On Saturday, Serena Williams turned in a one of the most dominating performances of her career, crushing Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in to win the Olympic gold medal in women’s tennis.
The victory topped off an impressive run through the women’s field in which she did not lose a set and surrendered only 17 games en route to her first singles gold medal. The tournament victory was Williams’ second in just a couple weeks on the grass courts at the all England club where she just claimed the Wimbledon title for her first major title since 2010.
It’s been a long road back to the top of the women’s game for Serena. After winning the 2010 Wimbledon title, she stepped on broken glass while dining at a restaurant in Munich. The injury required 12 stitches and lacerated a tendon in her right foot, requiring surgery and forcing her to miss significant time on the tour.
In early 2011, her complications got worse. She was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism--a blocked artery in one of her lungs. She described the injury as life-threatening, and it kept her off the court for some time. She returned to the major circuit at the 2011 Wimbledon championships, but her game took much longer to return in full.
Serena lost in the first round of a major for the first time in her career at this year’s French Open, opening the door to questions about how much longer the 30 year old could compete. She shut that door very quickly.
Finally back in full health, Serena cruised through Wimbledon this year, dropping just two sets, setting the record for most aces in a match and winning the doubles title with her sister Venus as well.
Her title at Wimbledon gave her a total of 14 major singles titles, 13 major doubles titles and tied her with her sister Venus with 5 Wimbledon titles. Like Roger Federer, Williams entered the Olympics with only one missing piece of hardware to add to her collection, Olympic gold in singles.
Previously, only Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, and Rafael Nadal had ever won the career Golden Slam (all 4 majors and Olympic gold). Unfortunately for Federer, he was matched up against the now most popular man in Great Britain, Andy Murray, who played arguably the best match of his career to deny Federer his last chance at the Golden Slam. Serena, on the other hand, faced Maria Sharapova who also had a chance at the Golden Slam after winning her fourth major title at this year’s French Open.
Sharapova’s chances slipped away very quickly in the women’s final. Williams was playing at a level we have yet to see her play at. She made the great champion Sharapova seem like a low ranked challenger who somehow snuck her way into the final, not a four time major champion seeking the Golden Slam. Williams dictated almost every point and left Sharapova completely helpless and unable to claw her way into the match. She could only wince after hitting her serves and hope that Serena would not send them flying past her for winner after winner.
“I honestly don’t think I have ever played better from start to finish,” Williams said.
The U.S. Olympic tennis coach described it as one of the most dominating performances in the history of the sport.
With the Olympic gold in singles, Serena now has achieved almost everything possible in the women’s game. In addition to the singles title, the Williams sisters also won their third Olympic doubles title in Sunday’s final.
Her remarkable comeback and impressive career have led many to speculate that she may be the best of all time. Former major champion and NBC tennis analyst John McEnroe said, "I've seen them all, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert was a machine... Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, but I believe we're watching the greatest female player that's ever played this game."
While it is impossible to definitively compare players of different eras, one thing is clear, when Serena is playing her best, nobody in today’s women’s game can compete with her. She is truly in a league of her own.