Serena Williams: Twenty five things to remember about the tennis star – SportsMediaz

Serena. Around the world for 25 years, you need only hear or read her first name to recognize this singular athlete. From the precocious teen queen to the record-smashing 30-something, Serena Williams dominated, transformed, and transcended tennis.

Less than a month short of her 41 st birthday, the kid who grew up in violent, gang-ridden Compton, California, (probably) hung up her racket losing in the third round of the US Open

Throughout her long and illustrious pro career, Serena was as polarizing as she was powerful. “Serena’s influence will be felt for decades to come,” predicted ESPN analyst Pam Shriver.

Here are 25 things I most remember—for better or for worse—about Serena.

1. The GOAT — Whatever your feelings are about Serena, she clearly earned the mythical “Greatest of All Time” accolade. She amassed an Open Era record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, one more than Steffi Graf, four more than 1920s-’30s superstar Helen Wills, and five more than Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Moreover, Serena, like Graf, captured a gold medal at the Olympics, which reinstituted tennis as an official medal sport in 1988. She also racked up a near-perfect 14-1 Fed Cup record, won five WTA Finals, and had five No. 1 year-end rankings.

A disappointed Serena fell one Major short of tying Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24. She confided, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. I didn’t get there. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. I didn’t show up the way I should have or could have. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. Actually it’s extraordinary.”

Indeed, it was even more extraordinary because her competition was much tougher than Court’s. To wit, Court won 11 of her Majors at the Australian Open from 1960 to 1973, when its fields were usually quite weak. In sharp contrast, Serena dominated the greatest era in women’s tennis history, 1999 to 2010, which featured current and future Hall of Famers Venus Williams, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, Martina Hingis, Kim Clijsters, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, and Amelie Mauresmo.

2. Revolutionary Style — Serena’s unique combination of shot power and foot speed—along with Venus’—revolutionized the way tennis was played. Graf had come closest to that before with a strong serve, punishing forehand, and her blazing speed. Court, Billie Jean King, and Navratilova boasted superb serve-volley skills and Henin a highly athletic, all-court game. Monica Seles relentlessly blasted groundstrokes, but lacked a huge serve and dynamic movement.

But none of these superstars had Serena’s all-court intimidating power, particularly serve and overhead. “Her serve was the greatest shot in the history of women’s tennis,” said ESPN analyst Pam Shriver. “Serena has the best combination of serving power and placement of any player who ever lived,” said Evert. With a classic, rhythmical service motion, a Sampras-like identical toss that disguised the serve’s direction and spin, and tremendous racket head speed, Serena pulled out close games, sets, and matches by belting aces and service winners with stunning regularity.

3. On-court intensity — No woman in tennis history, whether a champion, challenger, or journeywoman, played with the fierce, primal intensity of Serena. Her menacing glare, as much as her rugged, muscular physique and explosive shots, intimidated opponents, especially young, impressionable players. “I’ve never seen anyone express their willpower as much as Serena Williams on the tennis court, ever,” said King, after Serena defeated Venus in the 2009 Wimbledon final.

On her demeanor, Evert, now an ESPN analyst, said, “[Serena showed] it was OK to be ferocious and fearless. Thirty years ago those qualities were considered obnoxious.” Indeed, fist-pumping and shouting after winning points, thanks to Serena, became almost de rigueur on the WTA Tour this century.

4. Pressure Player — Serena’s fiery competitiveness ignited her uncanny ability to play best when it mattered most—on big points and in big finals. During her long prime, she racked up a terrific 20-4 record in Grand Slam singles finals. A memorable quote early in her career helps in explaining why she handled the high-stakes pressure so confidently. “If you can keep playing tennis when somebody is shooting a gun down the street, that’s concentration. I didn’t grow up playing tennis at the country club.”