Serena's Legacy Secure
SERENA'S LEGACY SECURE
She won't think about it, but historians already celebrating her career
By Jerry Magee
July 28 2003
San Diego Union Tribune
CARLSBAD – How she is to be remembered is not something Serena Williams prefers to address. She is, after all, just 21.
"I think I'm a little too young to think of a legacy," Williams said recently when invited to assess what place in women's tennis she expects history will assign her. "So many people have done more. I'd just like to leave the game knowing I had done the best I could."
Williams' reluctance to engage in self-analysis aside, tennis historians believe they one day will be celebrating the deeds of the woman who heads the field in the Acura Classic, beginning today at the La Costa Resort and Spa. One of these scholars is Ken Yellis, director of the museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport, R.I.
To Yellis, Williams has done what an athlete must in order to achieve greatness: She has redefined her game.
"Her ability to hit out on every shot is really pretty unusual," Yellis said. "Her opponents get no rest. She constantly is going for winners and constantly getting them."
Defensively, too, Williams has rare abilities, in Yellis' thinking. They relate to her athleticism. As swift as she is, she is able to reach shots that her peers could not "and to do something with her returns," he said.
She also can adjust. "If she is a little off, she can find ways to beat you," Yellis said. He cited Williams' match against Kim Clijsters (another La Costa participant) in the final of this year's Australian Open. "For all intents, (Williams) was beaten," he said, "yet she won."
Clijsters had created what against another player would have represented a commanding advantage, 5-1 in the final set, but Williams was able to rally for a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 triumph.
Williams, in sum, has everything necessary to place her name alongside those of such other greats as Suzanne Lenglen, Helen Wills Moody, Maureen Connolly Brinker, Alice Marble, Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Monica Seles and Steffi Graf. To be recognized fully, in Yellis' judgment, Williams needs just one more thing – a rival.
"What makes a great rivalry is not just players with different styles but players with different temperaments," Yellis said.
One thinks of John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, McEnroe so bombastic and Borg so icily composed. Technically, as Yellis views it, the player best equipped to enter into such a rivalry with Williams is her sister Venus, whom she has outplayed in the final of the past five of her six Grand Slam conquests. (She defeated Martina Hingis in her first).
"Venus' wingspan, for one thing," Yellis said. "Venus (who has won the Acura the last three years) has terrific hands, great reach and she is more comfortable at the net than Serena. Venus has tools. But Serena has a much better second serve. And Venus has to figure out a way to beat her."
There is this that could limit Serena's future: She is not the most active of the women professionals. When she takes breaks, her fitness level appears to drop off.
"I definitely would have her doing fitness things between tournaments," said Larry Willens, the coach for former San Diego State star Alex Waske, "but if she keeps going the way she is, she is going to be regarded as one of the best players of all time. She does things no one else has ever done."
With her six Grand Slam successes, Williams still is well behind some of the women who preceded her. Court between 1960 and '75 captured 24 major singles championships. Navratilova between 1974 and '93 won 18, including Wimbledon nine times. Moody between 1922 and '38 took 19, and never played in the Australian Open. Graf between 1987 and '99 took 22.
At 21 – she will be 22 in September – Williams has a lot of time in which to match or exceed those figures.
Herself excepted, Williams was asked whom she would consider the next great player. "I haven't even thought about it," she said.