Alas, King Richard: A tennis father’s complex quest for victory

Harmony Holiday in Bookforum:

RICHARD WILLIAMS DEMANDS GLORY. The pursuit of glory is revised madness, the ambition of addicts, to get so high they collapse, and are forced to repeat the ascent as if for the first time. It’s preemptive repentance disguised as innocent yearning to win. You have to need vindication to need victory so desperately. Richard Williams is looking for redemption. In a scene from a 1990s video of Richard, father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, we see him genuflecting on a tennis court in Compton, California, in front of a shopping cart full of tennis balls—the ground swells with them. He’s gathering the splayed balls and placing them into red plastic milk crates with the reverence of a praise dancer. What altar is this? A shrine of crumbling adobe, chalk, felt, and plastic. What utter fixation on the unglamorous, what risk of a dedication with no yield? What we know now turns the pathos in Richard’s gesture here into dramatic irony. The menial duties of this father intent on training his daughters to be the best athletes in the world will be redeemed. He will not kneel and scour the ground for these fuzzy green chess pieces in vain.

Richard has a scar on his shin from where an iron nail was hammered into it by disgruntled whites in his Louisiana hometown when he was just a kid; they were disgruntled because he refused to call them “mister.” A phantom crucifixion seems to trail him. His preemptive penitence is a constant—it seeps into the texture of his presence, into the way he corrects his daughters’ stance during daily practices, his curt benevolence and pent-up rage transmuted by infinite patience.

More here.