What exactly is it that enables raw talent to develop into greatness?
The factors that separate champions from all-time greats are so minute and difficult to discern that even the Greatest Players of All Time often find that question difficult to answer.
I mean it makes sense. We’re each trapped inside of our own skin. We’re only able to perceive the world from this perspective and none other. As such, our outlook is an accumulation of our unique set of lived experiences. How is one discern the quality that sets oneself apart from the rest of the world if one has only ever perceived the world from one’s own eyes.
It’s the human condition.
And yet, on Saturday July 7th, 2018, while answering a seemingly routine question, “what is it like always being the one to beat?”, Serena went off-script.
She begins to answer the question in routine fashion:
Serena: Every single match I play, whether I’m coming back from a baby or surgery, it doesn’t matter. These young ladies, they bring a game I’ve never seen before. And it’s interesting because I don’t even scout as much because when I watch them play, it’s a totally different game than when they play me.
However, when she takes a breath, seemingly about to reiterate the above, something special happens. In fact, you can pinpoint the moment in which her internal gears turn and she slips in a trance (0:53) and comes to a candid realization:
Serena: That’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest. So I have to be greater.
Interviewer: It must suck to be you.
Serena: At first it did, but I like it because it kind of backfires because everyone comes out and they play me so hard and now my level is so much higher because of it. From years and years of being played like that. So it’s like, you know what, my level, if it wasn’t high, then I wouldn’t be who I am. So I had to raise my level to ‘unknown’ because [it forces them into] playing me at a level that’s unknown … so now I’m used to it.
With clarity, humility, and poise, Serena’s answer is humble; while, obviously, she’d be nothing without raw talent, greatness has been rung out of her by the strength of the entire tour.
Now, the only question remains, if any other player either currently on the tour or to come, can exhibit such fearless and resilience under the same conditions and make their case that they are indeed the greatest…