Is Serena Williams the most dominant athlete of this generation?

USA's Serena Williams holds up the SuzanWith all this talk about Michael and LeBron, Money and Manny, A-Rod and Roids, Brady and Manning and whether Tiger will ever return to prominence, one person has dominated their sport this century more than any of them.   And it’s a she.

Serena Williams just won her 20th major this weekend, earning yet another French Open, the third of her career.  That’s the fewest of her major titles.  She also owns five Wimbledon titles and six Australian and US Open titles each.  The only two women to win more majors than her are Margaret Court with 24 and Steffi Graf with 22.

Serena, who wasn’t even supposed to be the best tennis player in her own family, won her first grand slam in 1999.  For the sake of this argument, let’s go back and see if any other athlete since then has come close to her dominance in their respective sports.

Tiger ballThe first and most obvious comparison is Tiger Woods who burst onto the golf scene right around the same time as Serena.  Tiger won his first major in 1997, the Masters at Augusta National.  He then proceeded to rattle off 14 more major victories up until 2007.  During that run, there were few among us who wouldn’t have suggested he was the greatest golfer of all time or at least on his way to becoming so.  His passing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 19 majors seemed like a foregone conclusion.  Things have stalled lately for Mr. Woods.  A rocky marriage, a few ill-fated rendezvous’, some lingering injuries and several changes in both swing coaches and caddies have left Tiger major-less over the last seven years.  While he might once have been the most dominant athlete of this generation, one can’t put him ahead of Serena.  Heck, he doesn’t even have as many major wins as her.  So Tiger’s out.

LeBron musclesLeBron James has won two NBA titles and four MVP awards since coming into the league in 2003.  He is arguably a top five player of all-time.  He is doing things that we haven’t seen any other basketball player do.  As dominant as he is, one would still have to argue that Serena has dominated her sport more than LeBron has his.  While LeBron has made it to the Finals six times, he’ll soon be 2-4, or at best 3-3.  Serena is 20-4 in major finals.  She’s only lost one major final since 2008.  Advantage: Serena.

moneyFloyd Money Mayweather is considered pound for pound the best boxer of his generation.  He has never lost a fight, his record 48-0.  He won 26 of those bouts by knockout.  He recently beat Manny Pacquiao, who was perceived to be his only real competition, despite the fact that he’s older than both LeBron and Serena.  In doing so, Mayweather may have also become the wealthiest athlete of all-time.  But the competition that Mayweather had to fight while earning and maintaining his title isn’t comparable to the competitiveness and relative balance of women’s tennis over that same period.  Money May has bested Artuto Gatti, Zab Judah, Juan Manuel Marquez and an aging Oscar De La Hoya.  Even at his best, it’s hard to argue that, despite not losing, Money May was even as dominant as Mike Tyson during his prime.  Serena has dominated her sport over fifteen years and is still winning major titles.  She did so at a time when Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin, Kim Clisters and Venus Williams were all on the scene.  Serena also emerged when other female legends like Martina Hingis, Mary Pierce and Lindsay Davenport were winding down.  Ironically, Serena won her first major the same year, Steffi Graf, who she’s chasing, won her last.  The Money vs Serena argument is difficult to quantify as Money has never lost a fight, however, one can’t help but wonder whether the talent Money has bested is more watered down than the talent Serena had to face.  Plus, it’s not like Mayweather dominated his entire sport, just his weight class.  I’ll let you decide who wins this fight.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City RoyalsIt’s hard to argue who the greatest baseball player is of this generation considering so many of them used performance enhancing drugs to get an edge.  Alex Rodriguez is setting records with every at-bat but has admitted to (and lied about) using PEDs countless times.  Either way, fans were lining the seats. Probably the best player of this generation not associated with steroids is Miguel Cabrera.  He won baseball’s Triple Crown in 2012, the first time that had been done in over forty years.  But he’s only got one World Series title and none in Detroit, where he’s currently making over $20 million a year.  Albert Pujols also dominated his sport like no other but once he turned thirty years old, his production fell off considerably.  A lifetime .316 hitter, Pujols hasn’t hit over .300 since 2010.  Serena is 33 and still knocking it out the park.

Roger kisses trophyRoger Federer has 17 majors to his name.  That’s more than any other male tennis player in the history of the game.  But he hasn’t won a major since 2012.  Furthermore, two men have challenged his dominance: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.  Besides that, Federer has only won one French Open, his game more suited for the quicker surfaces of hard court and grass.  Rafael Nadal has won nine of the last eleven French Opens.  Despite Federer’s place in history, that clay chink in his armor precludes him from being totally dominant in his sport.  With multiple victories in each major, Serena has mastered all surfaces while Federer has not.

Peyton and TomTwo quarterbacks this century have battled to become mentioned in the conversation of the best ever: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.  While the much-heralded Peyton Manning continues to re-write the record book, his lone Super Bowl victory leads many to question whether he is truly the best ever.  His modern-day rival, Tom Brady, just won his fourth title but doesn’t have the personal accolades of Manning.  While these two represent the best modern rivalry in the NFL, Serena hasn’t had a rival, simply because she’s been that much better than everyone else.  Touchdown Serena.

Ronaldo MessiTwo men have dominated soccer this decade: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.  I’ll let the soccer geeks debate over which one of them is better.  They’re both considered to be among the best ever.  The only problem is that, despite their success, neither has led their countries to a World Cup victory, one of the true marks of a soccer legend.  Coming up short of that achievement, I’m not sure either of these two players has achieved the career goals of Serena Williams.

Ronda knockoutNo male mixed martial artist has owned the century.  Ronda Rousey, however, has been the most dominant female fighter any of us have ever seen.  She is now 11-0 with nine of those wins coming by submission, often in the opening seconds of the fight.  But in 1999 when Serena won her first major, Rousey was 12 years old.  She simply hasn’t been around that long.  While her mark on the sport has been indelible, her longevity comes into question.  Serena Williams has been dominating her sport since Rousey was getting sent to the principal’s office for beating up junior high school boys.

And to my NASCAR fans, Jimmie Johnson rattled off five straight Cup titles.  That ain’t bad.  But to say he’s dominated over a fifteen year period or to even clearly say he’s been the best driver over the last fifteen years might not be factually incorrect.  He may have dominated his sport but not quite like Serena continues to dominate hers.   In this case, I think you’d agree Serena has more drive.

Phelps medalsThe only other athlete that I can even compare Serena’s dominance to is Michael Phelps.  I don’t think anyone has any problem admitting this guy is the greatest swimmer of all-time, dominating his sport like no one else in history.  With 22 medals, 18 of them gold, he’s the most decorated Olympic medalist of all-time, and he did so right around the same time as Serena.  He burst on to the scene in 2002 and since then has been blowing his competition out of the water.  Phelps has since retired but there will never be another swimmer like him.

So there you have it.  Decide for yourself Serena’s place in modern history as the most dominant athlete in her respective sport.  If she’s not, she’s pretty darn close.  She’s got four majors remaining to tie Margaret Court, five to pass her.  If and when she does, we may just have to revisit this conversation.

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24 Replies to “Is Serena Williams the most dominant athlete of this generation?”

  1. Yes, Serena is the most dominant athlete in the world. All of the Ronda Rousey talk just makes me cringe. I can’t take it.

  2. [QUOTE=”sportschump, post: 295622, member: 191″]Debate and discuss at:
    is serena the best athlete of this generation?…
    yes… and no
    to me comparing athletes from different sports is impossible and completely subjective
    tiger was by far the best golfer of his time… but does anybody remember him taking bp at that braves game :giggle:
    or how about mike tyson throwing out the first pitch like a girl?
    and sometimes it’s impossible to distinguish within the same sport…
    how do you say who the better ballplayer was when they played completely different positions?
    was koufax a better baseball player than mantle?
    was joe montana better than walter payton?
    and so on
    and how does one define what is and is not a sport?…
    because if horse racing is a sport, then american pharoah deserves some serious recognition
    but back to the original question, to which i will say this…
    serena is the best women’s tennis player i have ever seen, by a longshot
    secretariat, the best horse
    ali, the best boxer
    montana, the best qb
    payton, the best rb
    koufax, the best pitcher
    mantle, the best ballplayer
    jack, the best golfer
    funny, but i just remembered a quote from ted williams, when asked which was tougher — baseball or golf
    “golf… because you have to play your foul balls.”
    p.s. btw, if mike tyson happens to read this post, it was chumpy who said you threw like a girl

  3. Agree with HD, Serena eclipses the field. The way she handled Timea Bacsinszsky, a beast in her own right, was amazing. Even Shaq was in awe. Didn’t he claim to have sex with her but later embarrassingly recanted?

  4. No argument from me Serena has dominated her sport more than any other athlete. I was pleased you included Michael Phelps because I think he is a “sleeper” contender for this honor. At his peak he was destroying his competition and it seemed like each time he went into the water he came out possessing a new world record. I would also volunteer Lindsay Vonn, the greatest female skier of all time in my opinion. And she’s not done yet either. Maybe with Tiger…but not with the slopes. I believe her dominating career compares favorably with the others on this list.

  5. She is the best tennis player of her generafion but far from being the best fenale player ever. Margaret Court , Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova still eclipse her in terms of Grand Slam singles’ titles won. In terms of career titles she still lags the three aforementiined as welll as Chris Evert.

  6. Wait…Serana is winning tournaments? Sorry – I just check women’s tennis out to see who’s the latest hottie in those skin-tight outfits. Just joking – kinda. Genetically though, it’s obvious she’s head and shoulders athletically over most of her opponents and has worked hard on her craft. Let’s imagine if she had chosen to play golf or basketball or even MMA from an early age; I would guess she would be dominating those sports instead of tennis. It’s also really hard to compare individual sports icons against team sports greats, because team guys have to rely on others doing their jobs – Tiger, Serena, Phelps, etc. only have to rely on themselves. Good topic though SC – you’ve also got me at least checking in on the Lightning in NHL.

  7. Pretty funny.

    Somebody actually answered Tom Brady in the poll.

    Okay, let’s get to answering questions.

    D… Why no love for Rousey? I take it you don’t own Expendables 3 on DVD.

  8. I see Irish has been hitting the brownies again.

    I don’t know that she’s the best… yet.

    Steffi Graf was pretty damn dominant in her day.

    I think these last few years will go a long way in defining Serena’s career. How much does she have left in the tank?

    If she can rattle off five more major victories, well then in my mind, there’s no doubt that she was the best ever.

  9. Shaq and Serena, Bets?

    Lifestyles of the rich and massive.

    Not sure that’s a sex tape I wanna watch.

    I love how this conversation has gone totally downhill.

    I would expect nothing less.

  10. Burnsy….

    I was all ready to give it this thing to Serena (although Money puts up a fair argument) but after revisiting the way Phelps dominated swimming for so many years, it’s tough to put her ahead of him…. for now.

  11. Martina’s only got 18 grand slam titles, Al.

    Serena’s got 20.

    Unless you’re including doubles matches.

    Serena’s got a few of those though too.

  12. Moose…

    It’s a VERY exciting time here in Tampa Bay, especially after last night’s Game Three.

    And you’re right about the comparing individual sports to team sports. Although like I said, someone above listed Tom Brady as the most dominant athlete of this century.

    I’d like to hear that person’s argument for Brady over Serena, Money and Phelps.

    That could get interesting.

  13. Burnsy…

    One of my race car readers also mentioned Sebastien Loeb who’s a rally car driver that has apparently won every event since the dawn of man.

    I had never even heard of the guy.

  14. Al,
    Comparing Serena to Court, Graf, Evert or Martina? Kidding right? You are forgetting that SW can dominate for a few more years. The Energizer Bunny is still going while Chrissy is trying to convince “The Shark” he’s not a choke artist while they lie in bed.

  15. I will never bet against Serena in her current form. You can grasp her mindset when she complains of losing first sets and still wins the match. It’s either bet on her or pass. The exception is when she faces Venus. Strange things happen then????

  16. The only reason JJ was dominant in NASCAR for 5 years is because the rules package NASCAR put forth favored him(and Chad Knaus, his crew chief, cheats). Now that NASCAR has implemented a new rules package and a new Chase format, Jimmie is no longer the dominant force he once was.

  17. Bets…

    I know Martina played until she was like 100 but she was a freak of nature.

    Serena’s now 33. She’ll be 34 later this year. How many majors has she pulled out of over her career due to injury? I know that’s bound to happen and I know she’s got a few more in her… but does she have five more in her?

    It’s gonna be fun to watch, that’s for sure.

    Her health now is as important as ever.

  18. Bets…

    It’s been a while since I’ve bet tennis but I know there’s money to be made by picking the right upset.

    Or maybe just loading up on a short-term future by betting Serena to win.

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