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15 reasons Serena Williams is the greatest

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Serena Williams is the greatest American athlete of her generation. Though she just missed winning a calendar year Grand Slam at age 33, we celebrate the most amazing things from her illustrious career.

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

This piece was originally published on August 31, 2015. All stats and some language have been updated.

Serena Williams approached a monumental feat: if she had won the 2015 US Open in Queens, she'd have completed a calendar year Grand Slam, tennis' first since Steffi Graf in 1988. As a six-time US Open champ and the best player in the world by an incredible margin, the odds were in Serena's favor. History was a moment away.

Alas, Serena was stunned by Roberta Vinci at the Open, cutting just short his quest for the Grand Slam. But that particular missed opportunity is irrelevant to the question at hand, which is her legacy among American athletes. She's one of the very best ever, up there with Michael Jordan, Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicklaus and Willie Mays. She might be the best right now (it's her and LeBron James for the honor) and there's a case that she's the best of all time (I'm personally partial to Jordan and Ali). As she embarks on (more) history in 2016, it's worth celebrating what makes her story so compelling and her legacy so amazing.

1. In the past 14 calendar years, she has won at least one Grand Slam title in 11 of them and a total of 20. That's an average of 1.4 Grand Slam titles per year for almost a decade and a half

2. Serena has competed in 61 Grand Slam singles tournaments since going pro. She has won 21 of them. This includes her relatively lean early years. (She won just a single Grand Slam title in her first four years: the 1999 U.S. Open.) Since 2002, she has won 20-of-47 tournaments she has entered. That's 43 percent.

3. Her career Grand Slam match winning percentage is 88 percent (280-39). Since 2002 it's 89 percent (212-26). This includes her perfect Grand Slam seasons in 2002 (where she sat out the Aussie and won the other three Slams) and this year to date.

4. Serena's record in Grand Slam finals is 21-4. (That's a women's singles record.) Her record in Grand Slam semifinals is 25-4. Thus, she is 46-8 all-time in the semifinals or finals of Grand Slam singles tournaments. These are matches almost exclusively against her top rivals or streaking challengers.

5. Serena finished 2014 having been ranked No. 1 for every week of the year. She will finish 2015 the same. No one other than Serena has accomplished this feat since Steffi Graf in 1996.

6. Serena first reached No. 1 in the world on July 8, 2002. Since then, at various points nine different women have reached No. 1. Here are Serena's all-time records against each of them.

vs. Kim Clijsters: 7-2
vs. Justine Henin: 8-6
vs. Amelie Mauresmo: 10-2
vs. Maria Sharapova: 18-2
vs. Ana Ivanovic: 8-1
vs. Jelena Jankovic: 10-4
vs. Dinara Safina: 6-1
vs. Caroline Wozniacki: 10-1
vs. Victoria Azarenka: 17-3

The total: 94-22, or an 81 percent winning percentage against the nine women who have reached No. 1 since Serena first graced the top of the rankings 13 years ago. Henin was the only player who actually rivaled Serena, with her heyday coming during Williams' most serious injury downturn. And Serena still has a winning record against her and double the amount of weeks at the top of the rankings.

7. Serena's all-time record against the current members of the WTA top 10 is 66-7, or a 90 percent winning percentage. She is winning 90 percent of her matches against the very best contemporary players.

8. She's been an incredible doubles player, too: her and Venus Williams have paired up to win 13 Grand Slams (their first in 1999 and most recent in 2012) and three Olympic golds. Serena also has two mixed doubles Grand Slams dating back to 1999.

Those on-court accomplishments are fantastic, but there's also a certain je ne sais quoi about Serena's attitude, outlook and personality that has endeared her to a wide swath of her generation. For instance ...

9. She brought the crip walk to professional tennis.

I like to think those of us of a certain generation were so exhausted by the pearl-clutching that resulted from the crip walk that we have lost sight of what an incredible achievement it was by Serena to educate broader America and the global sports community on the crip walk and to bring it to televisions everywhere. Serena Williams took the crip walk mainstream in the year of our Lord 2012. At the Olympics in London.

10. She has taken more crap from professional complainers than every other tennis star combined. Just consider the list of outrages she's been forced to stomach: criticism that she was not serious enough about tennis due to having interests outside tennis (such as fashion); suggestions of match-fixing; discussions of her body type in the respect that it is unlike the traditionally lithe bodies of other female tennis stars (this is a masterpiece in trolling on that account); suggestions that she's been at times completely unfit (!); the God-forsaken controversy around the crip walk; the double-standard-from-Hell debate around her angry comments to a line judge; the idiotic and unfounded steroid slander; and now suggestions that Serena's new feats aren't that impressive because women's tennis is weak.

Needless to say, Pete Sampras, Steffi Graf, Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert didn't get a touch of this scandal following them. She makes all too many people uncomfortable because she is atypical and atypically brilliant. When the natural order of things is disturbed by an athlete as powerful (both on and off the court) as Serena, the apple cart gets wobbly. Serena has fought through it all with characteristic aplomb. She shouldn't have had to.

11. Let's revisit the body type issue, brought straight into the forefront recently when the New York Times commissioned a piece attempting to explain why no other top female tennis player is built like Serena. The piece itself was just clumsy (in the estimation of myself and many others). The real problem is in the retrograde and dismissive idea of femininity expressed by a coach and several athletes in the piece. The ultimate F.U. quote is right at the top, from the coach of the world No. 7 player.

"It's our decision to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10," said Tomasz Wiktorowski, the coach of Agnieszka Radwanska, who is listed at 5 feet 8 and 123 pounds. "Because, first of all she's a woman, and she wants to be a woman."

FIRST OF ALL. Radwanska later says in the piece that she doesn't have the genes to put on muscle anyway. But FIRST OF ALL, her coach says she's 123 pounds because she wants to remain a woman. The obvious implication is that Serena's 5'9, 150-pound frame doesn't fit their definition of womanhood. That's a hideous way of framing the discussion and their "decision" to keep an athlete, who admits she struggles to put on muscle anyway, unmuscular. Meanwhile, as evidenced later in that Times piece, several other players (including a couple of Americans) are actually learning from Serena's dominance and embracing muscle and power. Imagine that: some athletes want to mimic instead of mock the best performer in the sport. Speaking of which ...

12. One more note on this insanity. Maria Sharapova, the world No. 3 player and highest-earning female athlete in the world thanks to a mix of on-court success and lucrative endorsements, had a couple of quotes in the Times piece, as well. Note: Sharapova has the prototype un-Serena tennis body type. She's 6'2 and 130 pounds. Here's what Serena's chief rival, insomuch as she most frequently has to face Serena in critical matches Serena almost exclusively wins, has to say about choosing litheness over muscular.

"I always want to be skinnier with less cellulite. I think that's every girl's wish," she said, laughing.

Actually, it seems some girls wish to be ranked No. 1 for years on end and sweep up truckloads of trophies. But you know, different priorities. Which brings us to ...

13. Serena's all-time record against Sharapova, who again is the No. 3 ranked player in the world: 18-2. In fact, Sharapova has not beaten Serena since 2004. They have faced off in seven majors all-time. Serena has won six times, with Sharapova winning their first Wimbledon meeting in '04. Serena has won 17 straight matches against Sharapova -- who is really good -- with 35 career titles and a 592-142 all-time match record. This is among the most lopsided rivalries in existence.

14. WTA rankings are based on a system in which players rack up points based on tournament performance over the course of a 12-month period. Basically, the rankings reflect players' performance over the past year. Players who do better at majors than tour tourneys rate better, but largely it's a fair assessment of who is the best in the world based on the most recent 12 months of performance.

Since Wimbledon, Serena has essentially had double the points than the No. 2. That's how much better she's been than her competition.

15. Her Instagram feed is part requisite celebrity selfie slideshow, part cultural scrapbook and -- most importantly -- part F.U. to the body type police. Using the hashtag #strongisbeautiful and some amazing photos, Serena puts the haters in her place.

Through it all, Serena stays winning, on and off the court.