Serenus Williams Could Have Been Among the Best Ever

She would already be one of the top female tennis players ever – if she existed.

She’d have 24 Grand Slam titles. With 14 singles Slams and 42 overall tournament wins, she certainly would have been the most dominant player since Steffi Graf – if she existed.

Oh, she does exist, kind of.

Her name is Serenus Williams. And ideally for tennis fans her wondrous gifts would not have been split between the sisters Serena and Venus.

But they were, and rather than celebrating one of the greatest figures the sport has ever seen, we’ve been conflicted about tennis’ sister-sister act. Who’s better? Who’s stronger? Who’s faster? Who’s mentally tougher? Who’s hotter?

Even now, as both women boast middling rankings – due more to inactivity than poor performances – some tennis fans are wringing their hands at the prospect that the sisters just might meet in the Wimbledon finals next weekend. Most of the top-seeded women have already had their return tickets scanned. Nouveau No. 1 Ana Ivanovic is gone. So is No. 2 Maria Sharapova (aka So Now What Do I Do With My Wimbledon Wardrobe?)

No. 3 is Jelena Jankovic. ‘Nuff said.

The Williamses are seeded sixth and seventh (Does it really matter which one’s which), and with each scoring fourth-round straight-set wins Monday, the prospect of the first all-Williams Grand Slam final in five years is looking like a reality.

Something seems to be different, though. Rather than bemoan another tortured affair in which neither sister wanted to beat the other, it seems everyone is almost anxious to see the renewal of perhaps the most intriguing “rivalry” in sports. Even the sisters are buzzing about it.

“The chances were wonderful from the beginning, from round one,” Venus told reporters on Monday. “That’s how we see it. The more we progress, obviously the closer it gets.”

Maybe it’s because they’re older. Because their lives are filled beyond tennis. But perhaps this time the two women will play each other without worrying about breaking the other’s heart.

Instead, maybe we’ll see the kind of spirited kick-your-sibling’s-butt battle we’ve yearned from them since they first squared off across the net for money.

If so, we’ll almost certainly see what Serenus might have been: powerful, fast, undaunted, resilient, The Incredible Hulkette at the net – all of the gifts that have been attributed to one sister or the other (or even both) at some time during their career.

I will say this: Venus and Serena may have been they most important women in tennis history since Billie Jean King. Whatever we thought about them, we watched. Before Tiger raised the bar for attracting television viewers who might not otherwise watch, the Williams sisters were must-see television.

Last summer, USA Today reported that CBS’ four highest-rated U.S. Open women’s finals during the last decade all involved the sisters from Compton, Calif. In 2001, their first prime-time final was the highest rated since 1985.

They lifted women’s tennis from its oh-Chrissie-is-gone malaise, gave fans someone to root for (or against) and gave young players like Sharapova, Martina Hingis and Justine Henin someone to shoot for. Two someones, in fact.

Love ’em or not, the Williams sisters will always be the face(s) of women’s tennis for this generation.

Had they been one player, they would almost certainly have been No. 5 on my all-time list behind Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King and Chris Norman (nee Evert) and just a tad ahead of the wondrous Margaret Court and her record 24 singles Grand Slam titles – just to stir debate.

Apart? I’m sure either becomes part of the “all time” discussion – and that’s too bad.

Serenus. She coulda been a contendah.


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