As Serena Williams prepares for her final tournament, her competitors in tennis are giving the 23-time Grand Slam winner her rightful flowers.
Naomi Osaka called Williams "unequivocally the best athlete ever" in an interview with Time's Sean Gregory:
"I remember as a kid watching in awe, and I was so happy to be seeing a strong Black woman on my screen. Even though she is retiring, her legacy definitely lives on through Coco [Gauff], Sloane [Stephens], Madison [Keys], and other women of color at the top of their game. Serena is unequivocally the best athlete ever. Forget female athlete, I mean athlete. No one else has changed her sport as much as she did and against all odds."
Osaka won her first Grand Slam at age 20 in a matchup against Williams, her longtime idol. She's since won three more Slams, becoming the heir apparent as the face of women's tennis.
When informed of Osaka's compliment, Williams did not back down from her mentee's categorization:
"I don't know any other person that has won a Grand Slam or a championship in the NBA or anything else nine weeks pregnant. A two-week event. That tournament, I relied on my brain. An athlete isn't just about what an animal you are physically, like a specimen. It's using everything. Your mind, your body, everything. And doing that for 20 years. And doing it against people that come against you and play the best game of their life. Every single time."
Williams announced her impending retirement from tennis earlier this month in a first-person article for Vogue. The 40-year-old cited her desire to continue building her family with husband Alexis Ohanian as one of the main reasons she's leaving the game. Williams won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant with the couple's daughter, Olympia, who Serena says has been pushing for a younger sibling.
In the Vogue article, Williams noted that she would not have to walk away from the sport she still loves playing to expand her family if she were a man.
"Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don't think it's fair," Williams wrote. "If I were a guy, I wouldn't be writing this because I'd be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family. Maybe I'd be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity."
Brady has three children, one with ex-girlfriend Bridget Moynahan and two with his wife, Gisele Bündchen. He briefly retired in February before announcing his return in March, and he will be the oldest quarterback to start a game in NFL history this season at age 45.
Williams kicks off the final tournament of her career Monday night against Danka Kovinić.