It was more than a soccer match – it was an event that captivated millions of people, many of whom rarely watch soccer and/or women’s sports. And the United States’ victory over Japan in the Women’s World Cup will doubtlessly and deservedly be the Story of the Year when 2015 is finally over.
But in the excitement of that stirring victory, a notable achievement by two other women was largely overlooked. The Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, met in a tennis match at Wimbledon and Serena won 6-4, 6-3.
If Serena wins Wimbledon again, that will give the Williams sisters a total of 57 Grand Slam championships – 28 in singles – as well as 11 Wimbledon titles and 113 overall tournament titles in singles.
That’s simply amazing and, more to the point, unparalleled. But when one of them wins a title anymore, people just yawn. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to seeing the Williams sisters win that we don’t think about it as much as we should or give them as much credit as we should. Maybe they make it look so easy and so methodical that we just assume they’re always going to win or, at the least, one of them will.
But the fact of the matter is that we’ve never seen anything like these two, in any sport at any time. There have been siblings who excelled in athletics, but we’ve never seen any who dominate their sport like the Williams women have for the last decade and a half. The only question really has been: Which sister is better?
Well, that depends on when and where – both have been ranked No. 1 in the world – but right now it’s definitely Serena, the current No. 1. In fact, we’re willing to go further than that and say Serena Williams is the best female tennis player of all time, and she’s not done yet.
We’re always hesitant to label an active athlete as the best of all time, which is not to be confused with the greatest of all time. I once wrote a column in which I listed what I considered to be the greatest and best athletes of all time in their respective sports, and they were almost always different. For example, I say Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player of all time and Willie Mays is the best.
In that same column, I said that Billie Jean King is the greatest women’s tennis player of all time and Martina Navratilova is the best. Well, I stand with King as the greatest of all time, because no player has ever had a bigger impact on her sport on and off the court. But the best has changed, because as good as Navratilova was – and it was usually a woman against girls when she played – Serena Williams is better.
The numbers speak volumes, as Serena Williams has won 20 Grand Slam titles, 34 including doubles. She’s won the U.S. Open six times, Wimbledon five times, the Australian Open six times and the French Open three times, not to mention the other 47 singles championships she’s won in various tournaments over the years and around the world.
But what’s especially impressive about both Serena and Venus Williams is that they’re still at or close to the top of their games at ages when most athletes are starting to think about retirement – Venus turns 35 in less than two weeks and Serena will be 34 in September. Certainly, 34 isn’t old, but it’s not young, either, if you’re an elite athlete, and at times Serena Williams is playing better now than she did when she was 28.
If there’s been a criticism of the Williams sisters in the past, it’s that they sometimes let their off-court activities take away from what they do on the court. They have their own fashion line and once had their own television show among other entrepreneurial enterprises, and it’s clear that these women refuse to be defined just by their athletic skills.
And the Williams sisters bring something else to the game – personality. They enjoy tennis and everything about it, which is something Venus talked about in 2008, when she played in a World Team Tennis match for the Philadelphia Freedom against the Delaware Smash.
Venus Williams had just won Wimbledon – beating Serena in the final, of course – before a world-wide television audience of millions, and just a couple of days later she was playing in a small, make-shift tennis stadium in the parking lot of DuPont Country Club before about 1,500 fans.
Before her WTT match, when asked how she could muster the enthusiasm to play in what was really a minor-league event after the excitement of winning Wimbledon, Venus flashed that famous Williams smile.
“I want to win, no matter what I compete at,” she said. “And I also want people to be entertained. So I’ll definitely give my best.’’
Their best has made them the best, even if we don’t get as excited about their play as we used to or ought to. But one day we’ll look back at the Williams sisters’ careers and realize how remarkable they really were.