With the completion of the Australian Open, all eyes are shifting towards what should be the French Open. Naomi and Novak have taken their congratulatory photos, players have set career bests in rankings, and conversations are being held about the potential greatest of all time in their respective fields. However, there is one story that’s probably made the most headlines at the Open, and that was Serena Williams’ abrupt ending to her post-match press conference. The exit came after Williams was questioned about her eventual retirement from the sport. The reporter noticed that Serena held her hand over her heart as she left Rod Laver Arena while waving to the crowd. Would this gesture signal a sort of “farewell” to anyone else? Probably not. But the question was asked nonetheless, and a flustered Serena was clearly taken aback by it. She would go on to respond with “I don’t know. If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone. So…”
Shortly thereafter, the emotions reached a fever pitch. Always the consummate professional, to witness Serena end the interview in such fashion had to make every tennis fan a tad worried. Look, it’s no secret that Serena isn’t quite the spry and agile force that we’ve all come to know and love during her career, but to even fathom that she should hang it up soon is quite baffling to me. 24th slam in hand or not, what we are witnessing from this woman is nothing short of pure excellence.
Sports have always been dominated by men. That’s just how things are. Of course, the women who work just as hard deserve a lot more spotlight than they receive. The unfortunate reality is that they just don’t get it.
Tennis plays by a different set of rules.
Women’s tennis is by far the most lucrative sport that a female athlete can take up, especially as an American. Yes, for the lowest tiered players, that may not be the case. A lot of the player base dwells in the lowest tiers; living without sponsors, paying for their flights and accommodations, etc. But if a woman can become great and make it in tennis, then she becomes the apple of the world’s eye. Just look at Naomi Osaka. She’s uber-famous and an icon at the young age of 24. Another would be the teenage sensation Cori “Coco” Gauff. Both are beloved by the tennis world and the sports world alike. Serena helped pave the way for this. She was and still is America’s darling, tennis’ champion, and the world’s icon. Even at the kick-ass age of 39 years old.
When sports shows sit down for their semi-annual discussion of the greatest American athlete ever; IF Serena’s name is brought up, she’s thrown in the ring as an honorable mention. Is it because the big time American sports shows don’t know much about Tennis? Is it a tactic to cover their own backside, by remembering to include a woman? Maybe it’s the fact that they don’t consider her to be that great, compared to her male contemporaries. I’ve always believed that Michael Jordan is the greatest American athlete to ever live, due to his combination of efficiency, individual, and team accolades. He’s simply done things in team sports that will possibly never happen again. With Tom Brady winning his 7th super bowl title, his name is now firmly in that discussion. “Analysts” will debate their side for hours, only for the quick “don’t forget about Serena Williams” blip to be tossed in there.
I think she deserves more than that.
A Lonely Road
Team sports are a difficult thing to succeed in. One has to develop chemistry with their teammates and their coaches. You have to learn to sacrifice by leaving your ego at the door. Not only does a player have to figure out what they can bring to their team in order for them to succeed, but they have to also figure out how they can make their teammates better. Some players never figure it out. Some figure it out right away. Some are natural born leaders. Team success requires a buy in from everyone to achieve a greater goal. You are only as strong as your weakest link.
Now let’s play a little devil’s advocate. Yes, one must find a way to bring positive value to their team, and it’s hard to make a group of people better. But on the flip side, a team can also mask a player’s weaknesses. A player can lean on his team to carry him when he can no longer do so. Let’s take Tom Brady’s most recent super bowl trip as an example. Tom left the Patriots for Tampa because he was able to identify that the team was only one solid piece away from serious contention. He would become that piece. He knew that he didn’t have to do the heavy lifting anymore. He could just blend in and become a game manager. Nothing wrong with that at all. It did work out in the end. Payton Manning’s last ring was won on the backs of Denver’s defense. Not because of Payton.
Serena doesn’t have that luxury.
You see, tennis is a solo game. There’s nobody to help you once that serve goes up. Your coach has to shut up and watch. All you have is your training and knowledge of your opponent. She’s been in that situation a laughable 999 times so far, because of course. She’s won 851 of them. 851 times she’s been left to figure it out and fend for herself, only to emerge victorious. She’s won more grand slam matches alone than most other active players’ overall career appearances. What makes her resume all the more impressive, is the fact that tennis is conducted in a tournament setting. There’s no such thing as a bad day at the office. If you lose, then you’re out. Is a series the more reliable way to measure how opponents compare to one another? Sure. Can she take advantage of someone who is just off of their game at the time? Yes, she can. But the same can be done to her. There is no regular season. Not only must she deal with the pressure of win or go home, but she has to do it by herself. Every. Single. Time. That cannot go unnoticed. There’s no I in team, but there is in individual.
Serena Williams is Still Among the Elite
I didn’t want to turn this article into a trip down memory lane for Serena’s accomplishments. There are plenty of well written pieces that have done so already. But with that being said, I do want to point out a statistic that suggests that Williams is far from retiring. Courtesy of the official WTA website; over the last 5 years, the only female tennis players to reach at least the quarter-final of a major 7 times are Simona Halep and Serena Williams. Simona is 29 years old. Serena is ten years her senior. I would also like for you to keep in mind that Serena gave birth to her daughter Olympia in 2017, during the middle of this run. Since giving birth, she has reached the quarter-finals in a major (checks notes again) ah yes, 7 times. She’s also dealt with a multitude of nagging injuries during this span. Not only is she unwashed (sorry), but the woman is still clearly elite! She regularly attends the late stages of slams! Once again, 39 years old! So to think that she should even ponder the possibility of retiring soon is beyond ridiculous.
Her name deserves to be mentioned with serious consideration as the greatest American athlete of all time. Man or woman. Her name belongs in the pantheon amongst her male counterparts. She deserves more than just a participation trophy in these discussions. Her greatness spans over two decades. What more must she do?
I am a true believer that if you continue to knock on that door, it will eventually open. Serena continues to knock; 23 slams and all, and eventually, the door will open with number 24 on the other side.
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