MELBOURNE -- They come in all varieties. There are micromanagers and bloviators. There are delegators and relegators and benevolent despots. Kiss-ups and kick-downs. There are authentic leaders and natural born chiefs. Name a workforce and, almost by definition, there is a boss. In sports, bosses cut a remarkably wide swath. Armed with talking points, projecting defiance as he defends what is often indefensible, Roger Goodell is one kind of boss. Adam Silver, self-deprecating and often smiling, is another.
Tennis has bosses, too. Many, in fact, given its oxymoronic fractured structure. But the sport’s uberboss might be Serena Williams. She has won more major titles than anyone else currently playing. She has a cast of underlings and an entire tour that bends to her accord.
Her leadership style? She’s one of those bosses who is not always present. Early in the process, you wonder if she hasn't spread herself too thin, if she’s fully committed, if she’s pondering her next move. And then, once the deal is on the table and it’s time to close, she arrives in full force, reminding you of why it is she resides at the top of the org chart.
The 2015 Australian Open animated Serena-as-boss. Early on, she looked sluggish. She faced 31 break points through the first six rounds of the tournament. For the first week, Serena looked disengaged. In two of her first four matches, she dropped the first set. For the first week, it looked like her older sister—herself a tennis boss at one time—might be more likely to win the title.
Then, when it was time to get down to brass tacks, the Boss came to work. This is how she rolls. This is how she has always rolled. How did she respond to those 31 break points? By making 23 first serves, winning 21 of them, eight of them by serving aces. How did she respond once she dropped those first sets? By winning 6-2, 6-0, 6-3, and 6-2. The second week of the tournament? In the last three rounds, when the competition is (notionally) tightest, she lost a grand total of 21 games and zero sets.
In tonight’s final against Maria Sharapova, Serena reconfirmed that, yes, she is the boss. Though cast as rivals, they have rivalry the way a juicer has a rivalry with an orange. Their record is not a head-to-head, so much as it is a foot-to-backside. What started as a “streak” has since grown legs and tale. Coming into this match, Serena had beaten Sharapova 15 straight times, going back more than 15 years. As Serena put it the other day: “I think my game matches up well against her. I love playing her. I think it’s fun. I love her intensity. For whatever reason, I love playing. I have the time of my life.”
Ranking Serena's Grand Slam Titles
2003 Australian Open
In the fourth consecutive Williams-Williams Grand Slam final, Serena became the fifth woman in history to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time, joining Margaret Court, Maureen Connolly, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.
1999 U.S. Open
At 17 and in only her second professional season, Williams defeated 18-year-old Hingis, the world's top ranked player, to become the first black woman to win a Grand Slam title since Althea Gibson in 1958. In capturing the title, Williams beat three of the top four women in the world --Hingis, Lindsay Davenport (2) and Monica Seles (4).
Just six weeks earlier she suffered her first loss in the opening round of a Slam at the French Open. But after being sidelined for almost a year with a foot injury and being rushed to the hospital for a pulmonary embolism, Serena won her first major in two years by defeating Agnieszka Radwanksa 6-1, 5-7, 6-2. At 30, she became the oldest woman to win Wimbledon since Martina Navratilova in 1990. And she smacked a tournament record 102 aces, to boot.
Serena came into the tournament unseeded, and capped an amazing fortnight by dismantling the top-seeded Maria Sharapova in the final.
Serena defeated Heather Watson, her sister Venus, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and finally Garbine Muguruza en route to her 21st Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2015. She also completed the "Serena Slam" for the second time in her career and moved one step closer to completing the calendar Grand Slam.
2005 Australian Open
Plagued by a rib injury that forced her to leave the court and get treatment after five games, Serena fought back and eventually wore down Davenport. To reach the final, Serena had staved off two match points by Maria Sharapova in winning a semifinal 2-6, 7-5, 8-6.
2013 French Open
A year earlier Serena lost in the first round to 111th-ranked French wildcard Virginie Razzano 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, her first opening round loss at a Slam in her career. She finally cast off her Parisian demons -- she hadn't been past the quarterfinals since 2004 -- to win her second French Open title 11 years after her first title in 2002.
2002 U.S. Open
In an awesome display of power, Serena didn't lose a set over the two weeks and was never even taken to a tie-break in her third straight Grand Slam final win of the season.
2014 U.S. Open
The pressure of winning No. 18 weighed on Serena all season, as she suffered early losses in the first three Slams of the year. But she rebounded to roll to the title in New York. She didn't lose a set all tournament and routed Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-3 to join Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 career majors, putting her in a three-way tie for second place in the Open Era behind Steffi Graf.
Ranked No. 2 in the world, just behind her sister at the time, Serena denied Venus a third-straight Wimbledon title while winning her first Wimbledon crown.
In one of the best women's matches of the decade, Serena saved match point against Elena Dementieva in the semifinals to win 6-7(4), 7-5, 8-6. She then went on to beat Venus in the final 7-6, 6-2.
2012 U.S. Open
Serena capped off a near undefeated second half of the season by winning her second straight Slam title, 15th overall, beating top-ranked Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in the final.
2015 Australian Open
It wasn't an easy two weeks for Serena. She had to battle through a cold and was taken to three sets by two young stars in Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina in the first week. But she rolled through No. 2 Maria Sharapova for the 16th consecutive time, 6-3, 7-6 (5), to capture her 19th major title and set up a real possibility she could catch Graf's Open Era record of 22 Slams.
2015 French Open
Battling illness throughout the fortnight, Serena dropped the first set in four of her six matches ahead of the final. The No. 1 seed defeated Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens, Sara Errani and Timea Bacsinszky before meeting Lucie Safarova in the finals. In the title match, Serena rallied from 0-2 down the in third set to win, keeping the hopes of both a Serena Slam and calendar Grand Slam alive.
2002 French Open
Facing her older sister Venus in a Grand Slam singles final for just the second time in her career, Serena avenged a 6-2, 6-4 loss in the 2001 U.S. Open. The sloppy championship match in Paris featured a combined 101 unforced errors.
2013 U.S. Open
In a tournament in which she dominated, throwing down five bagel sets in seven matches, Serena got her revenge on No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, who had beaten her in all their hard court matches this season. With her 10th title of 2013, Serena became the first woman to ever break $10 million in prize money in a single season.
2008 U.S. Open
In a tournament in which she beat older sister Venus in two tiebreakers to advance to the semifinals, Serena didn't lose a set the entire tournament and regained the world's No. 1 ranking in the process.
2010 Australian Open
With her 12th title, Serena tied Billie Jean King on the all-time list and continued her mastery of Melbourne by defeating Justine Henin 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. It was her fifth title Down Under.
With her big sister slowed by a strained abdominal muscle and a sore left thigh, Serena won for the fifth time in the last six Grand Slams. She had lost to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semifinals of the 2003 French Open.
2009 Australian Open
Serena retook the No. 1 ranking in destructive fashion, beating third-ranked Dinara Safina 6-0, 6-3 in 59 minutes. Said the embarrassed Safina, "I was just a ballboy on the court today."
Without dropping a set all tournament, Serena beat Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-2 in the final to pass Billie Jean King on the all-time list. During the trophy ceremony she spotted King in the stands. "Hey Billie, I got you!" she joked. She also hit a then-tournament record 89 aces during the fortnight, a mark she would shatter two years later.
That fun continued tonight. In a thoroughly enthralling match, Serena won on every dimension outserving, outslugging, outrunning and outfighting Sharapova 6-3, 7-6 (5). A player beats you this ritually and it becomes deeply mental. But what is Sharapova to do? She can't move to Serena side-to-side. She won’t outserve her. She can’t really pin her deep to the baseline either, not with Serena dictating play.
And then there is the matter of clutch play. As Sharapova, admirably, found her game and dialed in her shots, Williams went one better. Serena sent 18 aces hissing across the net and won 84 percent of her first serves. In a tiebreaker, Serena, predictably, summoned her best work. Serving at match point, Serena hit ace, only to get a dubious let call. She smiled, inhaled and hit the exact same serve for another ace. That’s her career, distilled to its essence.
For whatever indifference Serena may have projected earlier in her career, her legacy and reputation now matter greatly. She is still going strong, meeting her quarterly targets (and targets on the court). But no one stays in the corner office forever. She is concerned now about how history recalls her. Once blissfully unaware of tennis history, she now knows that passed Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, with 19 major titles, well within sniffing distance of Steffi Graf’s 22. By the shrieks and jumps after she clubbed that last ace, you have a feeling that she knew she hadn't just beat Sharapova; she had beaten some more history.
The hallways here are adorned with photos of former champions. After still another close, Serena left the court, headed to the locker room and passed them all. Evert, Navratilova, Monica Seles, Graf.
Serena kept walking. Walking like a boss.
GALLERY: CLASSIC PHOTOS OF SERENA WILLIAMS
Classic Photos of Serena Williams
From her humble beginnings, Serena Williams has climbed to the top of the tennis world. Here are some rare photos of the woman Billie Jean King says is the best player in tennis history.
Serena Williams playing tennis in Florida in 1992.
Growing up in Compton, Calif., Serena worked tirelessly with Venus and their father to hone her skills.
Their California roots got Serena and Venus a photo op with President Ronald Reagan and wife, Nancy.
All five of the Williams sisters were exposed to tennis at an early age, but Serena and Venus seemed to display the most interest and strongest prospects.
In 1992, Serena, then 10, and Venus, then 12, stunned the tennis world when they each won their single divisions in the Southern California Junior Sectional Championships.
After several years living in Compton, Richard Williams relocated the family to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to enroll Serena and Venus in Rick Macci's renown tennis academy.
Serena was on hand for Venus's pro debut at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena in October 1994. The family, including mom Oracene, are pictured here before that event.
Serena was in Venus's shadow for several years, but has matured into the more accomplished player.
At 17, Serena became the first African-American woman since Althea Gibson to win a Grand Slam title.
Venus and Serena, pictured here with Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles, helped lead the U.S. in its 4-1 Federation Cup victory against Russia in 1999.
The sisters got in touch with their patriotic side during a 2000 photo shoot for SI. Serena has won four Olympic medals while representing the U.S., three in doubles and the other in singles.
Despite their undeniable skills and stockpile of titles, the Williams sisters have been accused of slacking off when pitted against each other in competition. Venus and Serena have vehemently denied those claims. Serena leads the head-to-head series 14-11 through August 2014.
Serena lost in hair-raising fashion in the quarterfinals of the first three majors in 2001, but made the final of the U.S. Open, which she lost to Venus.
Serena capped off a busy 2001 by carrying the Olympic torch in the leadup to the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
Julie Foudy, Summer Sanders and Serena appeared with Ronald McDonald at the World Children's Day Event in New York City in November 2002.
Serena created a stir when she competed in this cat suit at the 2002 U.S. Open.
Serena's appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno coincided with her inclusion in the SI Swimsuit issue.
Serena's swimsuit poses didn't stop with SI. Here she poses during a December shoot.
Serena had a clothing line with Puma in the early years, but signed with Nike in 2004.
Serena in action at Fairmont Stadium in Arizona, where she had won the State Farm Classic the year before.
Serena's victory over Venus in the 2003 Australian Open made her the fifth woman to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously. The media dubbed it the Serena Slam.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty showed Serena around the garage area when she attended the Ford 400 in Homestead, Fla.
Pictured with Laura Harring and David Coulthard, Serena helped present the 2003 Comeback of the Year Award to soccer phenom Ronaldo at the Laureus World Sports awards.
Serena turned heads again at the 2004 U.S. Open, when she took to the court in this outfit. Officials told her to ditch the knee-high boots.
Serena's 2005 Australian outfit wasn't quite as flamboyant, but reinforced that she does have a fashion sense about her.
Seen here playing with her two dogs, Bambi and Jackie, Serena struggled through 2005 as a variety of injuries caused her to have her first non-Top 10 finish since 1998.
Recovering from a knee injury, Serena didn't win a single tournament in 2006 and finished the year ranked 95th in the world.
Serena celebrates a point during the 2007 Australian Open finals against Maria Sharapova. Williams, who was unseeded because of her World No. 81 ranking, continued on to beat Sharapova and win the tournament.
Serena made it to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2007, where she lost to world No. 1 Justine Henin.
Serena unveiled her trench coat look at Wimbledon in 2008.
Serena lost 7-5, 6-4 to Venus in the finals at Wimbledon in 2008.
Serena and Venus rejoice after they beat Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain during the gold medal match at the Beijing Olympics.
The victory was their second consecutive gold medal in doubles.
Serena reacts after defeating Jelena Jankovic to win the 2008 U.S. Open title.
Serena poses with Kim and Khloe Kardashian and rapper Common, whom she once dated.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross with Serena and Venus after it was announced they had become minority owners of the NFL football team.
Serena kids around after winning a title in Melbourne.
Serena had an 18-match Grand Slam tournament winning streak snapped at the 2009 French Open.
Serena famously lost her temper at the 2009 U.S. Open, berating the line judge for calling a foot fault. She was assessed a point penalty, which happened to be on match point in the semifinal, giving the victory to Clijsters, 6-4, 7-5.
Serena is seen here enjoying a White Sox-Yankees game with former Bronx bomber Reggie Jackson.
Other than her 2002 victory in the French Open, Serena had never made another final at Roland Garros. That is, until she won the 2013 edition.
Queen Elizabeth II meets Roger Federer, Serena, Novak Djokovic and others on Day 4 at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. It was the first visit by Queen Elizabeth II to the Championships in 33 years.
Serena didn't lose a set in winning Wimbledon in 2010.
Serena and Venus, the two-time defending doubles champions at Wimbledon, lost in the quarterfinals in 2010. Serena cut her foot on a piece of glass a few days afterwards and missed the rest of the season.
Serena and Venus at the end of their exhibition match at La Macarena bullring in Medellin.
Serena along with Kim Kardashian and Sean "Diddy" Combs at a 2012 Pre-Grammy gala.
Serena on the red carpet at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in West Hollywood. That same week she underwent emergency treatment for a blood clot in her lungs.
Serena, Tim Tebow and Venus at the 2012 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.
Serena was overcome by emotion after winning her fifth Wimbledon title. The victory came a little more than a year after she had been hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism. It was the first Wimbledon title by an over-30 woman since Martina Navratilova in 1990.
Wimbledon singles champions Serena Williams and Roger Federer at the Wimbledon Championships 2012 Winners Ball. It marked her third Wimbledon title in four years.
Venus and Richard Williams congratulate Serena after she won her first major title in two years.
Serena poses with members of Engine 54 Ladder 4 Battalion 9 in New York the day after winning the U.S. Open.
Serena won seven tournaments in 2012, including the WTA Championships in Istanbul.
Serena plays a forehand during the 2013 Australian Open. She lost in the quarterfinals to Sloane Stephens, who later in the year said several critical remarks about Williams.
Two points from defeat in the Open final, Serena regained her composure to come back and win the last four games, beating No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 for her fourth U.S. Open title and 15th Grand Slam title overall.
Serena poses after winning the Sony Tennis Open 2013 in Key Biscayne, Fla.
Serena finally cast off her Parisian demons—she hadn't been past the quarterfinals since 2004—to win her second French Open title 11 years after her first title in 2002.
Serena wins the U.S. Open against Victoria Azarenka in 2013.
Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki pose with Miami Heat's Greg Oden and the NBA Eastern Conference championship trophy in 2014.
Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki pose together in the water on May 31, 2014, in Miami Beach.
Serena Williams plays a backhand in her semifinal victory over Madison Keys in the 2015 Australian Open. Serena would go on to defeat Maria Sharapova in the final match for her 19th grand slam singles title.
Serena Williams poses with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen trophy after winning the singles final against Lucie Safarova at the 2015 French Open.
Serena Williams in action against Lucie Safarova in the Finals of the 2015 French Open.
Serena Williams plays Maria Sharapova in a semifinal match at the 2015 Wimbledon Championships.
Serena Williams arrives at the 2015 Wimbledon Champions Dinner at The Guildhall in England.
Serena Williams attends Nike's "NYC Street Tennis" event in August 2015.
Serena, with Estelle, Jason Biggs, Jenny Mollen and Uzo Aduba at the 2nd Annual Delta Open Mic, a few days before the 2015 U.S. Open began.
Serena Williams attends the 2015 Taste of Tennis New York at W New York Hotel while in town for the start of the U.S. Open.
Serena Williams did an inpromtu split during her match against Bethanie Mattek-Sands at the 2015 U.S. Open.
Serena Williams wipes sweat away after falling 3-0 in the first set to Bethanie Mattek-Sands at the U.S. Open.
Serena Williams in action against Kiki Bertens at the 2015 U.S. Open.
Serena signing autographs for fans at the 2015 U.S. Open.
Serena Williams celebrates after defeating Venus in their quarterfinal match at the 2015 U.S. Open.
Serena and Venus hug after their quarterfinal match at the 2015 U.S. Open.
Serena Williams accepting the 2015 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award.
Serena Williams after a win over Maria Sharapova at the 2016 French Open.
Serena Williams after winning the 2016 Wimbledon title, her 22nd Grand Slam crown, which tied Steffi Graf for the most in the open era.