Few names are as synonymous with the sport of tennis as that of Serena Williams. The American star has been at the forefront of the game for nearly the entirety of her career. Amazingly, desipte having made her pro debut more than 20 years back, she is still going strong and remains one of the top contenders on the WTA tour. Whether this is down at least partially to a lack of credible challengers is up for debate. What cannot be debated, however, is that she has remained at the top of her game through all these years.
As Serena Williams gets set to celebrate her 40th birthday, let us look back at the career of one of the sport’s decorated all-time greats.
It is often said that the numbers don’t lie. While that not might always be true, in the case of Williams it is impossible to argue against the mind-bogglinh statistics she’s notched up over the years.
23 singles Grand Slam titles. 14 doubles Grand Slam titles. 2 Grand Slam titles in mixed doubles. A combined 73 singles titles and 23 more in the doubles ranks. A former world number one in both singles and doubles.
She’s only the third player in history to have twice held all Grand Slam titles simultaneously, after Rod Laver and Steffi Graff.
She is one of only two women’s players to have won Olympic gold in both singles and doubles – the other was her sister Venus. Last, but not the least, she is also the highest-earning female athlete of all time. Yes, of all time.
But Williams’ game is so much more than numbers. When elder sister Venus was dominating the tour, she was asked who would be the player to displace her. She said it would be her sister Serena.
Many at the time thought she was simply bigging up her little sister. And while it is true that Venus was doing that to an extent, it was indeed Serena who dethroned her.
And she did it in some dominant fashion too. Her first-ever Grand Slam win came in 1999 and she waited nearly three years for the second. But ever since then, she’s been a consistent Grand Slam and title winner.
Indeed, it became such a regular occurence that it was more newsworthy when she didn’t win a Slam. As such, beating Serena was also a good way to get noticed. Just ask Maria Sharapova.
But even when she lost – she came back strong and won some more.
There is, however, one record that continues to elude Williams. That is the record of most singles Grand Slam titles won by a female tennis star.
That record belongs to Margaret Court, who has won 24 Grand Slams. Serena has, on her part, won 23 – not a terrible record by any stretch, given the men’s record is 20.
However, the failure to break the record would doubtless bother her. Yet there remains a valid argument that she doesn’t need the record to be considered the Greatest of All Time – or the G.O.A.T.
The main reason for this? All of her Grand Slams wins came in the Open Era i.e. when pros and amateurs played in Grand Slams together.
On the other hand, 13 of Court’s Grand Slams came in the Amateur Era, when pros were not allowed to compete in the Grand Slam events.
This is not to diminish Court’s legacy. But given that Serena has won 23 Slams in the Open Era whereas she only won 11 in that Era, it is fair to say she has tasted more success.
It is a view held by her coach Patrick Mouratoglou too. “Margaret Court was playing at a time when three-quarters didn’t even go to Australia (for the Australian Open), where tennis was an amateur sport, when the draws were 16 players,” he recently told AFP.
“I don’t mean to disrespect Margaret Court, but it’s another era. Yes, it would be better if Serena broke her record but, if she doesn’t, she will still be the greatest player of all time.”
Whether Serena can break the record is debatable. Her last Slam win came in 2017 and she’s since not only had a child, but struggled with both form and fitness. But don’t write her off just yet.