Sports Illustrated staff writers and guest scribes alike are fawning over certain athletes the world over—the LeBron Jameses and so on—as the best out there. Serena Williams herself is receiving considerable plaudits in SI's Sportsman of the Year feature, while the magazine's own top pick has yet to be named. In the meantime, Serena has been feted by the likes of retired stars Chris Evert from her own sport and Mary Lou Retton, once a beacon of greatness in Olympic gymnastics.
Said Evert, "Fans might also think that Serena benefits by not having a true rival. But nothing could be further from the truth. When you have a rival, it's in your subconscious and it motivates you to work harder. It's an instinctive feeling: you almost don't have to push yourself consciously because your competitor on the other side of the draw brings out your best. If anything, not having a real rival makes it harder on Serena."
Yea, that's something only a striking sportswoman herself could truly understand. To her credit, Retton was candid with her own gifts' parallels to those of Serena: "Though we come from vastly different sports backgrounds, I do see one notable similarity between Serena and myself: Our physical strength."
Retton was an atypical gymnast, more powerful than graceful, and didn't have the expected body type for one who would become so successful in her chosen sport. Likewise, Serena has surprised, if not outright shocked, her detractors. What's more, she's still doing it at age 32, when the bulk of her peers since her Grand Slam breakout in 1999 have retired—some of them more than once.
Among male athletes, Rafael Nadal receives the royal treatment from Michael Rosenberg, an SI staffer: "Nadal is a gloriously talented grinder; he fights his opponent with every shot. He is not as complete as Federer or Djokovic, and he isn't particularly graceful, but he is mentally sharper than either man."
Fortitude, both psychological and physical, has indeed long been one of Nadal's many strong suits, and he wore it well this year in returning from an injury that may have ended the careers of a fair number of his peers.
With their two Grand Slam singles titles each this season, it's difficult to make a case for other tennis pros claiming these honors. Suffice it to say, these SI writers and contributors know that of which they speak. One has to call a spade a spade at times, and at others, when the crown fits, kings and queens cannot be denied.
Got a thought, a tip, or a point to make? Hit me on Twitter @jonscott9.