The Wrong “Impression” of Caroline Wozniacki and Tennis

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By David Kane

As we edge closer to December 21st and the world hurtles closer to its Mayan-predicted end, more and more signs of the apocalypse appear to be popping up.

For one, the American media largely ignores tennis, save for the weeks during the US Open. Yet, at the height of the off-season, the sport found itself as a topic of conversation on the popular talk show, The View. The ladies were discussing last weekend’s exhibition in Brazil that featured, among others, Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams. Free from the usual tournament tension, players use exhibitions as their opportunity to entertain the crowd without fearing a win or a loss.

Caroline Wozniacki (L) impersonates Serena Williams

The panel, Sherri Shepherd and Whoopi Goldberg in particular, took issue with one of those attempts at entertainment. As the event unfolded, Wozniacki (referred to as “Carol” by Ms. Goldberg) impersonated Williams, and stuffed her front and back to simulate the American’s famous assets. The question, to the shock of tennis fans, was whether the move by Wozniacki was racist.

When panelist Joy Behar quipped that white women are made fun of for their bodies, Ms. Shepherd retorted, “I’m speaking as a black woman…to see Serena Williams reduced to this, I don’t like it.” Ms. Goldberg, typically looked to as the panel’s voice of reason, went further and likened the image of the Dane’s stuffed bra and underwear as one “generally seen with a bone in their nose and a short little skirt.” She went on to say, “I don’t ever remember them making fun of the white tennis players.”

The reaction on Twitter was swift:

But I must point to another sign of our impending doom: Today, the outspokenly conservative panelist, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, talked some sense. She brought up the very important point that players impersonate each other all the time, citing Novak Djokovic as a player quick to comically don the mask of one of his peers. Ms. Hasselbeck’s argument was not perfect if only that she claimed that the players of the ATP impersonate each other. Quite the opposite; in fact, some of the most remembered on-court clowns, Djokovic along with Andy Roddick and Dmitry Tursunov, get their biggest laughs from impersonating the ladies. Which famous, multiple-Slam winning player do they impersonate the most?

Maria Sharapova.

Djokovic won over an Arthur Ashe Stadium night crowd in 2007 with his ability to encapsulate the Russian’s deliberate pre-serve routine, down to the tucking of hair behind the ear.

One may argue that Djokovic didn’t physically alter himself in the way that Wozniacki did. However, 10 months earlier, it was Sharapova’s compatriot Tursunov who stuffed two strategically placed tennis balls down his shirt while impersonating her.

(The “transformation” can be seen at :22).

When the reader takes this into consideration, it becomes clear that impersonations in tennis are anything but a black/white issue. Williams and Sharapova are the sport’s two most recognizable stars; when a player impersonates them, an exhibition crowd can easily point them out.

Caroline Wozniacki is not a racist for knowing how to entertain a crowd. She did not step on the court in blackface, and to deem large breasts and buttocks as a signifier of black women alone does not do justice to the women of all colors who are either full figured or aspire to be shaped like Serena Williams.

An impersonation can be racist, but not all people who impersonate people of other races are racists. If that were true, then where was The View when Caucasian Fred Armisen repeatedly impersonated President Barack Obama or former New York Governor David Patterson on Saturday Night Live?

But this is more than simply an issue about who has the right to impersonate whom; what matters is the message that The View’s discussion sends to non-tennis fans. Often looked on as an elitist, country club sport, professional tennis is truly the opposite, with the rankings alone a testament to the melting pot that is the tennis world. Players like Williams, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer have done immeasurable outreach with underprivileged youth in the United States and Africa, opening schools and driving home the global nature of the sport that made them famous.

Baseless accusations like this senselessly sully the sport’s reputation, and most ironically, give people who know nothing about tennis the wrong “impression.”

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9 Responses to The Wrong “Impression” of Caroline Wozniacki and Tennis

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  • Manixdk says:

    Thanks for being a voice of reason. This happened in multi-racial Brazil with Caro’s friend Serena in the stands. There was not a peep from the crowd apart from multi-racial laughter. There was nothing in the Brazilian papers condemning Caro. This seems to be almost a purely American phenomenon.

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  • Eric says:

    Well done. Every tennis fan needs to spread the word on this mid-reported story. I’m also hoping Serena sees it fit to come to the aid of her dear friend in the upcoming days…

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  • Deco says:

    Racist? Oh please… Only ignorant people would think this way… People who don’t know anything about the sport or the friendship between Serena and Caro…

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  • Marcelo says:

    I have only one thing to say about all that: ignorant people!
    Caro racist? hahahaha… another joke, please.
    There is a video of Roddick (a ‘white’ north-american guy) impersonating Serena, as same as Wozniacki did, and people are laughing a lot. Why don’t they call him as racist? Fucking bastards, have nothing better to say.

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  • Marcelo says:

    Just an observation: congratulations to the author of the text and the sense of responsibility with your words.

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  • ilana says:

    You’re absolutely right. It’s not like Black women’s bodies have historically been (and presently are) denigrated or reduced to ugly caricatures. It’s not like a more European standard of beauty has always been praised, and has never been taken or perceived as a joke like Black women’s bodies have been.

    (That was sarcasm.)

    I’m not saying that her /intent/ was malicious, but Wozniacki’s actions do not exist in a vacuum. Especially considering race relations and the historical commodification of Black bodies, it is not ‘baseless’ that her actions would be perceived negatively.

    Also, just because commentators of The View never commented or critiqued Armisen’s (who is actually of Venezuelan and Japanese ancestry) portrayal of Barack Obama, does not mean his performance was not problematic, nor does it mean that there were no critiques of SNL’s choice to use him over a Black actor, whether or not the portrayal was laced with good intentions.

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  • David says:

    But again, to say that this was an impression of a *black woman’s body* is to accept the idea that *only* black women look like Serena Williams. In the tennis world alone, players like the French-Canadian Mary Pierce or Hungarian Aniko Kapros share Serena’s voluptuous shape and if they were still around today and had the recognizability of a Serena (or a Maria Sharapova), they would likely be impersonated the same way.

    But people don’t impersonate Serena because of how she looks. Even if Serena was rail-thin or a European “ideal,” other players would do Serena impressions in these non-competitive situations as frequently as they impersonate Sharapova because both are among the two most famous stars of our sport.

    While The View had the right to discuss this, to use incendiary imagery like Wozniacki was a step away from having “a bone through [her] nose” to describe one of the most global, diverse sports in the world ultimately makes their accusation baseless, and that is why I wrote this piece.

    ~DK

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  • ironymobile says:

    This piece makes a number of very good points. I also happen to think the charges of racism against Wozniacki are misplaced and overblown, the personal attacks on her regrettable, and the discussion of tennis in this context unfortunate.

    Two quick points. First, the Fred Armisen comparison falls flat. He is a paid actor on a comedy sketch show whose job includes mimicking public figures. Wozniacki & other professional tennis players may entertain audiences, but they are not entertainers whose primary job includes this sort of performance (which is central to Armisen’s work).

    Second, regarding Manixdk’s comment that “this [i.e., negative reactions to Wozniacki's impersonation] seems to be almost a purely American phenomenon,” why is this surprising? The player who was being imitated is an American. Most of the world’s best-known black celebrities are athletes, musicians, or actors who work in the US. The US is the largest media market in the world. More tennis tournaments take place in the US than in any other nation. If Wozniacki did a controversial imitation of Novak Djokovic, wouldn’t you expect the largest outcry to come from Serbia?

    On top of this, unless you were there (and probably not even then), you have no way of knowing that there was “not a peep from the crowd.” There might have been very quiet peeps; there might have been peeps on the way home or after the fact over the kitchen table. I wonder, too, if you’ve scoured internet sites from the African continent or from European countries, like France, that have significant black populations to see what, if any, response is there. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as they say. It seems odd to suggest that there’s anything unusual about there being a significant American response–or that because the negative response *seems* to be coming mainly from the US that this is a reason to discount it.

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  • jeanius says:

    Where are people getting the idea that Williams and Wozniacki are “dear friends” ?

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