Sarah Desamours has played tennis for almost two decades.
But when her then 8-year-old daughter started beating her, Desamours knew she had to improve quickly. She tried clubs in Coconut Grove. She tried clubs in Miami Beach. The experience, however, was the same: people just weren’t particularly friendly. That all changed when she found the Slice Girls Tennis Club.
“I liked the vibe, I liked the energy and I got better,” Desamours said, calling the atmosphere “happy” and “positive” Even better: “Now I’m able to keep up with my daughter.”
Founded in August 2022 by four Haitian American women from Miami, the Slice Girls have begun to carve their own niche in a sport historically reserved for the white elite. Mostly women of color participate in their five weekly training sessions and monthly clinics at Allapattah’s Moore Park. And as South Florida continues to celebrate the U.S. Open victory courtesy of Delray Beach’s own Coco Gauff, Slice Girls embodies the very same trait that the 19-year-old and the Black tennis greats before her stood for: inclusion.
“Tennis can be an intimidating sport, especially if you brand it in a ways that’s very corporate and quiet,” said Francesca Morgan, who co-founded Slice Girls alongside her friends Shaina Jean Louis, Alexandra Philius and Carole Hollant. “No, we’re loud and we’re fun.”
That expressiveness Morgan mentioned has been a contentious issue for Black women in tennis, most notably with Serena Williams during her 2018 U.S. Open finals match against Naomi Osaka. First came the umpire’s accusation that Williams received coaching from the sidelines. Then the umpire penalized Williams after she broke her racket in frustration. And when Williams tried to defend herself, calling out the umpire for stealing a point from her, he gave her a third penalty for verbal abuse, costing her a game. The incident set the sports world ablaze, giving casual fans a peek into the difficulties of being a women — more specifically, Black women – in tennis.
“When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it,” Billy Jean King wrote on the platform formerly known as Twitter at the time. “When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions.”
During Gauff’s first round match at the U.S. Open, she displayed a similar frustration to the umpire over her opponent’s perceived stalling tactics between serves. The moment struck a chord with many, including Morgan.
“It resonated with because I do get frustrated with things when I’m trying my best but society has us thinking that we got to go to work and not express ourselves or put our foot down,” Morgan said. “Society wants us to be quiet all the time and internalize our emotions.”
At a Slice Girls clinic, emotion is celebrated. Participants scream when they have a good serve, groan when they error and receive encouragement when their backhand falls short of the net. Slice Girls is inviting – something that’s evident in their brand colors, which include splashes of lime green, pink and light blue, said Morgan.
“We’re trying to depart from tennis being so bland, so quiet,” Morgan added.
Gauff’s triumph felt like a win for the Slice Girls co-founders, too. Not only was Gauff unapologetically herself – she even thanked her haters in her victory speech – she became the youngest person to win the U.S. Open since Williams in 1999.
“She’s so young, she looks like us and she’s opening these doors for us,” Philius said, later adding “seeing her struggle, seeing her win just gives me hope that we’re capable of doing anything.”
“It’s very inspiring,” Morgan added. She couldn’t imagine how many little Black girls watched Gauff and now have “the confidence to believe she could also do it.”
Just like Morgan and Philius see a kindred spirit in Gauff, the co-founders want anybody who feels excluded by the tennis establishment to come serve with the Slice Girls.
“I want them to feel like they can see themselves on the court with us,” Philius said, “and be just as happy, just as confident as we are.”