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On the Joys and Sorrows of Serena’s Quest for 24

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For die-hard Serena Williams fans, the desire to see her win her 24th Grand Slam is equally understandable and unrelenting. We want it so badly we can barely stand to watch, and some of us don’t watch out of fear that we’ve been jinxing her.

Despite having seen her win 23 before, we’re now totally enthralled with the prospect of just one more. It may seem unreasonable, but at this point, we’re past logic. No championship matters more than Serena getting 24.

If we were rational, we would be appeased by the fact that No. 24 is only a meaningless technicality. Serena is already the GOAT. And yet… she’s not the current record holder for individual Grand Slam titles. That claim belongs to Margaret Court and her 24.

Now, there is a stack of SCOTUS-worthy arguments as to why Court’s career is in no way comparable to our 21st century queen. For starters, the bulk of Court’s career occurred before the Open Era (when the Grand Slams were only open to amateurs), and almost half of her titles were earned at the Australian Open during the 60s and early 70s, when the tournament wasn’t nearly as prestigious and didn’t draw many of the world’s top players.

Nearly all tennis analysts, historians, and commentators agree that it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. And while no one is trying to diminish the still-very-impressive career of Margaret Court, her personal beliefs have increasingly tainted her historical record. A born-again Christian Minister, Court has been very vocal about her anti-LGBTQ views. If Serena caught her (asterisk-marked) record, there would be an extra layer of icing on that cake for progressive-minded fans.

One of the main reasons the quest for No. 24 has become an obsession for many isn’t that it would be number 24, but that it would actually be No. 1—Serena’s first Grand Slam title since becoming a mom.

After winning the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant, Serena gave birth to her now three-year-old daughter, Olympia, in September of that year. Her emergency cesarean, followed by a near-fatal pulmonary embolism, forced her into a long, slow recovery, one whose difficulties Serena has openly discussed.

Any athlete or sports fan who is also a parent knows that Serena’s quest to return to the highest pinnacle of her sport is a whole new endeavor, one that is a thousand times more challenging than anything she’s attempted before. And the insanely impressive thing is how close she has repeatedly come to reaching it.

Ten months (ten months!) after the harrowing birth of her daughter, Serena fought her way to the finals of Wimbledon in 2018 only to lose to Angelique Kerber. A few months later, she reached the finals of the US Open, losing that time to the then up-and-coming Naomi Osaka.

In 2019, she reached the finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open once again but didn’t come away with either title. In 2020, the cursed year that it was, Serena didn’t reach a Grand Slam finals match for the first time since 2006. (Granted, Wimbledon wasn’t held so the chances were fewer.) In the last two Grand Slam events Serena has lost in the semi-finals. The latest defeat came a couple weeks ago at the Australian Open, once again at the hands of the now established and dominant Osaka.

It’s easy to look at Serena’s finishes since 2017 and see a picture of a champion who came so incredibly close to that No. 24, but who’s chances get slimmer with each passing month as she approaches her 40th birthday (gasp). But what we’re really looking at is evidence of a mind-boggling accomplishment. Reaching four Grand Slam finals in the first two years after Olympia was born at the ages of 37 and 38 may be a more impressive achievement than any single title of her career.

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Logically and rationally, we know she doesn’t need No. 24. Serena is already the GOAT, full stop.

Unfortunately, we are not fully logical and rational beings. (We’re sports fans, after all.) And so we still want to see her reach that pinnacle again. And at this point, we don’t even care how she gets it. We don’t care if the field is stacked in her favor, if her opponent drops out mid-match due to injury, if a stomach bug ravages the entire tournament and she is the only one left standing. She doesn’t need to earn it, because in our mind, she already has.

Now we just want the hardware to prove it. We want it wrapped up in a velvet box and tied with a silky ribbon. Throw in a token of appreciation handed to her on a silver platter, with a note that reads, “Here you go Serena. You deserve to have this. Thank you for all you are and all you have done.” Throw in a second velvet box with No. 25 in it, and maybe, just maybe, her devoted supporters will finally have some peace of mind.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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