The Best of Our (All) Time?

Celebrating Serena before it’s too late

“Is Serena the most dominant athlete of my lifetime?” I texted my mother last week after watching the more accomplished Williams sister take another step closer to her eventual win at Wimbledon.

“It’s close,” I said, answering my own question (how kind of me) with a few suggestions of those that might compete for that spot with her.

Maybe Tiger Woods? Or perhaps Michael Phelps? Whoever it was, I said, she’s surely in the conversation.

How stupid can I get?

Granted, this was before she completed her latest incredible feat, winning both a singles and a doubles title at the All England Club. But still, how could I think for a second that Serena Williams wasn’t the most dominant athlete I had seen? How could any of us?

I’m not sure, but I think there are more than a few people who might contend that Woods or Phelps, or perhaps Jordan or Gretsky, occupy the space as “Athlete of a Generation.”

But to be honest, it isn’t even close. Just look at her record, it truly speaks for itself.

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She has won every tournament there is to win in her discipline. Singles. Doubles. Majors. Grand Slams. Olympic Gold.

She’s done it consistently. Her titles have stretched 17 years, from her first in 1999 to her latest last week.

She’s done it brilliantly, often dominating pretty much every opponent who has the poor fortune to cross her path. From Maria Sharapova to her own sister Venus, every competitor has failed to truly live up to the role of her idol.

She’s even done it historically, becoming one of just six women  to ever hold all four Grand Slam titles at once. She’s won 14 doubles Grand Slams championships with her sister Venus, and they’ve never been defeated in a Gand Slam final.

She holds the record for most Grand Slams on hard court (12), the most Australian Open titles (6), and shares the top spot for most US Open titles with Chris Evert (6).

She is the only tennis player of any gender to win singles titles at least six times in three of the four Grand Slam tournaments. She is also the only tennis player, male or female, to win Grand Slam singles titles in two separate decades.

She’s tied with Steffi Graph for the most singles Grand Slam titles in the Open era (22).

She has the most major wins of any player in the same era, if you count her singles, doubles and mixed doubles championships.

I could go on and on and on. She is the most dominant athlete anyone my age have ever seen. Period.

In fact, whether Serena is the most dominant athlete of a particular time isn’t the right question to ask.

It’s if she’s the most dominant athlete of all time.

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There are probably plenty of people who don’t want to entertain that theory. It certainly seems as though Serena has never quite gotten the shine she deserves.

Maybe it’s the fact that she’s black, or the fact that she’s a woman, or just the fact that tennis isn’t a very popular sport, or, most likely, a combination of these and other factors. But she’s never really been celebrated the way she deserves to be.

She’s never drawn the crowds or has the commercials of Tiger, but she’s outlasted him. She doesn’t get the all-American treatment Phelps often gets, but she wins year in and year out, and remains in the consciousnesses by winning majors seemingly ever few months, rather than by grabbing a fistful of medals in a two-week span. (As impressive as that may be.)

We’re running out of time, people. We may not believe it, but Serena won’t be dominating forever. Even the most consistent athletes who have achieved peak longevity eventually fade away. Ask Tim Duncan.

We’re watching the most dominant athlete of a generation. Perhaps of all time. And she’s not done yet, but she’s getting there.

So let’s start giving Serena her due.


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