Serena Williams, the Supernova
The legendary American is one of the all time tennis greats
Serena Williams for all her gallant efforts did not reach her long cherished goal of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. She has finished her gloriously durable career one short of the all time record of Australia's Margaret Court.
Intense disappointment aside there is little doubt that the legendary American is one of the all time tennis greats. Indeed the list can be narrowed down in the Open era to the quartet of Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Chris Evert. Court of course is an all time great but her career overlapped both the Open era and the amateur era.
Notching up as many Major titles as one can is certainly a significant way of rating the greatness of a player but it cannot be the only parameter. The total number of titles won around the WTA circuit, matches won against losses, excelling on all surfaces, the number of weeks a player has been ranked No 1 are all important criteria when it comes to discussing where a player should be ranked among the all time greats.
Take Graf for instance. She was ranked world No 1 in the WTA rankings for a record total of 377 weeks, the longest period for any player, male or female since the WTA and the ATP began issuing rankings. She won 107 singles titles, ranking her third on the WTA all time list after Navratilova (167) and Evert (157).
Graf and Court are the only players, male or female, to win three Majors in a calendar year five times. Graf is the only tennis player, male or female, to have won each Major at least four times. Her 22 Grand Slam singles titles puts her just behind Court and Williams.
Moreover Graf has a truly unique feat to her name. In 1988 she achieved the Golden Slam by winning all four Majors in addition to an Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year. Little wonder then that Navratilova included Graf at the top of her list of the greatest players ever.
When Graf retired in 1999 former world No 1 Billie Jean King said that, "Graf is definitely the greatest women's tennis player of all time.'' And in 2000 Graf was named as the greatest female tennis player of the 20th century by a panel of experts assembled by the Associated Press.
Graf's feat of the calendar Grand Slam, winning all four Majors the same year, has been achieved only thrice in women's tennis. America's Maureen Connolly was the first to achieve the feat in 1953 and Court emulated her in 1970.
For Court this was part of a record six consecutive Grand Slam singles titles. Court's winning percentages on various surfaces is of the mind boggling and eye rubbing variety. On all surfaces (hard, clay, grass and carpet) she has a winning percentage of 91.74, the best of all time.
Her Open era singles career winning percentage of 91.02 (608 – 60) is unequalled as is her Open era winning percentage of 91.67 percent (11 – 1) in Grand Slam singles finals. Her win-loss performance in all Grand Slam singles tournaments was 90 percent (207 – 23).
The ITF Hall of Fame citation states, "For sheer strength of performance and accomplishment there has never been a tennis player to match her.'' In 2010 the Herald Sun called her the greatest female tennis player of all time a view supported by Australia's two time Wimbledon singles winner Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
Evert's foremost claim to true greatness are her 18 Major titles including a record seven French Open titles and a joint record six US Open (tied with Serena). But she was also ranked world No 1 for 260 weeks and was year-end world no 1 singles player seven times (1974 to 1978, 1980 and 1981.
Evert reached 34 Major singles finals, the most in history, and along with her great friend and rival Navratilova dominated women's tennis in the 70s and 80s. She holds the record of most consecutive years (13) of winning at least one Major title and her career winning percentage in singles matches of 89.97 percent is the second highest in the Open era, for men and women.
The highlight of Navratilova's widely successful career has to be the 18 Major titles including a record nine at Wimbledon where she made the final 12 times. Add to that her 31 Major doubles titles and ten Major mixed doubles and she has a combined total of 59 Major titles, the most in the Open era.
But Navratilova was also ranked No 1 in singles for a total of 332 weeks next only to Graf and for a record 237 weeks in doubles, making her the only player in history to have held the top spot in both disciplines for over 200 weeks. With 167 career titles she holds the record in the Open era. Her legacy is clear and undiminished.
In 2005 Tennis magazine selected her as the greatest female tennis player for the years 1965 through 2005 directly over Graf. Billie Jean King said in 2006 that Navratilova is the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who ever lived.
In 2008 tennis historian Bud Collins called her "arguably the greatest player of all time." In 2000 tennis writer Steve Flink named her as the second best female player of the 20th century directly behind Graf.
Serena Williams' stupendous record is comparatively recent and doesn't need to be recounted here apart from the fact that she was No 1 in the WTA rankings for 319 weeks, including a joint record 186 consecutive weeks and finished as the year end No 1 five times.
Suffice to say that her list of achievements compares favourably with the quartet listed above and she deserves to take her place among the half a dozen greatest players in history. If she still has a tinge of disappointment at not having got to the magic figure of 24 she can still take solace from the fact that she has the most singles titles in Majors in the Open era with 13 of Court's titles having come before 1968 the year tennis went Open.