Serena Williams: The Yin and The Yang

Rob YorkSenior Writer IMay 28, 2009

ROME - MAY 05:  Serena Williams of the USA hits a forehand during her second round match against Patty Schnyder of Switzerland during day two of the the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Internazionli BNL D'Italia event at Foro Italico on May 5, 2009 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Serena Williams, despite being the most gifted women’s player of her generation, is not certain to win every tournament she enters.

She is, however, a sure bet to make news whenever she chooses to.

When Time chose to name Rafael Nadal as one of its 100 World’s Most Influential People, Williams was a great choice for the write-up explaining why.

“I want to be like him,” she wrote. “The attitude he exudes the moment he walks out on the court is the attitude of a true champion.”

To have Williams, whose career numbers exceed that of Nadal’s (and just about every other man) say that the Spaniard exemplifies what it means to be a tennis champion was stirring.

Her explanation was remarkably eloquent, not only for what she said, but just by the fact that she, one of the most recognizable players in the world, was commending him.

I, and maybe others, was preparing to extend our thanks to her for the gift she’d given the game, when her remarks about Dinara Safina’s No. 1 ranking broke just before Roland Garros began.

"We all know who the real number one is. Quite frankly, I'm the best in the world."

Williams and former Swiss No. 1 Martina Hingis are generally regarded as opposites in terms of playing style and background. However, a rhetorical analysis of many of their statements reveals a certain similarity.

It was Hingis, you may recall, who in 1997 explained that Anna Kournikova couldn’t be her rival because “I win all the matches.” In 1999, her explanation as to why she had dissolved her doubles partnership with Jana Novotna was that “she’s old and slow.”

What do all of these statements have in common? For one thing, they’re all true: Novotna had lost a step by 1999, Kournikova never did turn into a rival for Hingis, and Williams has won two majors in the last year, which is two more than Safina.

They have one more thing in common, though: They didn’t need to be said. One can attribute them to confidence, something Williams needs to establish before the start of Roland Garros, the major she probably likes the least. However, isn’t it also a form confidence to let numbers and records speak for themselves?

Isn’t that what Nadal -- the player she says she wants to be like -- would do?

In round 1 of the RG, Williams struggled past Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic, winning 6-4 in the third. It wasn’t her prettiest victory ever, but after spending much of the spring injured and receiving little match time on the clay, she was probably pleased to have fought through it.

Her result is further evidence of her greatness as a competitor, and she has a proven track record of picking up her game in the latter rounds of majors.

Even if she never wins another major, her legacy as a player is clear. Her off-court reputation is a more mixed affair, and that seems to be how she wants it.