|espnW.com: U.S. Open Tennis|
The last page of the calendar hasn't even flipped. Can that really be Serena Williams out there, ready to ring in a new and even more prosperous year and looking like a 19-year old who's never been close enough to a Grand Slam singles trophy to actually touch it?
Warning has been served: In Brisbane, Williams opened her 2013 campaign by pounding on her fellow American (via Uzbekistan), Varvara Lepchenko. A hefty lefty, No. 21 Lepchenko had five break points in the first game of the first-round match. Less than 60 minutes later, she was on the losing end of a 6-2, 6-1 whipping, and at the net to congratulate Williams and shake her hand.
"Tomorrow is the last day of the year, so technically I still had my 2012 rep on the line," Williams said. The scary part is that it wasn't a wisecrack, for she added, "I really needed to win today so I could finish the year with still just the four losses. So that was important for me."
Didn't Novak Djokovic complete one of the most celebrated years in pro tennis history in 2011, but absorb two more losses (70-6) than Serena did this past year?
Granted, she missed portions of the year with various injuries, but it's not as if her record for the year was 21-4. Djokovic won only a dozen more matches than Williams (that's roughly two tournaments worth of W's, which is not insignificant but also is not a glaring differential).
Serena actually beat his winning percentage of 2011, so she noses him out in the winning percentage department, 93.5 to 92.1 (I'm not counting matches that will go down on either player's 2013 record).
Sure, the men are in a glorious age, but it's not as if the WTA women are all patsies except for Williams. What we have here is a No. 3-ranked player whose combined head-to-head results and winning percentage against No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and No. 2 Maria Sharapova -- both Grand Slam champions -- are 21-3 (10-2 vs. Sharapova) and 87.5.
Try crunching those numbers for men at the top of ATP rankings in these fairy-tale days. The ATP has a big four, but the WTA is a remake of a familiar story: Serena and the Seven Dwarfs.
All right, we all know it's not always useful to compare men's and women's tennis. But I wanted to put into a different context the degree to which Serena is dominating the women's game.
She has a lot of critics, and some people inevitably suggest that there's some more sinister impulse at the root of this persistent Serena bashing. But many critics are motivated by the way Serena has turned the WTA on its ear.
Tennis purists cry out: Who wants a game in which the conspicuously superior player is ranked No. 3? Who wants a game in which the top player appears to do just as she pleases?
But it's crazy to blame Williams for being able to go about her business in her own way. The scoreboard tells no lies.
Besides, the shelf life of this theme that Serena is just a big personality dabbling in tennis has long expired. If you were one of those fans who enjoyed trashing either of the Williams sisters for selective scheduling, the old warning holds true: Be careful what you wish for. Do you have the stomach for witnessing the carnage Serena might wreak, should she choose to play 75 or 80 matches this year?
Stay tuned. She just might do that this year.