Serena Williams wins 3rd AP Athlete of Year award

Serena Williams likes to make one thing clear: She is never

satisfied, no matter how many matches and tournaments she wins.

Driven as ever, Williams won plenty this year. She went 78-4

with 11 titles, including at the French Open and U.S. Open, raising

her Grand Slam championship total to 17. She compiled a 34-match

winning streak. She earned more than $12 million in prize money, a

record for women’s tennis. In February, she became the oldest No. 1

in WTA rankings history and never left that perch.

Thanks to all of that, Williams was honored Wednesday as The

Associated Press’ 2013 Female Athlete of the Year. It’s the third

AP award for Williams, following 2002 and 2009. Only two women have

been chosen more often as AP Athlete of the Year since the annual

awards were first handed out in 1931.

”Whenever I lose, I get more determined, and it gives me

something more to work toward,” Williams told the AP in an

interview shortly before the start of the U.S. Open. ”I don’t get

complacent, and I realize I need to work harder and I need to do

better and I want to do better – or I wouldn’t keep playing this

game.”

The vote by news organizations was about as lopsided as many of

Williams’ matches this season. She received 55 of 96 votes, while

Brittney Griner, a two-time AP Player of the Year in college

basketball and the No. 1 pick in April’s WNBA draft, finished

second with 14. Swimmer Missy Franklin was next with 10.

The Male Athlete of the Year recipient will be announced

Thursday.

Williams, who grew up in Compton, Calif., and turned 32 in

September, produced the finest women’s tennis season in years.

According to the WTA:

– her .951 winning percentage was the best since Steffi Graf’s

.977 in 1989;

– her 11 titles were the most since Martina Hingis’ 12 in

1997;

– her winning streak was the longest since her sister, Venus,

had a 35-match run in 2000.

”She just continues to be an inspiration to American tennis,”

said Gordon Smith, the executive director of the U.S. Tennis

Association, which runs the U.S. Open. ”Her year this year?

Unforgettable.”

By adding a fifth career U.S. Open championship, and a second

French Open title, Williams also moved within one Grand Slam trophy

of the 18 apiece won by Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. The

record is 24 by Margaret Court.

Pretty heady company.

Evert is one of the only two women with more AP awards than

Williams. Evert won four from 1974-80, while Babe Didrikson

collected a record six – one for track in 1932, and five for golf

from 1945-54.

”Serena already has provided significant contributions to

taking our sport to the next level. … She is chasing records and

no doubt will break many records before she’s finished,” WTA

Chairman Stacey Allaster said. ”That obviously just brings a lot

more attention to our sport.”

Two particular moments in 2013 stuck out to Allaster.

One came at Qatar in February, when Williams cried after

assuring herself of returning to No. 1 for the first time since

2010, the year the American needed two operations on her right foot

and got blood clots in her lungs.

”You could see the joy, the tears of joy. It meant so much to

her, from everything she had been through, to be able to be back at

the top of the sport, a sport that she does truly love,” Allaster

said.

The second moment came during Wimbledon, when Williams joined

other women who have been ranked No. 1 at a celebration of the

WTA’s 40th anniversary.

”It was an opportunity to see her in a leadership position. …

She did a remarkable job at speaking on behalf of all those great

athletes and speaking to future players,” Allaster said. ”There’s

a little girl, perhaps out there in Compton, who is dreaming of

playing on the WTA, and Serena said, `We’re waiting for you, and we

can’t wait to meet you.”’

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