RIO DE JANEIRO (TNS) — Serena Williams, the greatest female tennis player of our time or any time, will represent the United States of America at these Olympics.
Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, LeBron James and Stephen Curry declined to represent the U.S. They were frightened of the Zika virus (Johnson, Spieth) or too weary to make to the trip (James, Curry) or understood that little money could be earned in Brazil (all of them.)
Serena is astonishingly talented. At times, when she's roaring at her zenith, you feel pity for her overmatched, terrified opponent. She's one of the titans of American sport, but she's a complicated, volatile soul. We've long struggled to fully understand, or embrace, her.
This gifted, complex, fiery woman has chosen to wrap herself in red, white and blue. She's a tennis patriot who deserves our applause.
As she talked to the press, Serena was obviously an exhausted traveler. She talked not long after stepping off a jet following 10 hours in flight. Her eyes were droopy. Her voice sounded groggy. She often asked for questions to be repeated.
Still, her message rang clear:
She's thrilled to be here.
"All our lives as tennis players," Serena said, "we dream of playing Grand Slams and winning Grand Slams and dream of having the opportunity of holding that trophy."
She paused and looked at her sister Venus.
"The Olympics is totally different because you are really playing for your country. When I held my first gold medal, it was a feeling I never expected. I had a chance to enjoy my gold medal trophy more than my other trophies.
Serena has won everything. She's seized 22 Grand Slam singles titles. She's won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles playing beside Venus. She ranks, with apologies to Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf, as the greatest female tennis player of all time.
She understands what many of her elite American athletic comrades fail to grasp.
Sometimes, it's best to take a risk. Turns out, the scare over mosquitos and the Zika virus were vastly overblown. It's winter here. On most nights, you need a light coat.
Those sinister mosquitos are off buzzing somewhere, plotting their summer return.
And, sometimes, it's best to separate money and sports. Serena has won four Olympic gold medals (one single, three doubles), and she likes the sensation of hearing the National Anthem on the medal stand. She knows you can't put a price tag on that feeling.
Serena is worth $145 million, give or take $5 million. She can afford to chase her Olympic dreams.
A singles gold is not a given. At the London Games in 2012, Serena bombarded Maria Sharapova in the gold medal final. Germany's Angelique Kerber and Spain's Garbine Muguruza will try to topple Serena in Rio. There was precious little singles drama in London. There could be big drama in Rio.
In a way — a precious way — Serena already has triumphed. She took a chance, declining to let health scares stop her quest for yet more gold. She took the bold route, the route Johnson, Spieth, James and Curry declined to travel.
Serena essentially sidestepped a question about the motives of those who stayed in America.
"I never got that impression that people weren't coming (because of) the money," she said. "I always like to see the positive in things. I take what they say to be the truth."
The queen of tennis was weary after a long journey. She could have stayed in America at her massive home. She could have found an excuse.
But she wants to win gold.
And hear the National Anthem once again.