code an itsy bit in recent years, but if she showed up at SW19 this summer in the dominatrix outfit she recently sported, well now, the retractable roof fitted for Centre Court would fire off toward the English Channel, with Williams right behind it.

During World War II, when British and Allied airmen lost their lives in the Channel, the working expression among the surviving pilots and gunners was that they “went for a Burton,’’ as if their brothers flew off for a beer and lost their way home.

In her own way, Williams went for a Burton with her appearance in a commercial to promote a tennis video game — an ad that was short on intelligence, wisdom, and taste, and shortest of all on the tiny strip of fabric meant to cover her prominent, athletic rear end.

When are fame and attention too much fame and attention? Williams, who has enjoyed gobs of both in her illustrious career, answered that emphatically with her appearance in a 2K Sports commercial pushing the company’s Top Spin 4 video game.

It was sheer sexual exploitation, the camera focusing acutely on Williams’s all-but-naked buttocks and the audio capturing the primal grunts and groans of Williams and her opponent, Rileah Vanderbilt, billed in the ad as the “World’s Sexiest Tennis Gamer.’’ Williams, clad in a skin-tight black bodysuit and fishnet pantyhose, was billed as “The World’s Sexiest Tennis Player.’’

Now, grunting is nothing new for female tennis players, and the ranking master of the art is probably Maria Sharapova, the 6-foot-2-inch screaming Russian. But there is grunting in a hotly contested match and there is grunting for the sake of prurient titillation.

It took little imagination to pair the primal screams and the shot of Williams’s rear end, as well as those of Vanderbilt’s cleavage, to come up with the game-set-and-match that the ad’s creator looked to achieve: a porn sports video crafted around Williams, who looked quite comfy in her not-made-for-tennis-or-prime-time tutu.

“You realize this is a fantasy, right?’’ Williams says as the tag line to the 60-second fantasy.

Yeah, got that. It was about as hard to miss as one of those overhand smashes that the agile Williams hammers over the net when an opponent dishes back a desperate lob to her forehand. With so little left to the imagination, fantasy is plunked down at center court.

For those who missed Sister Sledgehammer’s little number — and it was little — it’s too late to have a look. It only took a couple of days for 2K to put the kibosh to the racy ad, claiming it never authorized its release.

“This video,’’ reported the 2K release, “is not part of the title’s final marketing campaign, and its distribution was unauthorized.’’ (You still might find it if you look hard enough on the Internet.)

Not hard to figure out what happened here. When Williams so willingly hung her rear end out in public, it got booted, leaving current and potential sponsors asking themselves the obvious question: What has gotten into this woman’s head? She Sheened, but woke up fast enough, saw where public sentiment was going, and had the skin flick plucked from immediate view. You can bet it will show up on the secondary market . . . in three . . . two . . . one . . .

An underlying irony here is that Williams isn’t playing any tennis, real or fantasized, these days. She has had a series of physical setbacks, injuries and ailments beyond the typical array of twisted knees, pulled hamstrings, and pinched abdominal muscles that often knock the game’s elite to the sidelines.

It all began shortly after she won Wimbledon last year when she cut her right foot with a piece of glass in an off-court accident, damaging a tendon in the foot that ultimately twice required surgery. In February, she had to be treated for a blood clot in her lungs, and then only days later underwent surgery to remove a grapefruit-sized hematoma from her stomach.

“I don’t know if I’ve had my share of drama,’’ Williams told USA Today in an interview published March 17, about a week before the commercial got the Internet smoking, “but I’ve definitely had my share of hard times.’’

The video wound was self-inflicted, and unlike the rolling parade of Tiger Woods’s multiple moral faux pas that led directly to the dissolution of his marriage, at least she didn’t take anyone down in the process.

It’s a good bet Williams is far less appealing now to corporate sponsors, because even though we’ve relinquished many of our taboos in the last 3-4 decades, the whole dominatrix thing still appeals only to a fairly small subset in our culture, at least a small subset that will admit to liking it.

The cast of characters we see floating around in those Jimmy Dean sausage ads may be equally bizarre, but most of America finds them easier on the eyes, especially at that hour of the morning. Would-be sponsors or prospective employees in her post-career now won’t know whether to trust Williams, yet another hard lesson of our times. Our screw-ups never disappear, even when we think we’ve successfully erased our e-mail, deleted the voice message, snuffed out the steamy video.

No telling how soon Williams will be back on the court. In that USA Today story, she sounded eager to return, and the longer she stays out, the longer she will remain the butt of jokes over her one-minute dalliance. She has won 13 Grand Slam events, including her fourth at Wimbledon last July, and her career earnings, just from the court, come to nearly $33 million.

Although arrogant and petulant at times, she ranks among the top 3-4 in the women’s game with the likes of Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King.

For whatever reason, be it some void in her life, a primal urge or temptation, or just a bit of whimsy or sorority-house pranksterism, Williams really let her knickers down and took us all to a place none of us needed to go. Maybe it was just her fantasy, or her need to go for a Burton.

If so, hey, have at it, woman. Next time, please, just don’t be so cheeky about it.

Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at