Serena vs Tiger - who ya got?
After Serena Williams reached this morning's US Open final, setting the stage for her first grand slam victory since having her first child, she revealed an unexpected but entirely reasonable source of inspiration: Tiger Woods.
"I don't think a lot of people really know how bad it was [for Woods]," she said. "It definitely makes me realise that if he can do his best then I can too. He never gave up."
So with Williams on the precipice of a record triumph, and with Woods on the prowl for his first tournament win since 2013, now seems the perfect time to arbitrarily compare the pair and answer the question no one has asked: whose comeback is more impressive?
Degree of difficulty
On one hand, we have Serena, who missed last year's US Open while giving birth, a birth that came with complications related to blood clots. How bad was it? Let Williams explain. "Last year I was literally fighting for my life in the hospital," the 36-year-old said after her semifinal victory over Anastasija Sevastova. "I was on my third surgery by now with one more still to go."
On the other hand, we have Tiger, who suffered from complications related to cocktail waitresses. Admittedly that's being facetious - Woods was also betrayed by his body in a manner similar to how he betrayed his wife. His injury history since claiming the last of his majors reads like something out of a boring episode of House: knee reconstruction, Achilles issues, neck problems, back surgeries, cut lip after ramming his SUV into a tree.
Enough to fell mere mortals. That Woods is again one of the world's best golfers, aged 42, is a phenomenal feat. But Serena almost died, man.
Level of competition
Admit it: you'd never heard of Anastasija Sevastova until a minute ago. The world No18 is an apt representation of what Williams has been facing, both in the last fortnight and in her three grand slams since stepping back on the court.
The old axiom about an athlete being able to beat only what's in front of them is true, but still. At Roland Garros, the one grand slam winner Williams faced was Maria Sharapova, with the Russian advancing when Williams withdrew. At Wimbledon, the sole slam champ came in an unsuccessful final against Angelique Kerber. And in New York, it has been only sister Venus, with today's challenger, Naomi Osaka, having progressed past the fourth round at a slam for the first time.
Into the vacuum left by Woods, however, has stepped some legitimate stars. As an example, the majors in which Woods has featured prominently since his last tour victory - the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2013 - have been won by the likes of Jordan Spieth (three majors), Francesco Molinari (world No6) and Brooks Koepka (three majors). The best of 40-something Woods might not be good enough.
We are now so far removed from Woods' foibles there is a groundswell of support as he attempts to another major. And as Williams said it has been genuinely inspiring, watching a visibly older, hopefully wiser Tiger trying to keep up with young cats who got into golf because of him.
From a deluge of tiger gifs on Twitter to a dramatic rise in ratings, when Woods is in contention golf assumes an extra level of significance, and almost all the noise around him is positive (or at least it was until he said "you have to respect the office" when asked about golfing buddy and fellow philanderer Donald Trump).
But, not only has she offered no support for corrupt administrations, Williams' plight engenders much more empathy than Woods'. She's a working mum, a status that enhances her accomplishments (right, New Zealand?), and one who battled both a difficult childbirth and postpartum depression to return to the top of her profession. In a year.
While we were busy debating Federer or Nadal, Williams compiled an unimpeachable case as the greatest of all time. A 24th grand slam triumph tomorrow morning will see her pull level with Margaret Court for the most singles titles in history, and since Serena is not a raging homophobe we're going to give her bonus points.
Woods at one point looked like ascending to a similar level in golf, before stalling four short of Jack Nicklaus' 18 major wins. After everything that transpired following his last major victory, just one more would satisfy. Yet Nicklaus claimed his last aged 46, and all signs point to Woods having a serious chance for the foreseeable future, so never say never.
It should be Woods. Longer layoff + more challenging challengers = tougher task. But as a society right now I feel we need a victory for the working mum more than a triumph for the bad man. And it's my column. Williams wins.