Many congratulations to Serena Williams for winning her 21st Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon last Saturday and achieving her self-titled ‘Serena Slam’ relating to holding all 4 Grand Slam titles concurrently.
To dominate the women’s game as she has been doing, is truly remarkable and her achievements to date already mark her out as one of the greatest women tennis players of all time.
Her strengths and longevity at the top of the sport are undisputed but does this automatically mean she is the greatest woman player of all time, even is statistically she goes on to win 23 grand slam singles titles and therefore more than any other woman in the modern, open era?
I’m not convinced and outline 7 reasons why it is too early to consider her the greatest of all time.
1. Martina Navratilova
Won 18 Grand Slam singles titles and competed against a tough main rival in Chris Evert for a long period of time.
She introduced greater physicality to the game, which Serena’s taken on to another level and dominated the game in much the same way Serena has done over the last 15 years. One of the greats of all time.
WTA Tour singles titles: 167
WTA Tour doubles titles: 177
“The most successful female tennis player of the Open era, Martina Navratilova amassed an unmatched number of professional records over the course of a career that spanned an amazing four decades. She won 59* grand slam titles, including a record 9 Wimbledon singles championships, and overcame the odds to become a champion both on and off the court.
*18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam women’s doubles championships and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles.
Over the course of her tennis career, Martina was distinguished as the WTA’s “Tour Player of the Year” seven times, named the Associated Press’s “Female Athlete of the Year” and declared one of the “Top Forty Athletes of All-Time” by Sports Illustrated. As she approached her 50th birthday in 2006, she decided to leave the tour circuit behind after her final Grand Slam, a mixed-doubles championship with Bob Bryan at the U.S. Open. Still in phenomenal shape on the verge of 50, she became the oldest player to ever win a Grand Slam title.”
2. Steffi Graf
Winner 22 Grand Slams. Competed in a tough era with Martina Hingis and Martina Navratilova. Played with gracefulness and style that was not just about smashing the ball harder than anyone else. One of the greats of all time.
Steffi become No 1 in the tennis world. She kept this place for 186 weeks until March 10, 1991.
This fabulous record could not been surpassed by any other player, man or woman, to this date.
For 8 years, Steffi finished the season as number one. By her career end, Steffi was the highest-earning female athlete of all time.
During her career she gained 22 Grand Slams, divided in seven titles at Wimbledon, five titles at the US Open and six French Open as well as four wins at the Australian Open. She won all four Grand Slam tournaments in 1988. 107 titles, including the Olympic Gold medal, are an impressive number. Only Martina Navratilova (167) and Chris Evert (157) are in front of Steffi in the overall ranking.
3. Margaret Court
Margaret Court, née Smith, won 66 Grand Slam championships, more than any other woman, and in 1970 became the second woman (after Maureen Connolly in 1953) to win the Grand Slam of tennis singles: Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and the French Open titles in the same year. She is the only player to achieve the Grand Slam in doubles as well as singles, winning the four events with fellow Australian Kenneth Fletcher in 1963.
4. Lack of multiple Grand Slam winning rivals
At the moment Serena’s standing in the pantheon of all time greats suffers from the lack of serious rivals she has had throughout her career. In the last 15 years there have been few other multiple Grand Slam winners. Her nearest rival ironically and amazingly has been her older sister Venus and who knows if it wasn’t for the serious illness she has suffered from perhaps they would have had a more competitive rivalry and she would have won more than the 7 Grand Slam titles she currently has.
Compared to the men’s game she hasn’t endured the serious rivalries that would have enhanced her status even more than it already is. Federer has competed in the era of Pete Sampras, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to name but 4 other players who have won multiple Grand Slam titles between them.
In Federer, Sampras, Nadal and Djokovic you have 4 of the greatest players of all time playing, with the exception of Sampras, in the same era. That challenge has forced them all to raise the standard of men’s tennis to new heights. It’s elevated the game of Murray to unprecedented levels too.
5. Lack of serious rivals
The absence of top quality rivals for many years means Serena Williams hasn’t been tested to the extent that the men have been for many, many years. It’s hard to think of an era when there has not been strength in depth in the men’s tennis and quality, exciting rivalries at the top of the sport.
You need to compete against serious rivals and other great talents to be considered one of the greats of all time. For instance, in heavyweight boxing, Muhammad Ali is widely considered to be the greatest as he competed, wining and losing against great rivals like Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman, all of whom helped cement one another’s reputation’s as great heavyweight boxers.
6. Absence of strength in depth in the women’s game
It is rare for a top 10 player to lose to someone outside the Top 50. In the men’s game a top player outside the Top 100 can beat a top 10 player if they have a good day. For example in the last 4 Wimbledon’s Rafael Nadal has been beaten by players outside the Top 100 and that’s with him playing well!
7. Lack of grace and elegance to Serena’s game
She is clearly much stronger looking physically than all of her rivals and uses her physical advantages to best effect by seeking to blast opponents away, as opposed to playing more positional, placement tennis, for instance in the way that Roger Federer does, Djokovic and Murray do. Obviously, in addition to physical ability, she is mentally strong and is a great competitor, rising to the challenge on numerous occasions to win matches when defeat seemed the most likely outcome. In the absence of opponents able to nullify her various strengths she has proceeded to win multiple titles.
Serena has time on her side. She is still playing fantastically, has a real hunger in her belly to chase down records and for that reason, if she stays fit, healthy and really focused and competitive there is every chance she will continue to accumulate Grand Slams and other titles to further cement her legacy and achieve the status of greatest of all time.
- Encyclopaedia Brittanica
- Serena Williams website
- Steffi Graf website