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Twenty for Twenty

The 20 Greatest Acts of Sport Since 1992
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Jeremy Irons, March/April 2013

(continued from page 3)

9. Serena Williams
Canon Fire

“Beauty Queen” read the text in a national magazine promoting the “fortnight at Wimbledon.” Maria Sharapova was shown kissing a Wimbledon plate. An old photo really, since the 6'2" femme fatale by way of Ngayan, Russia, hasn’t held that particular plate since 2004. Any hopes that she would buss the silver fell short again, as losing in the fourth round spared her the indignity of flailing at a lethal first serve rising to 126 miles per hour, courtesy of Serena Jameka Williams.    

As muskets gave way to rifles, so did the tennis we once knew give way to Williams. The dainty serve-and-volley style of yesteryear appears like a museum curiosity now.

In a chilly eviction of Victoria Azarenka in the semis at Wimbledon, Serena served a record 24 aces. “Two of the greatest shots of all time are Federer’s forehand and Serena’s serve,” McEnroe observed. She completed the rout by beating Agnieszka Radwanska. In the Olympics Williams laid an unholy butt whipping on Sharapova 6–0, 6–1 in the finals. Sharapova looked flummoxed, utterly. “When she’s fit, when she wants something, no one can stop her,” said broadcaster Mary Carillo. Williams finished two months of magic, winning the U.S. Open, overcoming a 5–3 deficit in the third set to beat Azarenka for her fifteenth grand slam title. She trails only Steffi Graff (22), Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (18 each) in the open era.

10. Detroit Redwings
Cups Runneth Over 

The Detroit Redwings currently have no equal in North American sports. Their active streak of 21 postseason appearances surpasses the Yankees, the Lakers, anyone. The four cups commenced in 1997 with a four-oh dusting of Philadelphia and a sweep of Buffalo in 1998. They blitzed Carolina 4–1 in 2002 and in 2008 it was 4–2 over Pittsburgh. That’s a 16–3 thrashing of finals opponents.

Detroit’s best players of recent vintage each played 20 years with the team: center Steve Yzerman—their captain since he was 21, on board for the first three cups—and Swedish-born defenseman Nicklas Lindstrom, who played on four title teams and won seven James Norris trophies for the best defenseman. Yzerman’s in the Hall of Fame; Lindstrom’s on his way. Sergei Federov, Brendan Shanahan and goalie Chris Osgood were more than a supporting cast.

Their 11 cups are the most by any club based in the United States. They rank third in silver finery behind Montreal (24) and Toronto (13).

11. Michael Phelps
Let the Debates Begin

The counter to Michael Phelps being the “greatest athlete” in Olympic history has been voiced: does swimming require the athletic ability of running and jumping? But even the most ingenious argument can’t erase Phelps’s dominance. Phelps didn’t just surpass the previous medal records—he drowned them. After amassing 18 golds and 22 medals overall, he said, “I can hang up my suit; I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do.” Any regrets? “Growing up, I looked up to Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time.” The clear implication was that he was the greatest swimmer of all time.

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