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Paper tiger

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It appears time is no longer with Serena Williams. At 39, she was handily beaten by Naomi Osaka in the semi-finals of this year’s first grand slam down under where she is most successful with seven titles, including the last slam she won in 2017 while seven weeks pregnant.

Since then, she lost four major finals, twice in Wimbledon and twice in the US Open to different women about half her age. After losing to Naomi, she walked out of her post-match interview in tears, but not yet from her career to continue her chase for the all-time record of 24 slams held by Margaret Court for so long.

She is just a slam away from tying. She won one as a teenager, a dozen in her 20s and a perfect 10 in her 30s, for a total of 23. But her coach says Serena is not obsessed with the number 24. But why on earth is she still playing? She believes she can win more slams. How many more, only time answers. Or maybe there won’t be any. She has obviously lost half a step as she turns 40 this year. And tennis is not only about power that immortalized her the greatest, with due respect, Martina Navratilova. It is also about speed, the ball zooms blinding fast from side to side.

Serena has nothing else to prove. She so dominated the sport for almost three decades owing in small part to lack of a co-equal rival. Martina Hingis was there, but quickly retired when she realized the Williams sister act overpowered her court brilliance and called it foot injury. Big sister Venus was right beside her, but not above her. Little sister Serena has the bigger game. Maria Sharapova claimed she was, but their head to head was way too lopsided the rivalry was only in her head. Recently, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber and Bianca Andreescu beat Serena in a slam final, but partly because they played her beyond her peak.

These women whispered Serena she can’t turn back time. But she hears none of it. She must at least tie the 24 or surpass it. No need Serena, you are way better than Margaret Court, the Australian tennis legend who plucked herself out of retirement not to play again, but to spew vile with her politically incorrect, offensive remarks against women who like women, transgender athletes and same-sex marriage. But she justifies that’s what her faith dictates. Hers, what about the faith of others and the faithless? The grand slam queen is now slammed even by men who like women. Rightfully so, no one should impose their religion on other people.

But her 24 slams she need not impose. It is a matter of record. But the quality invites scrutiny. For out of her two dozens, only 11 account from the Open Era. Prior to it, the quality of competition was not that strong. Yes, she owns 11 Australian Open titles, but she won them at a time when American and European players didn’t regularly travel down under. Margaret has quantity, but not quality. Serena has both. 23 is the new 25.

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