2017 Laureus Sportswoman of the Year: A rare honor Serena didn't deserve
Jan. 28, 2017. That was the last day in 2017 that Serena Williams played competitive tennis.
Granted, she won the Australian Open that day. Granted, she was eight weeks pregnant when she beat her older sister Venus Williams in the final. Granted, it was her 23rd Grand Slam title, an accomplishment most athletes don't even dare dream of.
356. That is the number of days in 2017 that Serena Williams did not compete. She played in two tournaments -- the Auckland Open and Australian Open -- and nine matches. So, can you blame me for being confused when she was awarded the 2017 Laureus Sportswoman of the Year award? (It was her fourth overall, and she holds a record 11 nominations).
Keep in mind, this was not a lifetime achievement award. This was not a "greatest athlete of all time" award. We all know she deserves those and more. But this was the award given for her accomplishments in the year 2017.
Let me say it, loud and clear: Serena Williams did not deserve the award.
Wasn't there a single other female athlete that deserved the award more than Serena? Wasn't there one athlete in this entire world who exceeded expectations and accomplished more in 2017?
The nominees were Williams, Garbine Muguruza, Caster Semenya, Allyson Felix, Mikaela Shiffrin, and Katie Ledecky.
Williams won a Grand Slam. But so did Muguruza. If winning one Grand Slam is the criterion, why didn't Muguruza beat Williams? She reached world No. 1 in September after winning Wimbledon and the Cincinnati Open. She was even named the WTA Player of the Year.
South Africa's Semenya cemented her place as one of the best athletes in the world by winning her third 800 meter world championship in London in August. The American nominees also had fantastic years. Felix won two golds and one bronze at the world championships, bringing her tally up to 16 medals. Ledecky won five gold medals in Budapest at the world championships at age 19. She was also named AP Female Athlete of the Year. Shiffrin won her third consecutive world championship slalom gold and 11 World Cup races. All the nominees had a complete competitive year. Any of them would have made for a better winner.
Another athlete did as well, if not better, than those nominees in 2017, and she didn't even make the cut.
Verdict: They got the wrong Williams sister.
Two Grand Slam finals. One Grand Slam semifinal. WTA Finals final. One Grand Slam fourth round. She is 37.
At the 2017 Australian Open, when all eyes were on Serena, Venus quietly reached the final -- her first major final since 2009. It was her first Australian Open final in 15 years. The last time she made it, in 2003, she beat Svetlana Kuznetzova, Daniela Hantuchova and Justine Henin en route to the final (where she lost to Serena). Sloane Stephens, whom she lost to in the US Open semis, was 9 years old when that Australian Open run happened.
True, she didn't add to her seven Grand Slam titles in 2017. But her consistency 20 years into her career was awe inspiring. When I watched her at the US Open, she did not look like a 37-year-old athlete who's tired of the game. She looked like a 16-year-old bursting with energy. And that showed in her game throughout the year.
Despite her accomplishments on the court, the first questions Venus gets asked are about Serena.
"Have you talked to Serena? How is she doing with the pregnancy?" "What does Serena say to you before a Grand Slam match?" "Has Serena sent you a photo of the baby yet?"
Sometimes she smiles and politely answers questions about her younger sister. And sometimes she doesn't. Understandingly so. She asks journalists to limit the questions to tennis.
Venus, who has been nominated for three Laureus Sportswoman of the Year Awards but has never won, has long been in Serena's shadow. And the same happened with the 2017 Laureus awards. Was Serena going to be nominated? Of course. Despite the fact that she played just two tournaments the entire year.
And Venus? Again, she was left out of the conversation.