Playing her best at the most important events, Serena Williams re-established herself as the top player in women’s tennis in 2009 and was a landslide choice as Female Athlete of the Year by members of The Associated Press.
Williams received 66 of 158 votes cast by editors at U.S. newspapers that are members of the AP. No other candidate got more than 18 votes in the tally, which was announced Tuesday.
Clearly, Williams’ most infamous on-court episode — a tirade directed at a line judge after a foot-fault call near the end of her U.S. Open semifinal loss in September — didn’t hurt her standing in the eyes of the voters.
“People realize that I’m a great player, and one moment doesn’t define a person’s career,” Williams told the AP. “And I was right, for the most part: It wasn’t right the way I reacted — I never said it was — but I was right about the call.”
She also noted that the outburst, which resulted in a record fine and two-year probationary period at Grand Slam tournaments, “got a lot more people excited about tennis.”
The 28-year-old American tends to do that, thanks to her powerful, athletic play and her outgoing personality.
“We can attribute the strength and the growth of women’s tennis a great deal to her,” WTA chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster said in a telephone interview. “She is a superstar.”
Williams, who is based in Florida, also won the AP award in 2002, a seven-year gap that is the longest between AP Female Athlete of the Year honors since golf’s Patty Berg won in 1943 and 1955.
“I’m just happy and blessed to even be playing seven years later. All this is a bonus, really,” Williams said. “In 2002, I just was really dominant, and I think in 2009, I just brought that back. I kind of became that player again.”
Runner-up in the AP voting was Zenyatta, who capped a 14-0 career by becoming the first female horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Tennis’ Kim Clijsters finished third with 16 votes.