The comedian Jim Gaffigan performs a routine comparing the male and female contributions to life. He gives men full credit for being within the vicinity of their partners for a few moments, then notes that women can create a life inside their bodies, give birth to a human with their bodies, then feed the human with their bodies.
Gaffigan should update his act to celebrate a woman who can follow steps one, two and three, and then, 10 months later, advance to a Wimbledon final. That woman is Serena Williams.
In 2017, Williams earned the record for most grand slam titles in the modern era when she was eight weeks pregnant. She took off a year-and-a-half to give birth and recover from a pulmonary embolism that required six weeks of bed rest.
Thursday, she mentioned undergoing “multiple surgeries,” saying, “I almost didn’t make it.”
Williams, 36, spoke after defeating Julia Gorges, 6-2, 6-4, in the Wimbledon semifinals to advance to Saturday’s final against Angelique Kerber. Williams will be trying for her 24th grand slam title in her 30th attempt.
Williams did not need to prove that she can win a championship at this stage of her career to be recognized as the greatest female player of all time, and most dominant player of either gender. This is an over-the-top expression of greatness, a dramatic flourish, like Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open on one healthy knee.
“It was amazing to watch her,” Lynx guard Danielle Robinson said. “You see the grit, the passion, and how hard she competes every single time she goes out and plays. That’s what’s so special about her.”
When she was young, Robinson and her mother would spend weekend mornings together watching Williams at Wimbledon. “I called my Mom this morning when I was watching the match,” Robinson said. “I was amazed. I could use a bunch of words to describe Serena Williams, but her toughness is what stands out to me.”
Williams is dominating great players in their prime, many of whom have chosen to put off parenthood until the end of their competitive primes.
We celebrate athletes who return from knee injuries and excel. When Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards after reconstructive knee surgery, he became one of the great stories in recent NFL history.
Here’s the thing about knee injuries: They affect the knee. Giving birth and recovering from birth-related trauma drains a woman of time, energy, stamina, strength and nutrition.
Talk to an athlete after a career year, and they often will cite offseason workouts, improved nutrition and single-mindedness as the building blocks of accomplishment. Williams spent her “offseason” carrying around a human bowling ball, giving birth, recovering from trauma and caring for another human being.
Remember how impressed we were that Torii Hunter could perform well in 2015, at the end of his career? Now imagine if he won the home-run title after giving birth to and caring for another being.
“She couldn’t even walk to her mailbox 10 months ago,” Robinson said. “It’s unbelievable. It shows you the type of player she is, and the type of resolve she has. It’s inspiring. It almost leaves me speechless. I feel like she’s playing for so much more than herself.”
In terms of family, race, or her place in history?
“I think all of the above,” Robinson said. “Her daughter, her husband, her sister, her Dad, her Mom, but also where we are with women’s sports. Young girls can look up to her, saying, ‘Wow, I can really do this.’ ”
Margaret Court won 24 grand slam singles titles. Not all of those were achieved during the “Open Era” of women’s tennis, so many experts view Williams as the rightful record-holder.
Williams could simplify her status with a victory Saturday and one more major title. But she doesn’t need to. Williams was the greatest ever even before she decided to celebrate motherhood with a shower of 120-mph serves.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org