Yes. And no.
Today, when ranking greatest athletes, a lot needs to be factored aside from their athleticism.
(Courtesy: Sky Sports)
For instance, Muhammad Ali. He is the greatest boxer to have ever lived. (Yes, even when Mayweather’s records beat his.) However, he is hailed high not entirely for his athleticism and skills but also for the cultural impact he has had. He literally defined his generation and steered the course of social and political strides in America. This is why he is considered the greatest ever.
Similarly, Pele, in Brazil, is much more than just a footballer. He defined a generation, swayed millions of dreams and played a critical role in making football (soccer) the “it” sport in the country.
Although not exactly, Michael Jordan, too, enjoys the same feat.
These three, along with other greats that we usually list on “best athletes ever” like Usain Bolt, Bo Jackson, Tigerwoods, and Donald Bradman—they are really the greatest ever. Because of the role that they played in shaping the society. Because they changed a lot of things and inspired millions around the world. They had a cultural impact. They are cult figures.
But when you talk about strict athleticism, some of them might not necessarily be the “best”. For instance, LeBron James is much more skilled and athletic than Jordan. I even like Kobe better. Paolo Maldini was much better in his prime than Pele. When comparing cross-sports athletes, Colin Kaepernick is an incredible athlete. And so is Conor McGregor, Anderson Silva, and GSP. And it is here where Serena Williams really belong.
Serena is a great athlete—perhaps one of the greatest. She’s already nearing to win the most Grand Slam titles. That, itself, proves her unparalleled legacy. And given the impact she has on female athletes around the world, inspiring millions of them, she has played a fair role in having a cultural impact. No doubt, she’s the best tennis player of all time—much higher than the Federers and the Nadals.
But still, she has a long way to go. Keeping her unmatched athleticism aside, her legacy falls way behind that of Ali, Jordon, Pele, and Bolt. It would be controversial to rank her along with these names on the list of “greatest athletes”. They are untouchable for the kind of impact they had. Even with a solid record, Serena Williams has a long way to get there.