Serena Williams and tennis greatness have become synonymous with each other ever since she burst onto the professional women's circuit over 16 years ago.
Williams has asserted her superiority over her fellow peers and her triumph at this year's French Open exemplified exactly why she is the best. Whether she is sick or on song no one is better than Serena.
A mantra one suspects she repeatedly reiterated to herself during her powerful but embattled display to beat Lucie Safarova (6-3, 6-7, 6-2 ) in this year’s French Open final, which was an impressive 20th Grand Slam title for Williams.
Ahead of Saturday’s final it was very widely reported that Williams had been suffering from a bout of flu which led to hunching over and panting on her racquet during her semi-final match against Timea Bacsinszky.
Serena’s display during her semi-final match against Bacsinszky cemented her imminent triumph at this year’s Roland Garros.
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Most players suffering from the kind of poor physical health that Serena was in would have gone on to lose the game because they would have attempted to run every ball down and burned out from exhaustion and or retired because they simply could not take playing through the level of pain compounded by the sort of pressure which a player of Serena’s calibre has become accustomed to.
However, most players are not Serena Williams. Williams was able to win her semi-final match because she was able to call upon all her years of experience and tremendous talent in order to play the match in a manner that would assure her victory. When Serena saw an opening, she obliterated the ball, and when she could not see one, when a drop shot looked a little too far away or an angle a little too acute, she let the point go. Williams’ win over Bacsinszky was a tremendous display of her supreme skill set, a master class in risky resource management delivered by a player who’s won 20 out of 24 Grand Slam finals and who’s only lost once since November 2014.
Williams hard fought victory in this year’s French Open final was not the first time that Serena has had to overcome physical ailments in order to win. In her fourth round match against Daniela Hantuchova at Wimbledon in 2007, Serena overcame a serious calf muscle cramp and spasm to wrestle the match from an ascending Hantuchova. Granted there was a rain delay of nearly two hours with Serena down 4-2 in a second set tie break which looked to be going Hantuchova’s way but Williams still returned visibly injured from the rain break and so had to summon all her mental resolve and physical resilience in order to win the match. Like Hantuchova before her Bacsinskzy was left shell-shocked and defeated by yet another remarkable display of Serena’s unrivalled resilience.
If one were to chart Serena’s career it is clear to see that there has not been one single player in her era to have really rivalled her in terms of her career achievements-- a testament of her superiority. In June 2004 when a 17-year old Maria Sharapova emerged onto the professional women’s circuit to beat a seemingly ailing 23-year old Serena Williams at SW19 many thought it was the end of Serena’s reign at the top of the women’s game. However, Sharapova’s maiden Wimbledon title would go onto to be one of only two out of a possible nineteen career wins that she would savour over Williams. The only other player to be playing at the same time as Serena to hold a record more impressive than Serena is her sister Venus Williams who amassed 35 consecutive wins in one competitive season although, Serena is still on course to at least equal Venus’ record having racked up with 33 consecutive wins so far this year. Despite Venus’ superior unbeaten streak it cannot be overlooked that Serena the younger of the two sisters was the first to win a Grand Slam title when she beat five-time Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis in straight sets (6-3, 7-6) to win the US Open at Flushing Meadows. In a documentary made about Serena William’s battle to return to competing after surviving a life threatening virus, Venus Williams reflects on Serena’s US Open victory in 1999 by quipping ‘Serena taught me how to win’ and it appears that Serena’s lesson was a well taught one as Venus went onto secure her first Grand Slam win at Wimbledon the following year.
Venus is not the only renowned tennis player to admire Serena’s supremacy. After Serena’s 2013 French Open title win, Pat Cash (1987 Wimbledon Champion) remarked ‘I’m in awe of Serena’s strength, her ability, her agility and the way she competes’. Serena’s incredible late-career dominance has cemented her as a force of nature, something irresistible and transcendent. She’s an imperious gladiator bound to overtake Steffi Graf’s long standing record of 22 Grand Slam titles.