By Mardeio Cannon | OBSERVER Columnist

Last week, the sports world was rocked by the news that all-time tennis great Serena Williams will be retiring from professional tennis. 

Williams, who will turn 41 in September, and is the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, says that her focus will now be on enlarging her family and other pursuits that have captured her interest.

If she doesn’t pull off an upset at the US Open, Williams will retire with 23 Grand Slam title victories, one shy of the all-time winner Margaret Court who has 24.

However, it is a universal slam dunk that Williams is the greatest female tennis player of all-time as predicted by her father, Richard Williams, when she was a teenager competing with her sister Venus on the rundown tennis courts in Compton, California.  In addition to her 23 Grand Slam titles, Williams has won four Olympic gold medals, 14 Grand Slam doubles titles alongside her sister Venus, and has 73 career Tournament titles on Tour.

In my opinion, she is one of the top three greatest athletes of all-time, joining Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods on this prestigious list. 

These athletes made my list as a result of their professional career accomplishments and also how I became emotionally involved when they competed.

It all began when I started to follow the career of a young brash Cassius Clay who would needle his opponents by giving them funny names and predicting what round he would knock them out.

When, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali in accordance with his Islamic faith, went to jail for standing up for his beliefs, and gave up his boxing career in his prime, my admiration for him grew. Starting with his classic bouts against Joe Frazier, to the “rumble in the jungle” against a stronger, younger and fearsome George Foreman. I was emotionally involved in the ring with him and felt every blow to his body in all of his fights. He was the GREATEST.

When Tiger Woods came on the scene, he was a breath of fresh air as the only African American on the PGA tour. Then, as his string of wins began to capture the attention of golf fans and non-fans alike, I too became caught-up in ‘Tigermania.” Again, I started to twist and turn and cheered and sweated on all of his putts.

These three all-time greats had to overcome personal and health challenges on their road to success and their competitive drive was second to none.

Serena, whether you win the US Open or not, you will always be the greatest of all time.