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 yesterday.
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 2-year probationary period at Grand Slam tournaments, "got a lot more people excited about tennis."
"I'm just happy and blessed to even be playing seven years later. All this is a bonus, really," said Williams, 28, who also won the award in 2002. "In 2002, I just was really dominant, and I think in 2009, I just brought that back. I kind of became that player again."
Zenyatta, the 5-year-old mare who capped her 14-0 career by becoming the first female horse to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, finished second for the AP honor - with 48 fewer votes than Williams. Kim Clijsters, who came out of retirement only weeks before winning the U.S. Open, was third in 2009 with 16 votes.