You saw her transform from Grand Slam to Glam in the summer issue of Singular magazine, and now this happily single tennis star is finishing the season as best female tennis player in the world.
She threatened a player, didn’t try most of the year, famously threatened a line judge and was thrown out of a match. The other thing Serena Williams did in 2009 was this:
She won the year-end No. 1 ranking. It became official in Doha, Qatar, at the WTA Championships when Dinara Safina, the current No. 1 Williams was trying to overcome, withdrew from the tournament with a bad back. It guaranteed that Williams would finish the year No. 1 for the first time since 2002.
Two more things: She deserves it. And it’s the best thing for tennis.
“Dinara must really be hurt because she never gives up,” Williams said after beating her sister, Venus, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4). Safina quit during the third game of her match with Jelena Jankovic. “It would have made a really great tournament if we both could have gotten to the final.”
It would have made for a fun final spark for the year. Instead now, this tournament turns to mush. But we really didn’t need a Serena-Safina match to know which player is best. It has been a debate most of the year, since Safina got there and apologized for it, and Serena responded with “Quite frankly, I’m the best in the world.”
Then, Williams lost to a career bridesmaid.
Williams is far from perfect, as too few people in the media seem strong enough to point out.
But flaws and all, she is still the best thing for the game, someone interesting to look at, watch, pay attention to and talk about. She has taken a tour that would have been boring with a bunch of pretend champs on top, and turned it into a reality show.
It’s not just that, though. She’s more than an auto wreck on the highway that you can’t help to notice. The rest of the top women have shown incredible mental weakness in 2009.
How many times have we seen Safina leave a court crying? For the past half-year, she has been in full fright. Ana Ivanovic was No. 1, and looking to be the next big thing, but she crumbled under the pressure. Jankovic couldn’t take it, either. Maria Sharapova hurt her shoulder.
All these women were No. 1 in the past two years. And with the exception of Sharapova, they all were terrible No. 1s. Particularly Safina.
Williams is always a threat on the biggest stage. And yes, one tiny U.S. Open line judge might take that sentence in a different way than I meant it.
Meanwhile, Williams still awaits punishment from the International Tennis Federation for her f-bomb laced tirade directed at that line judge, who had correctly called a foot fault on her.
The problem for the ITF is that it’s having a hard time trying to figure out how to punish someone who is bigger than it is.
Williams’ No. 1 ranking shows that she is bigger than the women’s tennis tour, the non-majors. She’s probably bigger than the majors, too.
But think about this. Williams has blown off entirely all non-majors, showing up only because she’s required to. And she has lost in every one, sometimes quickly and to nobodies.
See, Safina has never won a major, but plays consistently, usually, all year in regular tour events. Williams doesn’t try unless it’s in a major, where she shows time and again how great she is.
This tournament was going to give the final answer as to which way is best, as if we didn’t know.
An oddity: Williams has locked up the No. 1 spot for the year even though she has won just one tournament since January. It just so happens that that tournament was Wimbledon. The tournament she won in January was the Australian Open, another major.
So Williams disregarded the tour, and found that it worked just fine for her. Well, that’s a problem for the tour to address, not for Williams. She did what she wanted and got what she wanted, what she deserved.
Despite playing well just eight weeks a year, she has managed to become the center of focus of the tour. At the French Open, she told a player, “I’m going to get you in the locker room. You don’t know me.”
That’s her signature line, the you-don’t-know-me part. She used it on the line judge, too.
So Williams has not been a true champ the entire year. A champ doesn’t take the court without trying to win. A champ doesn’t just give up in a big moment, as she did at the U.S. Open against Kim Clijsters, where I believe she, at some level, quit that match. She had to know she would be out after what she did.
But Williams also appeared (nearly) nude on the cover of ESPN the Magazine, sending a message to young girls about belief in a body that isn’t a size 0. She wrote a book telling her story.
She won two majors.
She is the story. And despite her flaws, she was the best player, and stands as a far better champion than Safina or anyone else who was playing throughout 2009.
Tennis needed Williams at the top of the game.
She is No. 1 for 2009. And deserving it.