Ser­ena named AP Ath­lete of Year for come­back sea­son

The Tribune (SLO) - - Weather - BY BRIAN MA­HONEY

She showed up in Paris wear­ing a black cat­suit, a re­minder that no­body can com­mand the Grand Slam stage quite like Ser­ena Wil­liams.

She reached the fi­nals at Wim­ble­don and the U.S. Open, prov­ing again how well she can play no mat­ter how lit­tle she prac­tices.

Wil­liams didn’t win those or any other tour­na­ments, which in ev­ery other sit­u­a­tion might have made for a for­get­table year.

In 2018, it was a re­mark­able one.

Her rapid re­turn to ten­nis after a health scare fol­low­ing child­birth was a vic­tory in it­self, and for that, Wil­liams was voted As­so­ci­ated Press Fe­male Ath­lete of the Year for the fifth time.

Wil­liams re­ceived 93 points in bal­lot­ing by U.S. ed­i­tors and news di­rec­tors an­nounced Wed­nes­day. Gym­nast Si­mone Biles was se­cond with 68. Notre Dame bas­ket­ball player Arike Ogun­bowale was third, while Olympic snow­boarder Chloe Kim and swim­mer Katie Ledecky, the 2017 win­ner, rounded out the top five.

All of those play­ers won ti­tles in 2018, while Wil­liams had to set­tle for just com­ing close a cou­ple of times.

Now 37 and a new mother fac­ing some play­ers who weren’t even born when she turned pro in 1995, Wil­liams isn’t the same per­son who ruth­lessly ran her way to 23 Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tles – the last of which came at the 2017 Aus­tralian Open when she was preg­nant.

“I’m still wait­ing to get to be the Ser­ena that I was, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be that, phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally, men­tally. But I’m on my way,” Wil­liams said on the eve of the U.S. Open fi­nal.

“I feel like I still have a ways to go. Once I get there, I’ll be able to play even hope­fully bet­ter.”

The Male Ath­lete of the Year will be an­nounced Thurs­day.

The women’s award has been won more only by Babe Didrik­son Za­harias, whose six in­cluded one for track and five for golf.

Wil­liams’ pre­vi­ous times win­ning the AP honor, in 2002, 2009, 2013 and 2015, were be­cause of her dom­i­nance.

This one was about her per­se­ver­ance.

Wil­liams de­vel­oped blood clots after giv­ing birth to daugh­ter Alexis Olympia Oha­nian Jr. on Sept. 1, 2017, and four surg­eries would fol­low. She re­turned to the WTA Tour in March and played in just a pair of events be­fore the French Open, where she com­peted in a skin-tight, full-length black cat­suit .

She said the out­fit – worn partly for health rea­sons be­cause of the clots – made her feel like a su­per­hero, but her game was rarely in su­per­star shape.

She had to with­draw in Paris be­cause of a right pec­toral in­jury and didn’t play again un­til Wim­ble­don, where she lost to An­gelique Ker­ber in the fi­nal.

Wil­liams came up short again in New York, where her loss to Naomi Osaka in the fi­nal will be re­mem­bered best for her out­burst toward chair um­pire Car­los Ramos, who had pe­nal­ized Wil­liams for re­ceiv­ing coach­ing and later pe­nal­ized her an en­tire game for call­ing him a “thief” while ar­gu­ing.

That loss leaves her one ma­jor ti­tle shy of Mar­garet Court’s record as she starts play next year in a WTA Tour that will look dif­fer­ent in part be­cause of new rules com­ing about after is­sues in­volv­ing Wil­liams.

SETH WENIG AP

Ser­ena Wil­liams on Wed­nes­day be­came a five-time win­ner of the AP Fe­male Ath­lete of the Year award.

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