Baseline Shorks

July 20, 2010 11:15 PM

Why I Hate 'Greatest Ever' Comparisons Mid-Stream

Here's the absolute unfairness of calling Serena Williams 'The Greatest Ever', as Sports Illustrated's L. Jon Wertheim recently anointed her. He takes exactly *one* long-ish paragraph to dust all previous champions, and the initial sentence certainly SHOULD leave some doubt, even after readers are instructed to "strip away the nonsense and breaches of etiquette." To wit: Doesn't Williams (with 13 titles) still trail five players--Margaret Smith Court (24), Steffi Graf (22), Helen Wills Moody (19), Chris Evert (18), and Martina Navratilova (18)--in major singles titles, the usual benchmark for excellence?

You know what? That's a pretty legit standard!! When Tiger Woods went super-nova on the PGA, won the Masters by 21 strokes, they *still* only said "could become one of the greatest," and while it was assumed in many arenas that he would one day surpass Jack Nicklaus on that benchmark of majors, guess what? It hasn't been an automatic two majors wins a year, has it?

Wertheim writes that "Irreverent as it sounds, if you matched tennis's female legends head to head--all at their best, with identical equipment-- Williams wouldn't just beat the others; she would crush them." Without laying out his entire case, he states without doubt that Williams would tee off on Graf's slice backhand, overpower Everet's consistency, and blow returns past the peerless serve-and-volleyer Navratilova's attacks. Oh, and there has NEVER been a player of Williams' mental toughness. In the words of the poet, BITE ME!

At 5'10" and built even more solidly than many a studly male and with a 125 mph bomb of a serve, there isn't much doubt she's one of best ATHLETES to come down the pike. Just in my memory of womens greats though, Martina's 'sexual preference' supposedly helped her gain an unfair physical advantage, Graf's footspeed--you'll probably recall she could have been a 400m. runner in pre-reunited East Germany, was a weapon all its own, and an exceptional level of mental toughness, that's a factor I simply can't believe he feels is so outrageously better. ALL champions have it--see Steffi Graf coming from a set and 1-5 down to win Wimbledon for example. You don't get that done just eating berries and cream! And gee, while I honest to God *hated* it as much as I do Serena's EEEEyaaaahhh!s, Monica Seles had a TON of Serena-like physical attributes until she got taken out (literally) by a whacko who stabbed her in the back so Steffi would regain the #1 rankings--she was that dominant.

There's a pitcher name of Strasberg playing for the Washington Nationals, maybe you've heard of him by now; 100+ mph fastball, knee-buckling curve, a change-up that makes you wish he'd given you the cheese instead, because flailing at the change is soooo less manly. Great things are predicted for him--"if he wants it, he can be one of best ever" they say, sort of like Robert Redford's 'The Natural'. Then take two guys name of Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens who put an *AWFUL* lot of Ks on the board, and you recognize just how far someone actually has to go to be The Greatest of All Time. Maybe add a name like Dwight Gooden for perspective, and then measure career arcs and see how unfair it truly is to use that title before all the results are in.

Roger Federer has won 16 majors, and at 29, many of the scribes are prepared to toss literary dirt on him, feeling "his lease on tennis' penthouse has expired," his run at greatness finished because its been a tough 2010 for him. Rafael Nadal has won 8 majors after pulling out his second Wimbledon in straight sets, but I haven't heard anyone suggesting he'd blow up that dandy Aussie red-head ROD LAVER. Now *that* was greatness, and Rocket Rod lost most of his very best years title-wise when professionals weren't allowed to compete at Wimbledon and similar 'amateur' events.

Thats the problem with enthusiasm--it has a tendency to be prejudicial, and I find Wertheim's piece just WAY over the top. I'll give Serena credit for being an exceptional evolution of ALL female athleticism, and while that SI writer inferred that none of the others had to play her sister in a Grand Slam final means she would have won more, geez! good thing Chrissie didn't have to play Martina so many times for GS titles.

Oh yeah, she did. So let's wait until someone reallllly beats that tired old standard before we crown them as GOAT, Greatest of All Time.

Glenn S.

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