The greatest singles champion in the history of tennis. That’s what Serena Williams indisputably is. There is no one close. With her 23rd Grand Slam, the 2017 Australian Open crown, she pushes her major singles titles dominance past the great Steffi Graf. The closest man is Roger Federer, with merely 17. Remarkably Serena’s 23 titles occurred in just 29 Slam finals, where she’s lost just six times. Williams has been so dominant for so long that she has overwhelmed her sport. Sure, occasionally there has been another women’s World No. 1 in tennis. In fact until Serena beat Venus for the title in Australia, Angelique Kerber held that spot. But no one really believes it. Serena Williams is the alpha. The only thing she has sorely lacked is a rival for her talents. Williams may not mind, but fans have missed out — because Williams’ extraordinary competitive drive could only have been ratcheted up by a worthy rival.
The other Australian Final drives the point home. Roger Federer will play Rafael Nadal for the title, a throwback to a rivalry that’s been ripe for most of this century. It even has a nickname — Fedal. In later years Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have staked their own rivalries with both men and each other, stoking the fire of the men’s game. But while Serena Williams had some early battles with her sister Venus, that rivalry — such as it was — soon became lopsided in Serena’s favor. There was an attempt to create a legit rivalry between Williams and Maria Sharapova, but Williams’ record against this so-called rival ends that story. Williams is 19-2 against Sharapova, including the last 18 straight. It seems happily possible that Serena will play another decade and someone will emerge to challenger her. But for now, fans just have to keep penciling her in as champ against ____ (fill in the blank).