Sports fans should appreciate Serena Williams

Serena Williams, the oldest No. 1 women's tennis player in history, is in legitimate contention this week to win a French Open singles title to go along with her 2002 crown.

Interestingly enough, the 31-year-old enters today's quarterfinal on a 28-match win streak, the longest of her career since her professional debut in 1995, giving her bragging rights for win streaks over her South Florida neighbors, LeBron James and company.

Serena is quietly rewriting the rules of competitive tennis past 30 and has been on the most fascinating comeback trail in sports since 2010.

Yet I wonder if there is a larger segment of the general sports viewing public and media that is more interested in a Williams loss than a Williams win? Or, even worse, do sports observers just not care at all?

I get that tennis isn't the type of sport that grabs millions of obsessive fans on a day-to-day basis. Neither, quite frankly, is golf. But fans who couldn't tell you the difference between a sand wedge and a sandwich love following, watching and debating the game and dating life of Tiger Woods.

If you didn't follow tennis closely, you might think the most interesting career tidbits for Williams in the past two years involve her threatening a U.S. Open chair umpire, her controversial Olympics dance, and losing to rising star Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open this January.

Adding insult to injury, Stephens called out Williams to ESPN the Magazine shortly afterward because Williams had the audacity to stop being her tennis BFF and unfollowed her on Twitter.

The nerve.

But it's hard to cast blame on casual sports fans for being less-than-informed about the epicness of what Williams is doing. Her accomplishments are generally reduced to a one-sentence crawl at the bottom of the TV screen.

And yes, I did say epic — as in impressively great — because there really is no other way to describe her recent career when you consider the context in which Williams is winning.

Almost one year ago, tennis standouts Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters retired from professional tennis at age 30 and 29. History would tell you there is absolutely no shame in retiring at these respective ages. As a matter of fact, that's about the life expectancy of an elite tennis player who's likely been on the pro circuit since their early teens.

Williams should be winded, not experiencing a second wind, especially after 2010. She cut her foot on broken glass outside of a restaurant then, resulting in two foot surgeries, and a frightening pulmonary embolism in 2011 that left many wondering if she'd ever top women's competitive tennis again.

She did more than come back. She dominated.

At 30 years old, Williams won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and took home gold medals from the 2012 London Olympics. She quickly proved that last year's success wasn't some aberration when she solidified her spot as the No. 1 player in the world — again — this February, and hasn't dropped a match since losing to then-No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the final of the Qatar Total Open that same month.

And it should be noted that Williams is 20-0 on clay this year and owns a 71-3 record since losing in the first round of the French Open last year.

Athletes have tried and failed for years to beat Father Time, but Williams appears to have figured out a stall tactic. Somehow, she's getting stronger in her "old" age.

"I feel lighter, I feel healthier, and even though I'm 31 — which really isn't old, but for an athlete, particularly a tennis player, it's old — I promise you, my body has never felt better," Williams told Essence Magazine recently. "Considering how much I've played and how much I've done, I feel fine. I'm strong."

You don't have to be a tennis fan to appreciate what Williams is accomplishing, just a sports fan.

sjowens@orlandosentinel.com

 

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