Throughout Roger Federer's golden period from approximately the end of 2003 to 2007, he somehow repeatedly failed to accomplish a goal that he couldn't have cared less about - being on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
In fact, the first time it happened, he had to share it with Nadal as part of the "greatest-match-ever-played" syndrome that followed after the Spaniard's triumph at Wimbledon. It was only when Federer overcame Robin Soderling on the French Clay that SI, seeing a solitary Swiss tear roll down his cheek for all those lost covers, finally took pity on him.
The very next week a luminous Federer clad in imperial blue, set against a gorgeous red backdrop of clay and having just curved a classic forehand winner down the line finally graced the cover of Sports Illustrated!
It's a grudge I continue to hold on behalf of the Fed Express and I was reminded of it when I saw the July 12th issue featuring...
...Poor Serena Williams!
After a glorious fortnight of flawless tennis at SW19, she fell victim to a diabolical scheme hatched by Sports Illustrated's very own Jon Wertheim!
Undoubtedly seeking to invite debate and publicity, Wertheim hesitatingly anointed Serena as the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) with certain caveats.
Ms. Williams, not wanting to discontinue the much publicized 'cover-jinx' of SI then promptly went out to a restaurant, cut her foot with glass and now requires surgery that will keep her out till the US Open and cause her to miss all those 'small' events in between.
Win-win for everyone!
Here's the deal in black and white. To call Serena Williams the Greatest Of All Time is sacrilege!
It's an affront to all the exceptional female champions that preceded her and represented the game so much more gracefully than Williams has.
Court, King, Evert, Navratilova, Graf.
Nope. Sorry. This list is staying at five.
Wertheim's premise is not built on statistics because lets face it, it's just not possible to build a case for Serena on numbers; she'd fail miserably.
What Wertheim based his conclusion on was a series of hypothetical questions and match-ups, an old textbook game for which there is never any concrete inference. He claims that her serve is simply too good and her forehands would have been all over Graf's slices, whizzing past Martina at the net and overpowering Evert's consistency.
That's not how it works. If Federer had played Borg, if Sampras had played Laver, if...you get the point.
Graf won a Golden Grand Slam in 1988 (4 majors + Olympic Gold)!
Court won 24 Grand Slams!
Evert reached the semis in 52 of the 56 majors she entered!
Navratilova won 18 singles, 31 doubles and 10 mixed double grand slam titles as well as 167 singles and 177 doubles WTA titles!
So if the number's clearly aren't helping Serena, what is?
It's Wertheim's caveats - strip away the controversies and the fines and the drama and the sore losing and she's the best ever.
Sure, strip away the WTA titles, the Grand Slams, the weeks ranked number one, the consistency...
...and we're left with nothing! And it's the same nothing that Wertheim is left with as he ends his argument with a feeble plea for acquiescence and an almost disparaging comparison to Federer.
He argues that on a neutral court, head to head, Serena would crush anyone because you know watching, that she's playing on a higher level than anyone ever did.
And apparently it's the same with Federer - that watching him play, you knew that he was playing better than anyone ever did.
But Roger backed it up. He's sitting pretty at the top of the hill with 16 Grand Slams while Serena is busy telling a lineswoman at Flushing Meadows that she'll shove a "f------ ball" down her "f------ throat".
ESPN's Peter Bodo claims that although the numbers don't add up in Serena's favor, the intangibles do. And for someone like him who "worships the altar of power", it's more than enough because even though "he may not be able to define it, he knows it when he sees it."
That's entirely unfair to the careers and legacies of the past. There's a method to add up tangibles (titles, ranking weeks etc) - it's called basic math. I'm not sure you can ever add up the intangibles.
Anyway, five questions end this argument:
1) Serena Williams is the most powerful female tennis athlete ever. Yes, probably.
2) Serena Williams is the most accomplished of her generation. Yes, probably.
3) Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player ever when at her best. Maybe
4) Serena Williams is the most consistent female tennis player ever. No Way!
5) Serena Williams is the Greatest Of All Time. Not in a million years!
How many of those answers do you agree with?