Craig Gabriel is Nine Radio’s tennis correspondent and worked for Serena and Venus Williams for a total of 12 years, providing content for their website.
Now that Serena Williams has hung up the racquets in her professional playing career, her last match ending at the hands of Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, the GOAT subject (Greatest Of All Time) has raised its head all over again, as expected. And as expected the loudest voices claiming her as the GOAT have come from Americans.
But is Serena Williams really the GOAT?
It’s tough to call many of the people saying so “tennis observers”. They’re more people who watch the sport with a bit of a passing interest and have become aware of the sport because of Serena.
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Her longevity in the game has been remarkable and nothing has come easy to her, from her very beginnings through to the injuries and the multiple near-death experiences. Her guile, fight and determination are legendary. She has managed to fight through adversity more than any other player which has highlighted her physical and mental strength. As she has often said: “I’m Serena.” She speaks of herself in the third person.
There is Serena Williams the tennis player and then there is Serena Williams the brand. Most who have not necessarily got an insight into separating the two aspects just automatically label her the GOAT. The lines have been blurred.
There is no question whatsoever that Serena Williams changed the face of women’s tennis and it could even be argued women’s sport as a whole. Her physicality is beyond compare. She brought millions of new eyeballs into tennis by crossing boundaries and breaking down barriers.
Her outbursts on court added to the attention she would receive. Her edgy outfits attracted even further attention. She recently said those outfits with an edge, made her play with an edge.
Her ventures away from tennis elevated her cultural status. Her friendships and associations with the likes of the Kardashians and Beyonce, and Kelly Rowland, Spike Lee, the Hadid sisters and dozens of people in the entertainment spotlight have made her a celebrity in another sphere. A sort of comparison of a tennis player finding a different audience might be Yannick Noah who is now known more for his music recordings and concerts than being an amazing tennis player.
Serena is a cultural icon and she admitted she now enjoys that side of her life more than the tennis life. But do those facets really contribute to her being regarded as the GOAT, or should they? Probably not. There is no legitimate reason or excuse for these to be meshed in and with that separation, one would have to question if she really is the GOAT in tennis.
Go against that and one thing that will be raised is the race card. There are plenty of entries on social media, especially and obviously from the American Black community that will be critical of anyone who questions her status. Serena has done a remarkable job to elevate Black lives and provide hope and confidence to the community, but people are also so very blinkered about it all.
Time and again there have been attempts to play down the record of others, in particular Margaret Court, in an effort to elevate Serena. Time and again people in tennis say Court’s record from the 1960s is inferior because of the standard of the draws. The WTA really has not been strong enough to endorse the playing records of someone like Court and that’s because of Court’s extreme conservative views.
Determining the greatest of all time is a very difficult matter to judge. It is a fascinating topic of discussion but is it really fair to compare eras and generations? Equipment has changed and become more sophisticated, more is known about training sciences, diets have been adjusted, playing surfaces have greater variety and different events have been added in, such as the Olympics.
It’s fairer to determine the greatest of an era or generation but that is probably not sexy enough.
People try to rewrite history, but the facts speak for themselves and using those facts and figures, there is a question mark on whether Serena Williams is the GOAT.
Her record of weeks at No.1 or the number of titles she has won are very impressive and fans are quick to judge they are the best of any, but in fact they are not and in some cases she is not even ranked among the top three. It is these that should be the criteria that judge the GOAT. Certainly, she outdoes all women players for career on-court earnings but that is a given. There would be something very wrong if it were not the case as prize money levels go up every year.
Serena spent 319 weeks at No.1 whereas Stefanie Graf holds the record at a staggering 377 weeks and Martina Navratilova is second with 332 weeks. Graf and Williams are tied for most consecutive weeks at No.1 with 186. When you look at simultaneously holding the No.1 ranking for singles and doubles, Serena is barely in sight, she has nine weeks compared to Navratilova at 103 and Martina Hingis at 29.
Williams is third for the most year-end top ten finishes behind Navratilova and Chris Evert.
When it comes to titles, Margaret Court still reigns with 24 majors, then Williams on 23 and Graf on 21, but overall titles have Serena at fifth; the list is Navratilova 167, Evert 154, Graf 107, Court 92, Williams 73. The most number of titles Serena won in a year was eight; compare that to Court who won as many as 21 in 1970.
1970 was significant for Margaret Court because that was the year she won the Grand Slam which Graf bettered in 1988 by winning the Golden Slam – adding the Olympic gold medal to the four majors in a single year. Twice Serena held all four majors at the one time, a monumental achievement, but never did she achieve the Grand Slam by winning all four in a calendar year.
The figures don’t lie and on this information it is difficult to crown her as the Greatest Of All Time.
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