08/26/2012 4:42 PM ET
Is Serena Williams the greatest ever?
Williams is sometimes controversial, but always talented
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
Serena Williams took home a pair of gold medals from the Olympics, and looks to continue her big year at the US Open. (AP)

As fascinating as it may be to discuss the implications of Serena Williams' 'Crip Walk' dance at the Olympics, the real question about Williams is this:

Is she the greatest of all time on the women's side?

Kim Clijsters, Williams' close friend and a three-time U.S. Open champ, says yes.

"To me Serena is the best ever just because I think physically she just stands out," Clijsters said Saturday in advance of what she says will be her final U.S. Open before retiring.

"When she's in good shape I think she just stands out tremendously. She's fast, she's strong, she has a very good eye as well. I think the combination of that is - I mean, what we have seen over the last few months is the best player ever."

Told of the comment, Serena, who has won 14 Majors and is coming off a summer in which she won Wimbledon and the Olympics, said this: "I never think about that. I can't sit here and say I'm the best ever. I'm not. I'm not worthy of that title. I'm just Serena. I love playing tennis and I'm good at it. Just because I'm good at it doesn't make me the best."

But even Novak Djokovic, the reigning men's Open champ, said of Williams, "I'm happy I'm in men's tennis. Not needing to face her."

Clijsters declined to comment on the Crip Walk dance Serena performed after crushing Maria Sharapova earlier this month to win the gold medal in London, but Serena grew annoyed with reporters who repeatedly peppered her with questions about it.

"First of all, it was just a dance," Serena said. "I didn't know that's what it was called. Second, why are you asking me that? Like that's so ... I mean, if anything, you should be trying to ask me questions to lift me up, not bring [up] such things."

When the same reporter brought up the topic again, Williams said, "I'm done with that question."

Serena and her sister Venus Williams grew up learning tennis on public courts in Compton, Calif., and an article in the current New York Times magazine says "the Crips sometimes looked out for the girls during their practice sessions."

"Venus Williams Is Straight Outta Compton!" read an early promotional poster their father, Richard Williams, made to post on telephone poles, the story reported.

Controversy seems to follow Serena to the Open every year.

In the 2009 semifinals against Clijsters, she profanely threatened a lineswoman after being called for a foot fault on match point.

Williams was given a point penalty and lost the match. She was then fined $82,500 and faced a possible suspension for another "major outburst."

In last year's final against Samantha Stosur, Williams again went off on an official, this time the chair umpire, over a dispute about Williams shouting "C'mon" in the middle of a point.

Williams later told the umpire, "If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way. You're out of control. You're a hater and you're unattractive inside."

She was fined $2,000 for the incident but it was not deemed a "major" outburst.

"Every year at the Open something happens," Serena told the New York Times magazine. "I'd rather play in Australia, or I'd rather play at Wimbledon."

Despite all the controversy swirling around her, it is now fair to ask in the wake of recent performances and her overall accomplishments, is Serena the greatest ever?

While Roger Federer stands alone atop the men's game with 17 Majors and counting, Serena's 14 Grand Slam singles titles trail Margaret Court Smith (24), Steffi Graf (22) and longtime rivals Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (18 apiece).

While we will never know how Graf or Navratilova would have performed at their peaks against Williams - just as it's impossible to know how Federer would have done against Rod Laver, Pete Sampras or Bjorn Borg at their peaks - it seems fair to argue that

Serena's combination of power and athleticism may be unrivaled in the history of women's tennis.

"I think it's great what she's done over the last 15-plus years, but it's been an amazing summer for her - like for me as well," Federer said. "I don't know how well exactly she's been playing because I am not the expert of women's tennis, even though I'm married to a former women's tennis player. But from what I saw, I thought she's played great."

Said Sharapova, who could potentially meet Williams in a primetime final at the Open on Sept. 8: "She gained a tremendous amount of confidence at Wimbledon. When she got to the Olympics - I mean, with every match you saw some of her matches - she just improved. I think she took that confidence and she played just really great physical tennis; served extremely well."

Sharapova went on to add of Serena at the Open: "Obviously of course she's the favorite because she won those two big events back to back. But everybody is still in the draw here."

Serena stands 10 Majors shy of Smith, eight short of Graf and four behind Navratilova and Evert.

Yet at 30, it's not hard to imagine Serena playing at the top of her game for at least another three or four years, time enough to pile up another six to 10 Majors.

"She's amazing," Venus Williams said. "I think when she's playing great and feeling confident - even when she isn't - it still takes a hurricane to beat her. You have to be on your best tennis and basically make no errors. I think her record speaks for what an amazing player she is."

So amazing, she may well be the greatest of all time.

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AdamZagoria.
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