Serena Williams, the G.O.A.T (Greatest of all time)

Serena Jameka Williams, where do I even begin to start! My favourite Tennis player of all time, my idol, my inspiration, a role model and my imaginary wife. She’s the only celebrity that during interviews or simply by her on-court manner blows me away, the loud “COME ON” or the big fist pump for example. Wowzers, She can’t do any wrong in my eyes, there are frequent likes of posts on her Twitter and Instagram pages, she’s so hot!!!! If there was a tune I would serenade her to, its Drake – Fancy Her (Nails done, hair done, everything did etc etc). Obsessed?? Naturally. What has she got that others don’t?? Absolutely everything! Drive, focus, commitment, ability, passion, determination, personality, fight, incredible athleticism, good looks, on-point weave and a single-mindedness to win and batter the shite out of her opponent! A killer instinct and aura that is simply untouchable! An attitude that demands success. A serve that came from heaven, groundstrokes with both piercing power and accuracy all combined with great movement. There is no better sight in tennis for me than seeing Serena tee-off, left, right and centre. She’s just amazing! Always looking on point, on and off the court, remember the lycra outfit at the US? or the boots? Then there is the one finger salute to greet the crowd after each victory. The one finger denoting the number one player! Then, of course, there is that feisty side to her in the heat of competition. Players such as Sharapova, Jankovic and Azarenka have been firmly put in their place should they want to take the piss or dare to glare over the other side of the net. It could be by means of a wave of the finger, a “wait till I’m ready” or a “bitch” remark. There have also been some high-profile run-ins with several umpires such as  Eva Asderaki, whichever it is, I love it! I couldn’t care less what anyone on this planet says there is not one player within a million miles of having what she has got in the locker! Patrick Mouratoglou once said that her biggest threat was herself, this is so true! It’s due to the pressure she puts on herself, always expecting absolute perfectionism.It is very, very rare to see Serena get outplayed if she does get beat, have a stinker maybe or even simply blow it, but you will very rarely see her get flat out beat! A tennis match will rest firmly on her racket, she will ultimately decide who will win and there’s not much you can do about it. Harsh you may think, but it’s reality!  It makes defeats pretty hard to stomach because every time she goes into a match or a tournament, whether it be on hard, grass, clay or indoor she is expected to win. A look back at the betting odds shows that in the last 7 years she has gone into a match as an underdog only twice. Once was in her second match back after a year off against Vera Zvonareva in 2011, the other was in Rome against Jelena Jankovic in 2010. Total domination, So, if you ever read this Serena, I should have done what that geezer recently did with Genie Bouchard on twitter, time ago. If Alexis doesn’t mind I’m still game! Whilst we are at it, my nieces own a horse at a stable near to Mouratoglou’s home. Any chance of a knock up and photo with SW as a consolation prize??

She has certainly had her critics and probably always will. Some because she is not a size 8, some because of her race and others who just don’t like dominance. With the exception of the latter, you will never change these small-minded twats minds, so just let them get on with it. I’ve heard it been said that ‘she’s a horrible person’. Her charity work in Africa and all over would suggest otherwise. Similarly, so would the accolades that come in from other players for her on tour, either as a mate or just in acknowledgment, Wozniacki for example. Some people in this world are very harsh at times, it drives me insane. I’m sure that these type of people have spurred her on throughout her career. Others may love to write her off at the drop of a hat. More often than not, these people have been answered very quickly. I think she enjoys proving people wrong all the time. A Champion’s ability to perform when people think your days are numbered is an essential attribute, she has this in abundance. Serena has been proving people wrong for well over 15 years now. 23 Grand Slam titles (7 Australian, 3 French, 7 Wimbledon and 6 US) to date. 72 WTA titles, 14 Grand Slam doubles, 2 Mixed doubles, 2 Hopman Cups and a Fed Cup for good measure. Oh, and just for good measure an Olympic singles Gold and 3 doubles Gold medals plus a total of 314 weeks as World number one.

 

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This is an athlete and icon who has not just fought for women’s rights but also tried to knock down the barriers of race issues. Two things she feels very strongly about, rightly so. Williams has been very hands on with the fight for equal pay and succeeding to put men and women on a par. Her attitude has always been the same, ‘why does it matter if you are male or a female’? Everyone should be equal and she’s right. She has also spoken about race issues and prejudice. Growing up in a predominantly white sport can’t have been easy. Even after she turned pro there was that disgraceful incident at Indian Wells in 2001, where she had to beat Kim Clijsters and the crowd, unquestionably with racist undertones. Williams was only 19 years of age back then, combine the two together, and you can see why she feels so strongly about it as a black female. Serena has also never forgot her roots, unlike a lot of other top stars. Good on her, people should and will listen to her.

The turning point for me was back in 2009 when I went to Flushing Meadows and saw her beat Jankovic in the final on the Arthur Ashe. She didn’t even play particularly well by her sky-high standards but I still fell in love that day! For the years leading up to this, I usually followed men’s tennis with a greater interest. Serena has flipped that theory on its head these days. She’s totally taken over in my sports world. She’s my Liverpool that wins and doesn’t let me down, even to the point where she’s more of a priority than the red men. If you know me, that really is saying quite something. Out of choice games are watched from the comfort of my own living room, this way there is a damage limitation, so only half of Essex and East London can hear me! Best give me a wide birth after a big Serena defeat, family, friends, and girlfriends have all found out that I’m not to be fucked with then! Totally gone! I need to analyse and asses the situation first. They should know when I’m ready to go over it! At the end of the day would you go straight up to a football fan after a defeat that has cost you the title and start rubbing their nose in shit? You may well in fairness, but that shit might just come back faster than an SW serve down the T! Every defeat as you would expect has been painful, some though more so than others. Alize Cornet at Wimbledon wasn’t good and this was followed by pulling out soon after in the doubles with Venus in 2014! She could barely stand on her own two feet here, literally. Looking further back, Ivanovic at the Oz in 2014 and Sabine Lisicki on the grass in 2013. Sloane Stephens in 2013 and Makarova in 2011 down under. Sam Stosur at the US in 2011, this was one where she never even got started, let alone be in a position to win it. Bartoli at Wimbledon in 2011 on her return from injury. The lucky thing with being a Serena fanatic though is that there are a lot more highs than lows, but due to this and my greed, it makes the odd loss, when it comes, harder to take or accept.

There have been numerous times of total and utter domination, in the early years and now again in the latter. Don’t get it twisted Serena is an imposing figure. Her opponents know what lies ahead and are quite often a set down before they are on the court. How can people even call Sharapova a rivalry? Seriously, haha, fuck right off! Sharapova may well wish she was. Henin, Hingis or Azarenka have stronger claims at one point or another. Sharapova beat her twice in the second half of 2004 but has suffered 18 losses in a row, 19-2 in total. The only rivalry being that there is a fair bit of bite between them and no real love lost, Williams had proved continuously that there’s nothing to see on the court or of it. She’s handed ‘Shazza’ her ass on many occasions, the 2012 Olympics final at Wimbledon 6/0 6/1 being a particular highlight. Sniff that! Similarly, the Oz open final in 2007, 6/1 6/2. On the rare occasion when she has got close, such as Miami 2013, where I think the Russian was a set and a break, Serena has just upped her game to the next level. This particular match was about as well as I think Sharapova could play. Serena just refuses to lose to her though and has plenty of gears to go through if required. She won the decider 6/0. The winning streak may well come to an end, one day, like all good things, but it’s still won’t make it the rivalry it’s been made out to be. Azarenka, however, tends to keep it a lot more competitive, though still trails the head to head 4-17. I was lucky enough to be on Centre Court for the Quarter-Final match-up at Wimbledon in 2015, on her way to another title. The standard that day was exceptional and proved how they were head and shoulders above the rest of the field. If that was Rafa v Novak, people would have needed tissues to mop up their excitement, luckily I took mine with me that day! Her records against Henin and Hingis are closer, 8-6 v Henin and 7-6 against Hingis. Had these two have continued playing I’m damn sure their record would not have looked quite so good by the time of retirement. These ladies burnt themselves out well before though, Williams has avoided that with smarter scheduling and having time out from the game on several occasions. I also firmly believe that Serena has improved nearly every aspect of her game now, that they simply would not be able to live with her in this era. Venus has also been an obvious candidate, Serena leads this one 17-11. The one major difference I see between the two sisters is that Venus loves playing tennis and competing. Serena, on the other hand, loves winning and losing is not an option. The drive and determination to be the best.

The bar was set back in 1999 when at 17 years of age she won the US Open, beating Clijsters, Seles, and Davenport before beating the then world number one, Martina Hingis. Richard Williams had warned us that she was going to be even better than Venus and everyone pretty much laughed him out of town. This was backed up in no uncertain terms in 2002 when it all went off. She actually missed the Oz that year with an injury, then she went on a run of beating her sister in the next four grand slam finals including the 2003 Australian Open. The Serena Slam as it is known. The next few years proved to be pretty stop-start with injuries. Abdominal, Knee and ankle injuries contributing to a large chunk of her absence. Despite this, she still won the Australian Open in 2007, when ranked 81 in the world. This sticking it right up Pat Cash, who had called her ‘deluded’ for saying she would reach the top again. During this barren spell by her standards, her commitment and work ethic were being questioned. We later found out that she had also been battling depression as well as the injuries during this period. 2009 and 2010 yielded 2 more Oz Opens and 2 more Wimbledon titles. She gave Dinara Safina a little ‘rub down’ after winning at SW19, hilarious! Remarks to the extent of we all know who the real world number one is and if the rankings suggest otherwise, there must be something wrong with them. She picked up another injury after Wimbledon, after stepping on some glass which put her out for the remainder of the campaign and indeed pretty much the next year.

After losing in an absolute horror show to Virgine Razzano at the French she decided things needed to change. Patrick Mouratoglou was that change and boy what a change it has proven to be. The word from a lot of pros such as Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert was that Serena was the greatest of all time then. The appointment of the Frenchman has undoubtedly kept her focused since and the tally of slams has risen in those 4 and 1/2 years by another 10. In truth, it could have and should have been even more. She really is the complete athlete. What can you do if someone is both technically superior and athletically superior? Hope that she hits an untold amount of unforced errors I would say! So aggressive is her all round game that this is often how most defeats arise. Under his guidance, she dominated the summer of 2012. Wimbledon, Olympic Golds at London 2012 and the US Open took her back to where she needed to be. Showing plenty of heart in beating Azarenka from the brink of defeat at Flushing Meadows in the final. She was incredible particularly on the grass that year, totally unplayable from the booming serve to the ultra aggressive return of serve. In her last 4 matches at the Olympics, she lost just 8 games in total in 8 sets of tennis. Zvonareva, Wozniacki, Azarenka and Sharapova were all put to the sword, Azarenka destroyed 6/1 6/2 and Sharapova 6/0 6/1. These were unquestionably her two biggest threats at the time and she was holding with ease and breaking at will. After winning she performed the crip walk on Centre Court, a dance move that originated from L.A in the 1970’s (an area she grew up in), nice moves, she’s even got that at her disposal! The serve has always been on a different level, the technique and execution are sublime.  The following year she mastered the French 11 years on from her last victory there, comfortably taking out Sharapova once more.

 

2015 was a year that should have been a landmark occasion and under normal circumstances would have been an incredible year for anyone else. Wins at the first 3 slams meant she was on the for the calendar grand slam, it was obviously expected that she would oblige and in doing so join Graf on 22 slams. She was looking in good nick. She looked to have avoided all the potential banana skins. Fighting back at the Oz against Svitolina and Muguruza before stepping it up in the last three rounds. She had barely looked fit at the French, finding herself in trouble in virtually every round but still winning it. Coming from a double break down at Wimbledon against Heather Watson in the decider, before stepping it up against Azarenka, Sharapova and Muguruza. I had the misfortune of watching the Watson match at work. Patriotism had taken over the office and I was definitely on my own. I should have just given it the one finger salute at the end, sssssshhhhhh! At the US, she had survived scares against Beth Mattek-Sands and Venus. Roberta Vinci was her semi-final opponent and it turned into an absolute nightmare. After taking the first set with ease, as she often does when she gets defeated, she let it all slip. Vinci kept slicing, blocking and just chipping away at Serena, giving her no pace at all. The errors kept coming and coming off the Williams racket. Before I knew it the dream was over. She was devastated, Drake was devastated and so was I. Worse than the Henman v Goran memories back in 2001, I was totally choked. She missed the remainder of the season and to be honest, I wish I could have as well. It spilled over into 2016 too, losses in the Oz and French finals to Kerber and Muguruza were both unlike her. In fairness both her opponents played well in the finals, but what was unusual was the fact that Serena wasn’t at her best in either.

It was her time though at Wimbledon last year, from the moment Svetlana Kuznetsova failed to serve out the first set in the last 16 the writing was on the wall. I managed to get tickets for both the Pavlyuchenkova match in the quarters and Kerber in the final. It was a million miles away from the nervous display against Christina McHale in the second round. No sets were dropped after that performance and the normal swagger and strut were back. The burden of joining Graff on 22 had weighed her down for so long, ever since beating Muguruza at Wimbledon the year before to be exact. It’s one of the main courts she’s bossed and boss it she does. The serve, the movement and the ball striking were a joy in the last few rounds. Unsurprisingly nobody could get near her serve, it was relentless, on return her hustle and ability to turn the tables in a point were as evident as ever. As attacking and aggressive as ever. I was shitting myself that day for the final! Traveling down on the tube, psyching myself up, getting pissed up on vodka coke felt like the right preparation! She put in a champion’s performance and as she fell to the ground after match point, I was heard yelling out a massive “yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessss” and “come onnnnnnnnnnnnn”, I was absolutely buzzing. Centre Court wasn’t ready for me that day and I found myself apologising to people sat around me about my behaviour. Sod it!  I’m an emotional person and this was no different. This was history being made and I was there to witness it! You can’t put a price on that, especially if it’s your idol. Kerber played well, but it didn’t really matter. Williams was BACK!

I was left pretty pissed off by the defeat to Karolina Pliskova at the US a few months after. Again, she looked to be carrying an injury, but I was more annoyed because I wasn’t aware of it at the time. It led to people saying that it could be the changing of the guard. In fairness, I actually believe Pliskova will win multiple slams in the future, like Serena she possesses a wonderful serve and big ground strokes. I still couldn’t have that she had beaten her all ends up, though. She hadn’t, an injury had gubbed her again. This ultimately meant she went into this year’s Australian with question marks hanging over her. As second seed she had a point to prove again. She went the two weeks without dropping a set and answering all the critics once more at the age of 35 beating Venus once more in a final. Everyone thought Konta was going to beat her in the Quarters and I have to admit I was concerned going into it. It was another masterclass performance though and one that sent a message to everyone that she will dictate for as long as she decides. It was hard to believe that people were saying how her opponent was serving to a higher level up to that point. Serena showed you need to go up several gears more to put her away when she’s got the bit between her teeth. Konta’s game was totally dismantled. Beating Venus in the final was a necessity, but one I don’t get any pleasure from. Number 23 tasted sweet though and hopefully, there are still a few more to come. Injury free, there is no reason why this won’t happen. Just in case you feel she still needs to prove something. The record books say Graf has now been passed on 22 and Margaret Court is one ahead on 24 but most of them weren’t in the open era. This was a period where not everyone played in all four over the course of the year, so it’s not really a fair reflection without diminishing Courts achievements. Serena is the Greatest of all time, whether that be male or female! Legend!

Andy Del Potro

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