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Serena Williams: The Great One

No athlete alive dominates a sport like Serena Williams does women's tennis. But on the whole, she'd rather be eating cinnamon rolls

June 18, 2013 6:35 PM ET
serena williams french open paris
Serena Williams competes at the French Open in Paris.
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Who is the most dominant figure in sports today? LeBron James? Michael Phelps? Please. Get that weak sauce out of here. It is Serena Williams. She runs women's tennis like Kim Jong-un runs North Korea: ruthlessly, with spare moments of comedy, indolence and the occasional appearance of a split personality.

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Here are the facts. Serena is the number-one tennis player in the world. Maria Sharapova is the number-two tennis player in the world. Sharapova is tall, white and blond, and, because of that, makes more money in endorsements than Serena, who is black, beautiful and built like one of those monster trucks that crushes Volkswagens at sports arenas. Sharapova has not beaten Serena in nine years. Think about that for a moment. Nine years ago Matchbox Twenty and John Edwards mattered. The chasm between Serena and the rest of women's tennis is as vast and broad as the space between Ryan Lochte's ears. Get back to me when LeBron beats Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder every time for nine years.

Serena's dominance has been fueled by not giving a shit what you or anyone else thinks about her methods. Serena has been giving tennis the two-finger salute for more than half her life. Not that she cops to it. "Lots of my friends have been telling me lately that I'm spoiled," Serena says with a baffled look on her face. "And I'm like, 'Really? I'm not spoiled.'"

I almost spit Coke through my nose. Serena does what she wants, when she wants. If she'd pulled a Jamesian I'm-taking-my-talents-to-South Beach event, she would have put it on pay-per-view and hawked her Home Shopping Network-all-under-a-hundred-bucks fashion line during the commercial breaks. And she would not have given a flying fuck what you thought. This is a woman who one minute is reading inspirational notes during changeovers and then, in the 2009 U.S. Open semifinals, threatening to personally make a line judge eat a tennis ball.

Tennis ninnies chided Serena for taking months off earlier in her career to flirt with fashion and make cameo TV appearances, you know, like a normal person might do after making tens of millions of dollars. Chris Evert, an icon of the game, questioned Serena's dedication just 18 months ago.

Evert couldn't have been more wrong. The players Serena entered the game with are long retired, burned out and discarded. Meanwhile, Serena came back last year from foot problems and blood clots that could have killed her. Instead, she has gone 74-3 since losing at the 2012 French Open and won three Grand Slams and an Olympic gold medal. After each one, tennis gurus whispered, "That was Serena's last hurrah."

Not quite. This year she has won the past four tournaments she's entered and is on a 31-match winning streak, the longest of her career. If she doesn't pocket her sixth Wimbledon and her fifth U.S. Open titles this summer, check the ground because the world may have spun off its axis. She's never been more dominant than now, at the age of 31, which is about 179 in tennis years. (Evert now says Serena is the best of all time.) Hell, even dating Brett Ratner couldn't stop her. Neither could older sister Venus, merely the second-best tennis player of the past 20 years.

What's her secret? Serena only compromises with herself.

"I've thought it would be cool to have a baby young," says Serena. "You know, be my road dog – like my dogs, they travel the world – but there's always something you have to give up for success. Everything comes at a cost. Just what are you willing to pay for it?"

Good question.

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