GIANT-KILLING ACT

Tennis is a demandingmistress and the Williams cannot expect to win after showing up overweight and unprepared.

On the night after she had held her game and nerve together to oust Serena Williams, Daniela Hantuchova, who owns as much muscle as a pipe cleaner, was asked what it was like to beat one of the all-time greats in women's tennis.

Some may have blinked. For all Serena's power and presence, and brief streak of genius some years ago when she won four Slams in a row, not everyone is convinced she belongs in the rarefied company of Margaret Court (24 Grand Slam singles titles), Chris Evert (18), Martina Navratilova (18), and Steffi Graf (22).

For this writer, Monica Seles (nine Slams) makes that list, too, at her peak dominating by winning 8 of 12 Slams between 1990-93. Much like Maureen Connolly, who won the Grand Slam in 1953 but suffered a horse-riding accident that crushed her leg in 1954, Seles' prime was interrupted by a knife-wielding fan and she was never the same player. If you consider Graf's place in history, and the fact that Seles had her measure, it suggests how far the delightful Yugoslav-American might have gone.

Women's tennis has substantially altered since Evert-Navratilova, the competition is harder, the seasons more gruelling, the injuries more constant, and it is unlikely players will collect Slams in the numbers they once did. That said, Serena's seven so far (Venus has five) is not persuasive enough evidence of all-time greatness. She has ended the year ranked No.1 only once, in 2002, but her dominance has hiccupped since. Serena has won only one of the past 10 Slams, Venus one of the past 17. The Williams must be congratulated for seeking a life outside tennis and looking to explore different facets of their personalities. In an era of automatons, they are truly colourful characters. But tennis is a demanding mistress and the Williams cannot expect to win after showing up overweight and unprepared, or sometimes not showing up at all. They understandably want the best of both worlds, but they are not quite the best in this world.