I cheated. I admit it.
I waited until after Round One of the US Open was completed before posting these my picks for tennis' last Major of the year.
Serena Williams, that's why. I wanted to see which Serena would show up in New York: the focused, determined player of Wimbledon and the Olympics or the distracted, moody Williams of Cincinatti and several other smaller tournaments.
Williams' 6-1 6-1 demolishment of compatriot Coco Vandeweghe in the first round yesterday answered the question in convincing fashion.
And so now I'm willing to go on record with my pick:
The 2012 US Open women's champion will be Serena Williams.
I'll go even further:
Williams will not lose a set in this tournament.
I'll go still further:
Williams will take her place, with this tournament title, as the greatest tennis player of all time.
You read that right. I'm arguing that Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of either sex in the history of the game. Better than Navratilova and Evert. Better than Borg, Sampras or Federer.
Simply the greatest.
And I'm not even going to attempt to defend that statement with statistics because, frankly, I don't think it's possible. Others have more Major victories and better overall won-loss records. Absolutely true.
But tennis has never seen a player who becomes absolutely unbeatable when she wants to be unbeatable like Serena Williams. She may have problems with focus, she may want for consistency in her dedication to being at the top of the game. She may never set records for consecutive semi- and quarter-final appearances in Majors the way Federer does, but Williams outshines them all in wins when the player wants to win.
I've long been convinced that Roger Federer is the greatest male tennis player of all time. He had an unparalelled run across several years where he was virtually unbeatable. No player could challenge him. Even now, when he's lost that indefinable something that rendered him invulnerable to challenge, he is a remarkably consistent, top level player.
But he's got nothing on Serena Williams. Her career has been up and down, to be sure, but every time she decides to focus on tennis for a while, she acquires that indeniable something almost instantly.
Who else can go from being out of shape and out of focus to stampeding the world the way Serena does? Who else can drop out of the discussion for a year or more and then, in the space of a month, turn herself back into a dominant force?
I will agree that, if you count year-to-year consistency as a major factor in your assessment of great tennis players, Williams suffers badly by comparison to some of the other names.
But there is not a single other player in the history of tennis so completely capable of dominating his or her sport the way Serena Williams can JUST BECAUSE SHE WANTS TO.
So I'm picking Williams to win the US Open this year in a cakewalk.
And I'm ready to argue that she is the single greatest tennis player of all time.
(oh yeah, and I'm picking Federer to win the men's title since 1) Nadal's out, 2) Djokovic appears to be fading from the picture entirely and 3) Murray doesn't have the horses to surprise Roger again like he did at the Olympics).