Perhaps oddly, I could not look at Serena as having failed. In the wildness in her eyes, in the way her screams started to sound a little unhinged, it was clear that the pressure had simply grown insurmountable. Whatever reserves of energy she had been drawing on to get her through all those tough matches over the course of the year, she couldn't access them anymore. At that point, all the analogies--the lioness, the superhero, the war goddess--fell away, and she was human, simply, beautifully human.
And that's exactly what makes her so extraordinary. She's always been human. Everything she's accomplished--21 Grand Slams (so far) including four in a row twice, some ridiculous number of other titles, being at the top of the game for sixteen years--she's accomplished as just a person, with human strengths and human weaknesses. Beyond a shadow of a doubt she's one of the most extraordinary athletes we've ever seen--and note that I don't add qualifiers regarding either her gender or her particular sport. She may have succumbed, but she didn't fail. I find her more inspiring than I ever have before.