Fighter Williams says she was inspired by spirit of Ali to achieve greatness after US Open win
22:10 GMT, 10 September 2012
It might have sounded a bit much when Serena Williams brought the name of Muhammad Ali into the conversation as she discussed the ongoing, undulating drama of her career.
Yet in the wake of her US Open triumph late on Sunday night it is difficult to deny that she is the greatest female athlete of her immediate generation – in her own sport of tennis or any other, for that matter.
The 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Victoria Azarenka means that there is a 13-year span to her wins in Grand Slams, which now run comfortably into three separate decades with the first having been registered in 1999.
Fighting spirit: US Open winner Serena Williams said she draws inspiration from Muhammad Ali
Posing: Williams visited the New York fire department on Monday after lifting the US Open
She has carved herself a remarkable place in history, just as Andy Murray was hoping to do on Monday night as he tackled Novak Djokovic in the delayed men's singles final.
With Williams it always seems to be accompanied by drama on and away from the court.
Twelve months ago she was lucky not to be banned for her appalling tirade at the umpire when losing the final, having had to recover from a blood clot in her lungs earlier in the year.
Sister Venus's struggle with Sjogren's Syndrome had also become clear.
Then she lost in the first round of the French Open in May to littleknown Virginie Razzano, which you hardly thought would be the precursor to winning Wimbledon, the Olympics and now at Flushing Meadows.
'I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall,' said Williams, 30.
'I have fallen several times. Each time I just get up and I dust myself off and I pray I'm able to do better or able to get back to the level that I want to be on.
'I think, for me, you see great people like Muhammad Ali, for instance, who is a person I have always looked up to in sports.
Remarkable: Williams beat Victoria Azarenka at Flushing Meadows
'I was miserable after that loss in Paris. I have never been so miserable after a loss. I was playing extremely well before that. I felt like I lost a little confidence and had some tough matches at Wimbledon.
'But finally I pulled it together. I don't know if that helped me, the loss in Paris, or it fuelled me. I like to believe that it did.'
Monday's new world rankings stubbornly refuse to push her up from No 4, although that i s largely because she has played fewer tournaments than her rivals.
Her continual inability to play a full schedule, either through injury or lack of inclination, is also tied up with why she is not higher up the all-time listings.
Williams has won 15 of the 49 Grand Slams she has entered, but has missed 10 since 1999.
Not enough: Azarenka could not cope with Williams on the day
Packed house: Williams held off the world No 1 in New York on Sunday
Height: 5ft 9in
Weight: 11st 1lb
Grand slams: 15
Singles titles: 45
Career earnings: $40,047,909 (25,100,000)
World ranking: 4
It is a fair assumption that she might have won around four of those, which would have put her ahead of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in major victories and close to Steffi Graf's tally of 22.
But a key to her longevity has been this reluctance to go full-on over the years – it was also why Graf's husband Andre Agassi enjoyed such a long span at the top of the game.
As for the records, Williams said: 'I haven't thought about them until recently. I never thought I would come close to breaking them. If I can play consistently and play some more matches at Wimbledon it will be awesome. If I could win two a year it would be great.'
There seems little doubt that her own health scare, the one affecting Venus and reaching the age of 30 have made Serena value tennis more. With that in mind, motivation is unlikely to be a problem in the future but the quality of her opponents might be.
At times on Sunday Azarenka,
who served for the match at 5-4 in the third, made her look flatfooted
and the challenge for Serena will be to keep in good enough shape to get
to the ball and deliver her power.
also needs to keep her emotions in check during big matches – although
at least on this occasion there was no more disgraceful behaviour.
rankings showed Laura Robson has moved to 75, just behind Heather
Watson, after her fourth round showing here. New Brit Johanna Konta has
gone to 148 from 203 after making the second round.
P.s. The last time the women's US Open final went to three sets, Steffi Graf beat Monica Seles in 1995. The iconic duo fought out a see-saw contest which Graf won 7-6, 0-6, 6-3 in one hour, 51 minutes.
Another great: Steffi Graf beat Monica Seles in three sets in 1995