Tuesday, August 5th, 2003
I remember when the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue arrived.
Not that it's a big deal to me. Honestly, I read S.I. for the articles.
Usually, the people who say the magazine's annual bacchanalia of pulchritude
is mostly about sex and very little about sports are right on the money,
but not this time. The swimsuit issue included 18 models and the hottest
woman in the entire magazine got there not by looks, but for the way she
If you get your hands on this year's swimsuit issue, don't even bother with
most of it. Just turn to Page 124, where Serena Williams is wearing a two-piece
that just begs the question: How can she hit the ball so hard when -- uh,
we'll just let CBS golf analyst Gary McCord ask about that.
I know it's hard to feel sorry for supermodels, but it just doesn't seem
fair that Serena outclasses them in the looks department, and plays tennis
better than any other woman on the planet.
She has aspirations of being an actress and designing clothes, but in the
meantime, she's marking time atop the world rankings. She has won the last
four Grand Slam tournaments, a feat now called the Serena Slam, and there's
no immediate threat to her superiority.
Williams was making noise about going undefeated for the year, which no one
-- not Monica Seles, not Martina Navratilova, not Billie Jean King, not even
Maureen Connolly -- had done.
I don't know what's going on in Serena Williams' mind. I don't know if her
competitive fire will still burn if she goes unbeaten one year or if she'll
just walk away.
If you stop to think about that, it sounds absurd. If Serena had won the U.S.
Open this year -- she is sitting out with an injury -- she would have been
able to legally celebrate with champagne. She couldn't when she won last year.
That's right, she's only 21.
On the face of it, the thought that we might be sitting down in the next
12 to 24 months to figure out where she ranks in the pantheon of great female
tennis players seems premature, but that's exactly what might happen.
Most of her predecessors at the top of the rankings had a worthy foil. Seles
had Steffi Graf. Navratilova had Chris Evert. King had Evonne Goolagong,
Margaret Court, and Bobby Riggs.
Serena Williams' toughest competition is the woman who shared her bedroom
as a child and even that battle hasn't been close for years.
The lack of a yardstick is going to make it difficult to measure Serena Williams'
career, especially if it ends before she hits 24. In that case, judging her
career would be question is whether she is so dominant because she is the
greatest tennis player ever or whether she is the best of a weak lot, albeit
by a wide margin.
To answer that, it should be mentioned that ladies' tennis pays better and
has more credibility than any other women's sport, and that's been true for
a long time.
And when it comes to professional sports, where there's money, there's talent.
Even if Williams doesn't stick around long enough to match King, Navratilova,
and Seles in the length of their careers, she would exceed them all for peak
While it might be premature for a Serena Williams career retrospective, that
moment could be coming faster than it should, so let's spend the next 10
or 22 months, or however long we have, to watch the greatest women's tennis
If she walks away while still at that peak, she would leave her sister, Venus,
to clean up whatever competition might be left.
And then Serena can get on with her next career -- and she'll probably be
the best at that, too. She already plays tennis better than anyone else and
looks better in a bathing suit than a bathing suit model.
She'll probably end up winning Academy Awards, dominating the runways in
New York and Paris, and maybe fight crime in her spare time.
That just isn't fair.