The best athletes of 2017, from Jose Altuve to Serena Williams

The biggest sports story of 2017 was about top-tier athletes solidifying their legacies. We saw several superstars cement their place in their respective sport's history, transcending from modern figures to all-time legends.

One could feasibly argue that players in five sports (covering men's and women's divisions) made cases for themselves as their respective sport's best performer of all time. 

That made ranking the year's best athletes a tough task. Click through the gallery below to see AOL's top 10 athletes of 2017.

The 10 best athletes of 2017
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The 10 best athletes of 2017

10. Serena Williams

Williams took most of 2017 off after giving birth to her first child, but what she accomplished when she was on the court this year deserves mention. Her record seventh Australian Open title gave her 23 Grand Slam singles titles, breaking a tie with Steffi Graf for the most in the Open Era. The 36-year-old is now officially the most decorated woman in tennis history.

(Jason Reed/Reuters)

9. Deshaun Watson

Watson showed that he could be dominant at two levels of football this year. He started off 2017 by leading Clemson to its first national title since 1981 with an instant-classic 35-31 victory against Alabama and its top-ranked defense.

That convinced the Houston Texans to trade up in the NFL Draft and select Watson with the No. 12 overall pick in the NFL draft, and the move appears to be a smart one. Watson was named the AFC Player of the Month in October after becoming the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 16 touchdowns in a month, showcasing his skills against some of the top teams in the league. He was the obvious frontrunner to be named the Offensive Rookie of the Year before tearing his ACL during practice in November.

(USA Today Sports/Reuters)

8. Kevin Durant

Some NBA fans might not respect the route Kevin Durant took to his first championship, but no one could deny Durant’s sublime play for the Golden State Warriors once they got to the Finals. He averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and a steal while playing nearly 40 minutes in all five games of the series win over the Cleveland Cavaliers while shooting 56 percent (47 percent from three-point range).

"The Slim Reaper" deservedly won the NBA Finals MVP award after the Warriors dominated the playoffs with a 16-1 record, the best postseason run in league history.

(USA Today Sports/Reuters)

7. Russell Westbrook

Kevin Durant might have won his first NBA championship in 2017, but Westbrook became the people’s champion en route to capturing his first MVP award.

The lone superstar remaining on the Oklahoma City Thunder made sure the team was still a sight to behold on any given night, throwing down ferocious dunks and orchestrating thrilling fast breaks. Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the entire season, something that hadn’t been done since 1961-1962, when the NBA was a very different league. It’s a much faster, more athletic game now -- and Westbrook is arguably the face of it.

(USA Today Sports/Reuters)

6. Evgenia Medvedeva

You might not know Medvedeva’s name yet, but you’ll probably get to know her in 2018, when she'll attempt to cement her place as her generation’s best figure skater at the Olympics.

The Russian -- who will have to compete as a neutral athlete after her country’s doping ban -- became the first female skater to win back-to-back world titles at the 2017 World Championships since Michelle Kwan did it in 2000 and 2001. And she just turned 18 in November!

(Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters)

5. Sidney Crosby

Crosby helped the Penguins claim their second straight Stanley Cup title in 2017, beating the Nashville Predators in an exhilarating six-game series that made them the first repeat champions since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.

Sid The Kid also entered NHL lore on a personal level, as he became the first NHL player since fellow Pittsburgh legend Mario Lemieux to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) in consecutive years. The 28-year-old also led the NHL in goals for the second time in his career, proving that his prime scoring years aren’t behind him just yet.

(USA Today Sports/Reuters)

4. Tom Brady

All Brady did during his last season as a thirty-something was guide the greatest Super Bowl comeback in history while throwing for a Super Bowl record 466 yards. That miraculous victory after trailing the Atlanta Falcons by 25 points added yet another chapter to Brady’s illustrious history, making him the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls. He’s already effectively sealed his place in NFL history as the best quarterback to walk on the gridiron.

(Adrees Latif/Reuters)

3. Roger Federer

Federer enjoyed an incredible career renaissance in 2017, which saw him capture his most singles tournament titles in a decade (five). He won two Grand Slams, his most since 2009, by taking home the trophies for the Australian Open and Wimbledon, where he glided through the bracket without even dropping a set. It was only the second time that’d been done in Wimbledon history, and Federer accomplished it while becoming the oldest player to ever win the title at 35 years and 11 months old.

His two Grand Slams extended his record to 19 major titles, cementing his place as the most accomplished men’s tennis player ever.

(POOL New/Reuters)

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo was awarded his fifth Ballon d’Or (given to the world’s top soccer player) on December 7, tying him with rival Lionel Messi for the most in history. This might have been his most impressive year yet, as Real Madrid won their first La Liga title since 2012 and also became the first team ever to win consecutive Champions League titles with Ronaldo leading the way. He became the all-time top scorer in the top five European leagues in May, and just recently became the first player to score in all six games of the Champions League group stage.

Most soccer players have at least started their downswing by age 32, but Ronaldo has shown no signs of slowing down.

(Juan Medina/Reuters)

1. Jose Altuve

Altuve is living proof that size doesn’t matter. The shortest active player in baseball at 5'6", Altuve won the American League MVP award after pacing all major leaguers with a .346 batting average and 8.3 wins above replacement and leading the AL with 204 hits to go along with 39 doubles, 32 stolen bases and 24 home runs.

The Venezuelan phenom was also a leading figure as the Houston Astros claimed the franchise’s first World Series title. In the first game of the playoffs against the Boston Red Sox, he became the 10th player to crush three home runs in a single game. He ended the postseason with 22 hits, 7 home runs and 14 RBIs in 18 postseason contests.

To top it all off, Altuve was named a co-winner of the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Award in December for his heroics on and off the field, where he helped spearhead Houston’s recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

(Ezra Shaw via Getty Images)



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