I said it: Serena Williams is game's greatest ever
• So I'm prepared for the onslaught of hate mail, but I stand by that. Let me first say that, much as we enjoy these discussions, they have the unfortunate (and unintended) effect of diminishing the achievements of truly great players,legends of the sport. So bear in mind: None of this is intended to disrespect the other candidates. At some level, too, this comes down to semantics. As long as the definition of "GOAT" is not standardized, we're going to disagree.
But, paraphrasing what I wrote in the magazine, here's my take on Serena: strip away the nonsense -- the controversies and the drama and the fines and the sore losing -- and she's the best ever. Is Serena the most
So here's my case for Serena: She's now won 13 Grand Slams spanning more than a decade (and she's still going). Mostly because of the quirks of a ranking system that induces the field to (over)play, she hasn't always been No. 1. Yet, for a big chunk of her career, she's been top dog and everyone has known it. While clay is her worst surface, she's won each of the four majors. Her record in doubles in phenomenal. She's won Olympic gold. She's won year-end championships.
Evert and Navratilova, you say, both would have won many more titles, were it not for the existence of the other. OK, but how many more Slams would Serena have won if she didn't have to face her sister, infinitely weirder than a non-blood-related rival? Serena is playing during a "soft" period in tennis history, you say, as evidenced by her winning Wimbledon without being tested. I disagree. Serena has often had to go through the best to win (Davenport, Sharapova, Venus, Henin). Is, say,
Serena has the most fearsome serve -- i.e. the most important stroke -- in women's tennis history, and it would be the case even if everyone used the same technology. (She uses natural gut strings by the way.) She is the best athlete in women's tennis history, likely the fastest and the strongest. And she competes as well as any athlete -- not tennis player; athlete -- you'll ever come across.
But here's where I really feel strongly: Head-to-head, on a neutral surface (i.e. hard courts), everyone at their best, I can't help feeling that she crushes the other legends. Sacrilege, I know. But spark up of video of other players, watch where their balls land in the court or how hard they serve or how they move and then consider Serena's game. She would blow through Evert. She wouldn't allow Navratilova (who looks like a pixie next to Serena) a chance to attack. She would tee off on Graf's slice. Again, this isn't to disrespect the others; it's progress. But I think it counts for a lot that no one has ever played tennis at a higher level than Serena has. (It's the same reason, incidentally, that I was early to pronounce Federer the male GOAT. You just know watching him that no one has played better tennis qualitatively and surely that has to count for something.)
The big knock on Serena is her wavering commitment and sparse schedule. But that, too, needs to be reassessed. At a time when tennis has never been a) more physical and b) more global, it's not realistic to expect her to play 18 events a year. And considering the fate of her contemporaries (leaving aside the one who was hospitalized for an OD, we've had retirements, unretirements, burnouts and fast fades), Serena's approach to scheduling and "outside interests" made a lot of sense in retrospect.
I realize that Serena is incredibly polarizing. Sometimes, she gets a raw deal from the establishment. Other times, she brings it on herself. I realize that for some of you, her outburst at the U.S. Open last year, will always disqualify her from "greatest anything" consideration. I also realize that, as long as she's still playing, it may be silly to make a declarative statement one way or the other. But I think in the end, the preening and the Indian Wells fiasco, and the "lying and fabricating," and the
• The flip side: She's clearly an emotional sort, fired with perfectionist instincts. If she weren't so intense, she wouldn't cry and bang her racket. She might also not be a Top 10 player. A former pro who will go nameless raised an interesting point: Does it not degrade women's tennis that a top pro is so prone to tears? I'm not buying that. First, I can think of a prominent male pro who's also prone to waterworks. Second, at least she gives a s---. I'd be more concerned if her attitude conveyed indifference.
• This is hearsay, but one prominent broadcaster allegedly said something to the effect: "Vania King won the doubles so at least the U.S. didn't get totally shut out!" Hmmm. Just because you don't play Fed Cup you don't count as American? That can't be it.
• Again, we need the doubles wing. Hard to imagine inducting him alongside the likes of an Agassi. But much the same way Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva are in this year, I could see inducting Paes on his doubles credentials.
• We can have the hypothetical discussion -- and I'll be the first to admit it's fun -- but I think so much of it depends on Nadal's knees. They hold up and, sure, he has a real chance. If not, obviously it's a different story. As a rule of thumb, I think anything with a "consecutive" is a non-starter. For a guy who's never been to the U.S. Open final -- mostly because his tires are awfully bald come late summer -- it's hard to see him winning all four Majors in a calendar year. If I had to guess I'd predict: he comes to close Federer (who might not be done winning, himself) but doesn't catch him in the end. Yes, Nadal can win on any surface. Yes, he's only 24. But his health just looms too large.
• Not sure what this means. Soderling has rabbit ears?
• Ouch. And
Funny, the Federer-philes feel he's being unjustifiably crucified. (I haven't gotten this much crazed hate mail since I took issue with the No. 15 jacket.) The Federer-phobes are still convinced he's getting a pass and players likes of Serena would never have gotten so lightly. And the mail continues to come in.
Again, I didn't think Federer was at his best after that Wimbledon loss. This wasn't a Tuesday loss in Monte Carlo; this was a Wimbledon quarterfinal. Berdych, a longtime head case, played a huge match and won it convincingly. Give him his due. And do so without the medical chart. After her loss the day before, Venus Williams was asked about her health. Know what she said? "I don't talk about my injuries. Ever."
At the same time, Federer's human. One substandard episode doesn't undo a decade of decency and class. Let's chalk it up to a bad day and move on.
• Props. It's like a flame-haired
• One more Slam? We're talking about a guy who, even after his recent disappointments, has won four of the past eight! I don't think the coach is an issue. I think he could use a big, more modern racket. The sports psychologist is interesting, since a lot of these losses have come because a failure to convert opportunities, which hadn't been an issue in the past.
• I do. Do I succeed? Not so much. Not like
• Good question. Another theme from this year's Wimbledon: Serena has really distanced herself from her sister. For all the casual fans who think of them as a bloc, consider that Serena has now won nearly twice as many Slam singles titles as her big sister. (Chalk still another up one for
• A suggestion that
• Congrats to
• We'll give the Haiku contest a few more days.
Have a good week everyone!