Over the course of her two-decade-long career, Serena Williams has won nearly 40 major titles, a record amount of prize money, and has tied with Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam singles championships of any man or woman, 22. But there's one title that Williams feels has unfairly eluded her.
"If I were a man, I would have 100 percent been considered the greatest ever a long time ago," the tennis star told rapper Common in an interview for ESPN's "The Undefeated."
Unsurprisingly, for anyone who has ever watched her play, she has a pretty damn good case.
There are, of course, the aforementioned titles. In addition to equaling Graf's singles title record, Williams also equaled her women's record for consecutive weeks at number one earlier this year. But Williams' main claim to greatest-of-all-time status is how long she dominated the sport and how unquestionably she dominated it during that time.
Aside from — maybe, sort of, not really — her sister Venus, no player of her era could make a plausible claim to rivaling her. Sampras had Agassi. Federer had Nadal and Djokovic. Williams had ... nobody. A few of her competitors defeated her, but none came close to equaling her skill when she was in her prime.
Williams had to do it all not just as a woman, but as a black woman.
"It's very challenging because sometimes when things are blatantly wrong and blatantly unfair and blatantly racist or sexist, I just have to go and put on a brave smile and not let anyone know how I feel on the inside so they don't get that satisfaction even though on the inside I would be dying," Williams said in the interview.
Far from shrinking in the face of those challenges, Williams has used her platform to speak out against injustice and encourage women of color to honor their ambition. In the last year, she's written candidly about her fear of police violence and about using what others perceive as her disadvantages — her race and gender in particular — to fuel her drive.
Women shouldn't have to play down their accomplishments, especially not those who are legitimately, obviously, otherworldly great at what they do.
A 2013 University of Massachusetts study found that women who work alongside successful men tend to play down their accomplishments. An earlier Cornell study found that while the female and male subjects scored evenly on a science test, the women in the study were far less confident in their ability to perform well ahead of the exam.
Williams, to the contrary, has long cast herself as part of the pantheon of historical greats and declared her gender irrelevant. Should she brag so openly? Why not? Male athletes brag constantly — and fans love them for it.
If there's anyone who shouldn't have to keep her high opinion of herself to herself, it's the woman who so thoroughly embodied her era of tennis that she basically changed the way the game is played.
Is Williams the G.O.A.T.?
Like her peers in other sports — Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Joe Montana, Tiger Woods — there will always be debate about how undeniable Williams' dominance truly was.
But she's more than earned the right to say it.