All GOAT Everything: Venus & Serena's Sibling Dynasty is the Greatest Sports Story of All-Time
Have any of you thought about how amazing Venus & Serena are recently?
Really taken it all it in, while thinking about all the great things that you've seen from Venus Ebony Starr Williams and Serena Jemeka Williams, for over two decades running now?
Maybe like me you did so this past weekend, while watching as these two sisters, separated by 14 months, 25 years after arriving on the scene, again reached the summit of their sport, all the way across the world in a land called Down Under, after yet another two weeks in which the rest of the globe's best players choked on their fumes, and fell into the divots created by their formidable footsteps?
For most folks, the answer is probably not. Tennis is a bit of a niche sport in most of America. It was also a match that began at 3 AM on the East Coast. So, for anyone still sleeping, metaphorically or literally, as Roy Jones Jr. once famously declared, “Y’ALL MUSTA FORGOT!”.
Forgetting seeing Venus Williams, in her first U.S. Open, the summer of 1997, while attending my first and only day spent at Flushing Meadows, play her first Grand Slam tennis match at Arthur Ashe stadium, is something I could never do.
I saw a lot of notable players that day. Anna Kournikova at 16 on a side court. Lindsay Davenport on a practice court. Andre Agassi on a court that felt like a mix of both, with Brooke Shields eyeing closely from the stands as he and his coach Brad Gilbert rallied back and forth in drills.
Yet none of those sightings compared to the seminal moment of watching a tall, wiry athletic, unprecedentedly powerful, 17-year-old black girl in red-white-&-blue American bead braids, capture the first of many U.S. Open victories to come. Despite entering the tournament unseeded, she would go on to make the Final, before being beaten by Martina Hingis, when the Swiss Miss was in the midst of her shot-making, backboard-level-returning peak. Venus would go on to do all the things her once-thought-to-be-crazy father Richard Williams, predicted she would do: win the U.S. Open, win Wimbledon, win a Gold Medal, become the #1 player in the world, all of it. But it was one comment he made, years before we ever got to see them play, that stuck: “Serena will probably be a better player than Venus”.
I will cherish that memory, same as I do being blessed enough to witness a high-school version of LeBron James, playing for Saint Vincent Saint Mary’s Fighting Irish, against Mareece Rice, who broke Wilt Chamberlain’s fifty-year-old Philly public league points record that season. I watched that in the basketball cathedral of The Palestra in West Philadelphia, accompanied by childhood friends Phil Groeling (occasional Wudder graphic art contributor) and Jason Keenan (soon-to-be-co-star-of-the-perpetually-forthcoming-Wudder-podcast we hereby promise will arrive in the first quarter of 2017). In both cases, it was attempting to get in early, while beating the drum for a future star in the sports landscape. Despite both being featured in Sports Illustrated, long before either reached the professional ranks, both would not only live up to the hype, but reach levels of accomplishment as players and people that remain truly hard to fathom.
I will always appreciate and root for Venus, much like Bron, for the rest of my days. As a fan of her talent, and as an older sibling that knows a little something about when a little sister surpasses you in terms of professional accomplishment. For the best of us blessed enough to be older siblings, we understand the success of our younger sibling is a success we share, whether or not outsiders even realize we're there. It’s a family affair. The rest of the world should just sit back, and inhale all the excellence in the air.
I was rooting for Venus in her match with Serena over the weekend, like always. But much like any time these two meet in a Grand Slam Final, there’s really no bad result any times they inscribe another "Williams" into the side of a major trophy. In this Australian Open 2017 Final, that sentiment felt especially, even historically, true. Venus winning meant she would capture her first Aussie Open crown while becoming the oldest female to ever win a Grand Slam tournament, by a fairly wide margin at 36. Serena winning meant she would pass Steffi Graf for the most major victories in the history of the Open era, also top her own record for oldest player to win a Slam, and recapture the #1 ranking. Both would be able to spend the sometimes-awkward shared moment of the trophy presentation, on a podium with their sister/best-friend. We hope it won’t be the last.
Whether it will be, probably depends on Venus, who turns 37 this year, and in recent years has battled not just Father Time plus injuries, but also Sjögren's syndrome, a long-term autoimmune disease which the moisture-producing glands of the body are affected. This Australian Open performance was certainly highly encouraging, though part of growing older, experiencing wear-and-tear, plus having a disease that effects your muscles and energy level, means the hardest thing to do is probably to maintain a consistent high-level as a world-class athlete. Here’s to wishing her all the best in that quest, much like we did in the past weekend’s final, but also not deluding ourselves with unrealistic expectations.
Venus acquitted herself fairly well in this past one but beating Serena, in a match where she’s not beating herself? Like anyone other player, you can pretty much file that under “unrealistic expectations”, even if she’s your little sister. Venus has beaten her 11 times, while losing 16. That’s easily the most wins any player has managed to win over Serena in her career. It must also be pointed out that most of those wins came some time ago, as Serena has won 8 of the last 9. But look at the rest of Serena’s “rivals”. Maria Sharapova, probably third behind the Williams in current career player resume, stunned Serena twice in 2004, in the Wimbledon and WTA Championship Finals. Maria has lost EIGHTEEN straight matches to Serena since. Much like her father said back in that clip, when Serena was just 11, “Serena is like a pit bull, once she’s got you, she won’t let go”. True indeed. He was right about that, much like he was about her eventually passing Venus, as well as his decision to keep them off the junior circuit or go pro too early into their teens, which were both considered “controversial” decisions in tennis circles.
That pit bull has gone on to become The GOAT. The only question from here, after collecting Grand Slam #23, will be by how wide a margin, or whether she’ll go down as The GOAT across all of sport, in terms of individual dominance. Serena first reached #1 in 2002. She just did it again, for a seventh time, in 2017 at age 35. To put that in proper perspective of how improbable that is in tennis, Steffi Graf won her final major at 29. Martina Navratilova won her last at 31. As did Chris Evert. Serena has won TEN majors since turning 30, which nearly triples the number of majors won post-30 by the rest of the players combined in tennis history. Serena has experienced her own injuries, battled depression, as well as experienced a health scare in the form of a hematoma and pulmonary embolism that nearly resulted in death back in 2010. But since returning to the court and regaining form shortly thereafter in 2011, it seems Serena is nowhere near ready yet to release the game from her lockjaw-like grasp.
When you look at the entire body of work it boggles the mind. You will not be able to name any other sibling dynasty with this level of result, let alone also tell a tale like the one about two sisters, coming straight outta Compton, a city where they lost their eldest half-sister Yetunde Price to a senseless act of violence back in 2003, who went on to revolutionize a sport mostly unfamiliar to seeing people from their regional, socio-economic and racial demographic. Two sisters who went on to become successful not just on the court but off, in the form of fashion lines, college degrees, endorsements, sports ownership and philanthropy. Two sisters who have each won more Olympic Gold Medals than any other player in tennis history. Who've been #1 in the world a combined ten different times. Won 30 Grand Slam championships. And done so with style and substance, along with a determination that would make it silly to pronounce either one done yet. It’s very arguably the greatest sports story in the history of American, and by extension, the entire world of sports. It’s also as emblematic of what the American Dream at its best is supposed to represent, in the most idealized and romanticized version. So maybe every now and then, or currently even more often, we should take some more time to think, talk about and say thanks for all of that.