I consider myself lucky. Three times I watched Serena Williams in person, three times she won gold. I’ll never forget the first time. We visited New York and Serena, then 17, won her first Grand Slam singles title. She triumphed in style, beating former major winners Kim Clijsters, Conchita Martinez, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and in the final — which I watched with my dad Bunny and the late Kits Borromeo and his son (and one of my best friends) Fabby — we saw Serena beat Martina Hingis to become only the second African-American female netter to win a major since Althea Gibson in 1958.
That US Open was Serena’s first major. She and her older sister Venus would also win the doubles crown in Flushing Meadows. That was 16 years ago.
Today, she has amassed a cabinet-full of hardware. In singles, she owns six Australian Open trophies, two at the French Open, six at the US Open and five Wimbledon crowns. That’s a total of 19. (By comparison, the men’s leader, Roger Federer, has 17.) In doubles, she has 13; in mixed doubles, she owns two. Her total runs to 34 Grand Slam titles. Yet, as plenty as those accolades are, Serena only ranks seventh in the all-time list of major winners. The top spot belongs to Margaret Court who, back in the 1960s, collected 64 major crowns!
Why this talk on Serena? Because, at the age of 33, she is still as fresh as a high school teenager, excited about competing. Last Sunday, she won the Miami Open, clobbering her final opponent Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-2, 6-0.
Compared to the likes of Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, Serena is not your typical tennis player — physique-wise. Many of the top players are super slim. They possess long legs that are perfect for the sprints needed for tennis.
Serena is huge. Her legs are massive; so is her upper body and, if you look at her “behind,” they, too, are huge. Serena’s vital statistics are 36D-28-40. For me, the most interesting number is the middle: 28. As hulky as she is, her waistline is miniscule. (By comparison, the vital statistics of Maria Sharapova, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 130 lbs., are 34-24-36.)
Nobody is as brawny and heavy-duty as Serena. Does this slow her down? Hardly. Her strengths are two-fold: physical and mental. With those biceps as big as Rafael Nadal’s, she’s able to whip those shots with ferocity. But her strongest weapon is her brain. I saw this at the Beijing Olympics when she and Venus won the doubles gold.
Her mental fortitude was most evident last October during the WTA Championships in Singapore. In one of her round-robin matches, she was humiliated by Simona Halep, losing 6-0, 6-2. I watched that game and it was perplexing. Here was one of tennis’ all-time greats being schooled. That mishap would have devastated others. Minutes after the loss, Serena enters the press conference room. I was seated 15 feet away. Was she crying or in depression? She was disappointed, obviously, but she still retained that smile. I will get better, she told the assembled media. True to her word, in the days that ensued she never lost and soon pocketed her fifth year-ending trophy.
Given how she’s dominated the women, talks have spread of her doing today’s version of “The Battle of the Sexes.” Back in 1973, Billie Jean King battled Bobby Riggs for a $100,000 winner-take-all prize. The loud mouth Riggs, then 55 years old, claimed that he can handily defeat King, 26 years his junior. Billie Jean won, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
Can Serena beat, say, a long-retired Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras? I don’t think so. But it would be fun and would generate tremendous publicity, especially for the women’s game.
Is Serena one of the greatest ever? No doubt. She would rank among the Top 5, alongside Margaret Court, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.
On prize money, she ranks No.1 as the female player who’s pocketed the most ever: around $66 million. That’s billions of pesos — and about the same amount Pacman will earn in 36 quick minutes.