The French Open get underway in Paris this week without Serena Williams, who announced April 18 that she and fiance Alex Ohanian are expecting their first child in the fall.
Had she played, she would have been the favorite to win the event, and why wouldn’t she be? She already has a record-breaking 23 Grand Slam titles to her credit, including three French Open titles, winning the event in 2003, 2013 and 2015. There is no doubt in my mind she is the greatest women’s tennis player of all time and some say the greatest female athlete ever, but I am not so sure about that.
There seems to be generations that always have the “greatest,” especially in men’s sports. Is Tom Brady greater than Joe Montana? Is LeBron James greater than Michael Jordan? Is Tiger Woods greater than Jack Nicklaus? Muhammad Ali left no doubt in his mind that he was the greatest, and he called himself that, but was he better than Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey or Joe Louis?
But back to Williams. As previously mentioned, I think she is the best tennis player of all time. In track and Field, I would say that honor belongs to Jackie Joyner Kersee, In golf, my pick would be Nancy Lopez , and in gymnastics I take Nadia Comaneci over 2016 Olympic darling Simone Biles.
They were absolutely great in their respective sports, but my pick for best all-around female athlete belongs to Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias. Admittedly I never saw her compete in anything, but from what I have read about her she was outstanding in whatever she tried.
To quote her, “Before I was even in my teens, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. My goal was to be the greatest athlete that ever lived.” As an all-around athlete, she may have achieved that goal. She reportedly got the nickname “Babe” for Babe Ruth after hitting five home runs in a childhood baseball game.
Zaharias was not much of a student and dropped out of high school before graduating. Her first job was as a secretary at Casualty Insurance Company, where she was employed only in order to play basketball as an amateur on the company’s industrial team. She led the team to the AAU national championship in 1931.
She also represented the company in the AAU track and field championships and competed in eight events, winning five and tying for first in a sixth. Zaharias represented the USA in the 1932 Olympics in track and field, winning gold in the 80 meter hurdles and also in the javelin. She also tied for the top spot in high jump but was relegated to the silver medal after having been ruled to have used an improper technique.
She took up golf in 1935 and didn’t turn professional until 1947. As an amateur golfer she won the 1946 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1947 British Ladies Amateur, being the first person to do so. After turning professional, she won 41 LPGA Tour titles, which included 10 majors. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1951 and was named The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1932, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950 and 1954.
In addition to her athletic accomplishments she was an excellent seamstress and made many of her golfing outfits. She was a singer and a harmonica player and recorded several songs on the Mercury label.
Zaharias died at the young age of 45 in 1956 as a result of colon cancer.
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