I don’t generally go for “Best of All Time” titles.
I think it’s pointless to argue that a particular leader, author, architect, book, singer, president, movie, or anything else was the greatest of its kind for all time. There are just so many factors and differences to weigh and to consider when comparing this brightest star to all others. In the realm of sports you have to consider: the level of competition and the training, nutrition and equipment that is/was available. Even social conditions and cultural expectations play a role. Like, how do we compare a modern “professional” athlete, with trainers and sports psychologists and nutritionists to an amateur from the past who not only had none of that, but who was expected to treat the sport as a hobby, received no pay, and had to get on with establishing a career and a family.
But despite this, I’m going to proclaim that Serena Williams is the absolute greatest athlete – male or female – of ALL TIME. I do so not because it’s scientific fact or anything that I would try to prove, but because I’m so in awe of her talent, her determination and her level of accomplishment. I won’t lay out a pile of irrefutable evidence. Agree or disagree, you have your own champions and biases and stats to cite, I’m sure. I’ll just throw out the single accomplishment (well, eight really; at least two that I consider most staggering:
This is the fact that she won, in succession, the 4 highest level championships in tennis – something only ever accomplished by a small handful of men or women. Then, 14 years later, she did it again! To win even one major championship requires victory in 7 matches, and generally at least a couple of those will be against other top-10 players. And the 4 championships are on different surfaces, on different continents, in different seasons. And there can be no doubt that tennis is among the most grueling of sports, demanding an extremely high level of fitness and of mental toughness. So the fact that she accomplished this Grand Slam at age 21, then again at age 33, when almost the entire field she dominated the first time around was well into retirement, and some of her competition barely half her age, is, to me, almost beyond belief.
Last week, I watched her lose her latest quest for a major championship – it would have been number 24. And she lost the last time I watched her as well – a couple of months ago at Wimbledon. But my admiration is not diminished by these loses. All champions lose, and lose badly.
Nor am I turned against her by her behavior during the recent U.S. Open. Her frustration and some punishing rulings by the judge got the best of her, and she experienced a near melt down while being trounced by her 20 year old opponent, Naomi Osaka. Yes, I was unhappy, sad, disappointed about several aspects of that altercation. But I don’t see how being a superstar insulates a person against surges of anger or frustration, or from spontaneous self-expression, especially when under such pressure. Serena is human, gloriously so. Given her rage and disappointment, she handled herself well enough, even composing herself enough to comfort, console and express pride and admiration for her opponent. The thing I feel worst about is that all the drama and controversy took the focus and the spirit of celebration from Osaka, who deserved it.
But the other thing I was left feeling after that amazing match was an appreciation that yet another young, powerful and supremely talented brown-skinned girl has ascended to the upper echelons of women’s tennis, along with last year’s winner, Sloane Stevens, just as the Serena and her sister Venus are beginning an inevitable descent. As a brown person myself, I can’t but feel satisfaction in this manifestation of diversity in this still almost entirely white sport. I like it even a bit more that Osaka is both Japanese and Haitian, diversifying the diversity, so to speak.
So, Go Ahead On, Serena. Keep on being yourself, and being the Best Ever!