It’s 2 a.m. eastern standard time Saturday, January 28th. Most people are sleep on the east coast. I don’t have insomnia, but I was struggling to get some proper sleep. Then 3 a.m. approaches, guess I’ll watch the Williams sisters battle it out for the Australian Open. I see them walk to the court, and I’m out. Apparently I needed to do a case study on the back of my eyelids. My alarm goes off at 6 a.m., and I wake up to the highlights of history being made. Serena Williams beat older sister Venus with a 6-4, 6-4 victory. Steffi Graf’s 22 Grand Slam singles titles since the Open era is finally broken. The 35-year-old Serena had just won her seventh Australian Open title. Now I’m reflecting on why she didn’t win at the U.S. Open in September of last year. In New York, she lost in the semifinals for the second straight year. She had the perfect opportunity to be decorated as the greatest tennis player, women or men, at home. This would have been during “normal” hours too.
Serena did not want to talk about the number 23 since she arrived in Australia. What made it even tougher was playing her sister in the final match. Nine times, the Williams have played for a Grand Slam title. It was Serena’s seventh victory in those nine appearances, and the first since Wimbledon 2009. To Venus’ credit at 36-years-old, she showed that she deserved to be matched up with little sister. She definitely didn’t let her win, unless that was the greatest acting performance in history. When asked if it was awkward losing to her sister, she said, “No, because I guess I’ve been here before. I really enjoy seeing the name Williams on the trophy. This is a beautiful thing.” She went on to say, “Congratulations, Serena, on No. 23. I have been right there with you. Some of them I have lost right there against you. Your win has always been my win, you know that. All the times I couldn’t be there, wouldn’t be there, didn’t get there, you were there.”
Serena thanked her sister by saying, “There’s no way I would be at 23 without her. There’s no way I would be at one without her. There’s no way I would have anything without her. She’s my inspiration. She’s the only reason I’m standing here today. My first Grand Slam started here, and getting to 23 here, but playing Venus, its stuff that legends are made of. I couldn’t have written a better story.” That story included a congratulatory letter and a pair of custom-made shoes from Michael Jordan, Mr. 23. But Serena isn’t done yet because Margaret Court won 24 Grand Slam titles. Of those 24, 13 were before the Open era.
Margaret Court’s titles are not the reason Serena is not getting her just due. First, she is female. Sports are a male dominated arena, both nationally and internationally. If Serena were a man, then she would be heralded as the second greatest champion of all times, behind Muhammad Ali. Personally, I think she is on the Mount Rushmore of the greatest sports figures of all time. I think she joins Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Michael Phelps on that carved out rock. She is without a doubt in the conversation with the greatest. Again, 23 singles Grand Slam titles, not to mention the 14 doubles titles and two mixed doubles. How can she not be mentioned in the same breath as the greatest? Second, she is black. Serena falls short in advertising in her own sport to Maria Sharapova. In 2004, Sharapova beat Serena twice. Since that time, Serena has won 18 straight matches, hardly a rivalry. However, Sharapova earns close to $30 million a year as the highest paid female athlete. Serena is $5 million less than that. How is a five time Grand Slam title winner making $5 million more than the greatest of all time? Guess it pays to be blonde and slim. Serena is getting up in age for tennis years. Maybe this year she can win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Those two Grand Slam titles will eliminate all doubt, by the numbers, that she is the best ever. When that day comes, will she get her just due?