Flowers For The Great: Fully Appreciate Serena Williams Right Now

We are surrounded by greatness. Every day, in every facet of our lives, greatness can be seen and tangibly felt. However, we treat greatness as an achievement that can only be fully celebrated after who or what is being celebrated is done being great. It’s as if we must wait for the inevitable fall of greatness to praise it. It’s also as if the descent from the top of the craft helps us validate our shortcomings because these greats, too, become fallible. But once they’ve been humbled by time, then and only then do we properly shower them with adoration. But I’m not here to chastise any of you who subscribe to that notion. I’m simply here to tell you who may not know that the greatest athlete in pro sports history is a woman.

Serena Williams is a great tennis player and has been the best tennis player for at least 15 years. Since her teenage years, she has risen to the top of a sport in which the life span of most of its best players either consists of a short-lived prime or a prime alongside several rivals of near-equal ability. Roger Federer would have way more Slam titles if Rafael Nadal wasn’t around as the greatest clay court player in history. Pete Sampras had Andre Agassi. Martina Navratilova has Chris Evert. Think about the truly amazing players that are all of similar ability and success during Serena’s time, then consider that none of them — including her sister Venus — are on her level.

This picture, taken in 2017, was during the Australian Open. It was revealed that Serena was pregnant. That feat alone, combined with the near-death experience she had, should hasten our celebration of her. (Footwear News)

At what point does greatness become cemented? Why must we wait until a player is close to retirement to celebrate, when we know someone is great? This is especially true for someone like Serena, whose career accomplishments are just as amazing as the dominant way in which she attained them. Consider this, an excerpt taken from a USA Today article:

“Of the 127 other women in the French Open draw, only 22 have fewer losses than Serena Williams. This one’s tough to wrap your head around, so bear with me: Serena turned pro in 1995, has played more matches than everybody in the draw except her sister and Svetlana Kuznetsova, and still only has 132 losses. That’s a total you’d find on a player in her early-20s, not one who’ll be 37 this summer. To put it in context: Madison Keys, 23, is a top-10 player, Grand Slam finalist and arguably the most accomplished of the players with fewer losses than Serena. Her career record is 230-131 (one less loss, 653 less wins). Looking at Serena’s contemporaries is equally amazing: Venus has the same exact amount of career wins with 95 more losses. Kuznetsova, a two-time major champion, has 154 fewer wins and 179 more losses. This puts her dominance in both a historical and contemporary perspective. Madison Keys is probably one of the 10-15 best tennis players in the world at 23 and already has as many losses as a mid-30s Serena. This is the kind of dominance that spans almost two decades and about a dozen mini-epochs.”

Essentially, this article is outlining the fact that Serena just doesn’t lose as often as the normal great tennis player. That’s amazing, considering tennis tournaments are single-elimination — one loss and a player has to wait until the next tournament to gather more wins. Before this year’s French Open, Serena had 883 wins and 132 losses. That’s a winning percentage of approximately .870. To add perspective, that would be like an NBA team winning 70 games a season for a dozen seasons, with only herself and her abilities to rely on. In tennis, players can’t even be coached during matches, so Serena literally wins by herself.

Unfortunately, Serena has also dealt with health scares, life-altering events and other harrowing moments. Her sister Yetunde Price was violently killed. She had blood clots and stomach bleeding in 2011. Just this past year, she nearly died from childbirth — after winning a Slam while pregnant. And right before her worst loss of this year, she learned of her sister’s killer being released from prison minutes before a match. Consider all these situations, re-read her win-loss record and also include that she’s won ten major titles after turning 30 years old. So again I ask, why are we waiting to fully celebrate her?

Even after losing to Angelique Kerber in Wimbeldon, Kerber understood the honor of being on the court with Serena. (Releasesoon)

Of course, I am not implying that Serena Williams has never been celebrated. Angelique Kerber, who defeated Serena at Wimbledon in July, expressed sheer adoration for the 23-time major winner. Not only did Kerber relish the honor of sharing the court with a living legend, she understands that Serena is still playing at an extraordinarily high level. Serena herself, after the loss, said she is just getting started. That does not sound like a woman ready to begin to head into the sunset of her career. It looks like Serena Williams has more tennis to play, and we can fully appreciate all that she is and all she has been while she still dominates her competition.

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