If you’re thinking I had a typo or perhaps left out a word in the title of this article, think again. The title, agree or not, was fully intended. Now, before you start throwing verbal stones, keep in mind that this is an opinion article; and understand this… I’m not saying Serena is a better physical athlete than, say LeBron James, Usain Bolt, Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Novak Djokovic. Those guys are physically stronger, and/or bigger and faster. And no, the intent of this article is not to make this a battle of the sexes. Heck, while I’m older than Serena and have perhaps 15-20% of her skill (I’m a recreational tennis player), I’d still argue that even I’m more athletic than she is (I’d challenge her to a sprint, distance race, strength test or obstacle course right now). But onto the point…
Who has dominated their individual sport in the way that she has in the last 15 years? Simply put, Serena Williams has dominated a single sport like no other athlete currently playing their game. If you were to compare other athletes past or present, in my mind, only Michael Jordan and Floyd Mayweather have been as dominant. Now, one could argue that M.J. had a team around him, (but forget about his teammates just long enough to ask yourselves, who could stop Jordan guarding him 1-on-1? I’ll run out and buy some groceries while you think about that). As for Floyd Mayweather Jr., well, let’s see… He’s beaten everyone he’s ever faced in the ring (and done so in dominant fashion).
But tennis is a bit different from basketball and boxing. When you compare it to basketball, you have to add back in the fact that there were always four other players on the court with M.J., who wore the same uniform. Serena takes the court by herself, every match. And while boxers are alone to fight the other fighter, during their climb to the top, they usually only have to face a single fighter once in their entire career (not counting the rematches and “money makers” that produce “So & So vs. Such & Such II and III”). While it’s difficult to argue with Floyd Mayweather Jr when he calls himself, “The Best Boxer Ever,” Serena, unlike any fighter, has had to battle and beat the likes of her sister Venus, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport, and Kim Clijsters several times a year, over several years! (I’m not doing an apples-to-apples comparison of the two though… boxers dish out and take so much more physical damage that you cannot fairly compare their sport to tennis. Plus, if you compare Grand Slam finals performance vs Floyd Mayweather Jr title defense bouts, Floyd’s the easy pick).
When I look at other top, currently active athletes, the names that immediately come to mind (both for their legacy as well as how well they’re playing now,) in no particular order are:
As good as all those athletes are (and I’m a fan of each of them), none has come close to dominating their sports the way that Serena has dominated women’s tennis. In fact, though I didn’t write about it at the time, I think the only reason she didn’t win the calendar year slam in 2015 (hence tying Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Slams in the open era) had to do less with Roberta Vinci’s play (though steady), and more to do with the apparent energy crash she had in the 2nd set of their 2015 US Open Semi-final match. Not sure what the professional tennis analysts’ thoughts about it were, but being a competitive (albeit amateur) athlete myself, and seeing “something familiar” in Serena’s 2nd set meltdown (and subsequent loss), my guess is that perhaps Serena either didn’t get the rest she needed the night before that match, or perhaps didn’t get the calorie intake necessary to grind it out for three sets prior to the match (both things I’ve done that have cost me what should have been easy match wins in my own tennis tournaments). After winning that first set 6-1, it seemed she’d cruise into the final; but something happened early in the second where her legs seemed to betray her. At any rate, for the sake of the best American player (male or female) since Andre and Pete retired, I’ll not further rehash what I’m sure is a match she’d like to forget.
So, where do I think Serena ends up at the end of the 2016 season? I can’t say for sure, but I think as long as she stays hungry and can continue to give herself a reason to train and play at her peak, she’ll end up with at least 23 majors to her credit this time next year (and quite possibly tying Margaret Court at 24, if she maintains her focus and blocks out the critics and sports journalists who, in my opinion, seemed to enjoy attempting to add pressure by constantly reminding her in interviews that the calendar year slam and tying Steffi were both at stake). Looking ahead to 2016, Serena Williams’ toughest opponent will be, well, a familiar foe…
When Serena relaxes her mind and focuses, save her sister Venus, no player can match her stroke for stroke. I think her semi-final exit from the 2015 US Open will be all the motivation she needs to punish any Aussie/French/Wimbledon/US Open opponent who stands across the net from her.
In conclusion, any of you reading this, who care to comment, will have your work cut out in convincing me that there is any athlete, current or in the past 20+ years, who has dominated their sport in the way that Serena has dominated women’s tennis (winning titles in her teens, 20s and is still winning them in her 30s). I’m up for your arguments though. Please leave your comments below.
(P.S. I’m not betting against Serena at any slam this year)!