May 7, 2015
We all know Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. But can she become the undisputed greatest female player ever, backed by the statistics and history books?
It’s a tough ask. Margaret Court, the powerful Australian, won an incredible 24 singles slams in the 1960s and 1970s. Serena “only” has 19 and time is running out.
Some would say that Williams has nothing left to prove. She is the greatest player of her generation, dominating an era when the physical demands of the game almost make a mockery of the way women played tennis back in Margaret Court’s day. But is that fair to past players?
Those of us old enough to remember Court’s power, grace and composure are able to recall just how physically formidable she was for her time. You can only play the best in your own era and 24 singles slams tell you that the humble champion from Perth was imperious.
Maybe people will look back at Serena in 40 years and try to dismiss her achievements because women from the early 21st century will no longer be regarded as worthy of comparison with the superstars of the mid-21st century.
We can only imagine that sport and athleticism will develop new levels of excellence as time marches on, because it has always been that way. So will that be any reason to dismiss what Serena has been doing recently in the women’s game? Of course not.
So let’s give Margaret Court the respect she deserves, and let’s work on the basis that her 24 singles slams are every bit as admirable as Serena’s 19. And if we’re going to do that, we have to acknowledge that, for now at least, Margaret Court is the greatest, not Serena. The history books say so.
What can Serena do about it? Well, there’s still time to match and perhaps even eclipse Australia’s finest…just. But no one could say time is on Serena’s side at 33 years of age.
Still, Martina Navratilova isn’t ruling out Williams in the battle to be regarded as the all-time-great of women’s tennis.
Navratilova said recently: ‘It’s possible, given the way she plays. It’s fast tennis.She doesn’t have to grind it out. Big serves, big returns. If anyone can do it, it will be her, with her technique and physique and her mental ability and her drive.’
Navratilova and her 18 singles slams have already been overtaken by the ambitious Serena. That is already an immense achievement. If Williams manages a Calendar Slam in 2015 she will take her total to 22. A couple for slams in 2016, maybe? One last triumph in 2017, with the entire tennis world willing her on to make history?
It’s not impossible. But then of course Navratilova has done enough interviews in her lifetime to know that it is safer to predict that a famous player can achieve something that to say she can’t.
Still, the beauty of this situation is that there is hope. And if Serena remains under the calming, inspirational influence of that enigmatic Frenchman, Patrick Mouratoglou, anything is possible.
Martina has observed of Serena: ‘She seems to believe in herself more.The biggest difference I see from the outside is her steadiness. She allowed herself to evolve with his help. She’s really trusted him to make the changes or adjustments.’
Perhaps Patrick holds the key to that fascinating question of who will emerge as the greatest woman of all time.