One great knock on Williams has always been her wavering commitment to the game, her dabbling in acting and fashion design and various other pet projects that have kept her from competing week in, week out. But that, too, needs to be reconsidered, especially given the fate of her contemporaries, many of whom burned out on the tour. The good vibes at Wimbledon were interrupted briefly last week by the news that Jennifer Capriati had been hospitalized in Florida for a prescription-drug overdose. As Williams was mowing down the field, Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova, both 29, were also at the tournament playing doubles together—in the "legends" division. As much flak as Williams got for her extra-tennis activities, they have inoculated her from burnout and prolonged her career.
Not that she is motivated by history or records or her tennis legacy. "I didn't even know I was six on the [career Grand Slam list]," she said on Saturday. "I'm telling you I don't think about that kind of stuff. My thing is, I love my dogs; I love family; I love the movies; I love reading; I love shopping.... That's what I think about."
You admire the attitude but bristle at the narcissism? Well, you should be used to it. Name another athlete so hard to like and so hard to hate. Williams is opening a school in Kenya. No, wait, she's threatening to shove a "f------ ball" down the "f------ throat" of a lineswoman, earning a default in the semifinals of the 2009 U.S. Open and a $92,000 fine. She's apologizing to the aggrieved official and offering to give her "a big ol' hug." No, wait, after watching the U.S. soccer team get jobbed by a ref in the World Cup, she's tweeting, "I have never seen such injustice since I played us open [in] 2009." Surely she's the only athlete who can plug Jehovah and Gatorade in the same winner's speech—and sound heartfelt about both.
On June 24, when Queen Elizabeth II visited the All England Club for the first time in 33 years, Williams's match was banished to the back courts. While Wimbledon officials insisted it was not a personal slight—"It was a question of scheduling," said a club spokesman—it hardly went unnoticed. Just another indication that Serena is respected, yes; adored, not so much.
But, again, it's all on her terms. "I've never really cared what people said, how they said whether I should be playing tennis and hitting balls or whatever," Williams said. "At the end of the day, you have to go home and be happy."
The results don't speak for themselves. They scream.
If Williams was at her intimidating best on the women's side, Rafael Nadal duplicated her dominance in the men's draw. A year ago Nadal watched Wimbledon from the Spanish island of Majorca. Though he was the defending champion, his balky knees had forced him to take a break from the game, and he was even more pained by the recent breakup of his parents' marriage. "Tough moments," he called this period. He went the next 10 months without winning a title or fully regaining his health. There were murmurs that his moment had passed.
Not so fast. This spring Nadal won every tournament he entered on the clay-court circuit and took his fifth French Open singles trophy. He then made the seamless transition to grass, and on Sunday he seized his second Wimbledon title and eighth Grand Slam championship, beating the Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych in the final, 6--3, 7--5, 6--4. The 24-year-old Nadal is not just back. He's not just No. 1 again. Knees willing—and they have responded well to blood-spinning treatments, in which his own blood is reinjected into the sore spots—he should remain on top for years to come. "Every point he plays is like match point," says Björn Borg, who won six French and five Wimbledon crowns. "That's why he's the champion right now."
The tournament hired an official poet this year—no, he never did find a rhyme for Wimbledon—and he could have drawn inspiration from Nadal's play. While Nadal can't replicate Roger Federer's artistry, he brings a different kind of beauty to the game. He has mastered the grass, volleying expertly, taking quick little steps to track down balls and toning down the spin on his strokes to accommodate low bounces.
Just as Nadal's game has evolved, and his trademark sleeveless T's and pirate shorts have been replaced by V-necks and preppy shorts, he has cut a more mature figure of late. With his girlfriend, Xisca Perello, in town, Nadal's rented home near the courts no longer resembled a frat house. Nadal is deeply superstitious and, like an old man, he prefers to stick to his routines. During the queen's visit, he politely declined a request to meet Her Majesty. "I have a lot of respect for this tournament," he says. "If I change the routines, I am not [going to win]."