Serena Williams back as queen of the hill


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Serena Williams likes to make one thing clear: She never is satisfied, no matter how many matches and tournaments she wins.

Driven as ever, Williams won plenty this year. She went 78-4 with 11 titles, including at the French Open and U.S. Open, raising her Grand Slam championship total to 17. She compiled a 34-match winning streak. She earned more than $12 million in prize money, a record for women's tennis. In February, she became the oldest No. 1 in WTA rankings history and never left that perch.

Thanks to all that, Williams was honored Wednesday as The Associated Press' 2013 Female Athlete of the Year. It's the third AP award for Williams, following 2002 and 2009.

"Whenever I lose, I get more determined, and it gives me something more to work toward," Williams told the AP in an interview shortly before the start of the U.S. Open. "I don't get complacent, and I realize I need to work harder and I need to do better and I want to do better -- or I wouldn't keep playing this game."

The vote by news organizations was about as lopsided as many of Williams' matches this year. She received 55 of 96 votes, while Brittney Griner, a two-time AP player of the year in college basketball and No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft in April, finished second with 14. Swimmer Missy Franklin was third (10).

The male athlete of the year will be announced today.

Williams, who grew up in Compton, Calif., and turned 32 in September, produced the finest women's tennis season in years. According to the WTA:

* Her .951 winning percentage was the best since Steffi Graf's .977 in 1989.

* Her 11 titles were the most since Martina Hingis' 12 in 1997.

* The winning streak was the longest since her sister, Venus, had a 35-match run in 2000.

"She just continues to be an inspiration to American tennis," said Gordon Smith, executive director of the U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open.

By adding a fifth U.S. Open and second French Open title, she moved within one Grand Slam trophy of the 18 apiece won by Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. The record is 24 by Margaret Court. Evert is one of two women with more AP honors than Williams. She won four from 1974-80. Babe Didrikson got a record six -- one for track (1932), five for golf from 1945-54.

"Serena already has provided significant contributions to taking our sport to the next level. ... She is chasing records and, no doubt, will break many records before she's finished," WTA chairman Stacey Allaster said.

Two moments in 2013 stuck out to Allaster. One came at Qatar in February, when Williams cried after assuring her return to No. 1 for the first time since 2010, when she needed two operations on her right foot and had blood clots in her lungs. The second came at Wimbledon, when Williams joined other women who have been ranked No. 1 at a celebration of the WTA's 40th anniversary.

"She did a remarkable job at speaking on behalf of all those great athletes and speaking to future players," Allaster said. "There's a little girl, perhaps out there in Compton, who is dreaming of playing on the WTA, and Serena said, 'We're waiting for you, and we can't wait to meet you.' "

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