Before her final against good friend Caroline Wozniacki at the 2014 US Open, Serena Williams was already a tennis immortal, a living legend of the sport. After her 6-3 6-3 victory (that felt more like 6-1 6-1…Caroline never threatened to win), Serena matches the 18 singles Majors won by the greatest rivals (yes, statistically even greater than Roger vs Rafa) in tennis history, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. While Williams still trails the 22 singles Majors of Stefanie Graf (that’s what Steffi likes to be called now), I’ve always seen the German great as someone who stood on her own, as her chief rival, Monica Seles, had her best years cut off by a crazy Graf fan. Also, in personality, she seemed more distant from her fellow competitors. It feels like Serena is more linked and welcomed into a triumvirate alongside Navratilova and Evert as the greatest women to ever play the game. They have openly, and repeatedly, spoken of Serena not being their equal, but rather superior. They call Serena the greatest female player ever. I don’t know if I agree yet…but maybe. There are still records out there Serena hasn’t matched. Let’s see where she stands.
As previously stated, Serena joins Martina and Chrissie with 18 singles Majors. That ties for second behind Graf’s 22. Let me state that I am only measuring the Open Era. Serena has a greater winning percentage (18 of 22, 81.82%) in Major singles finals. Of course, one could also say that Graf reached more finals (31, winning 22). Serena would minimally have to play until 2017 to surpass Graf, and likely beyond that since it’s not like Serena reaches every Major final. In fact, this is her only Major final of the 2014. She’s also never reached more than 4 Major finals in a row. So it’s probable that Graf’s 31 Major singles finals is a safe record. By the way, Graf once reached an astounding 13 straight Major singles finals in a row from Roland Garros 1987 to Roland Garros 1990, winning 9 of them. Serena matched Evert’s record of 6 US Open singles titles. That’s one more than the 5 won by Graf. However, Graf won all four Majors at least 4 times each. Serena “only” has 2 titles at Roland Garros. Serena has the “Serena Slam”, winning all four Majors in a row, but in two calendar years. Graf won a calendar year “Golden Slam”…all four Majors in the same year plus the Olympics. Graf also once won 5 Majors in a row and 7 out of 8. Serena still trails Graf in terms of overall tournament singles victories, 67 to 107. And it’s difficult to use the “Serena has better competition” argument. Graf beat players like Navratilova, Evert, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Gabriela Sabatini, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Mary Pierce, Jana Novotna and other greats during her career. And she did so after racquet technology improved. It wasn’t the wooden racquet era Graf dominated.
But we could throw around numbers all we want. Remember that Serena has often been out injured. Even when she’s healthy she plays a select schedule. At the end of the day, both at their best with every cent I’ve ever earned on the line. Who would I pick to win a match between the Serena and the only woman possibly left standing in her way as the greatest woman to ever play? I’d pick Serena. The reason is simple. She has the greatest serve in the history of tennis. That’s the difference between her and everybody else. But then again, I’ve qualified this by saying “at their best.” What if I had said over the course of a season? Then maybe I take Graf. Serena at her best to me is better than Graf. But Serena has more ups and downs than Graf. Just look at this year. Serena looked devastating marching to the US Open title. What about the other three Majors this year? Not so much. She didn’t even reach a quarterfinal at a Major before the US Open. That would be unthinkable for Graf when she ruled tennis.
But I don’t want to take anything away from Serena on her special day. It’s just more interesting to talk about Serena vs Graf than it is to talk about Serena vs anybody on tour right now. That’s how great…how special…Serena is as a tennis player. Her real opponent on Sunday wasn’t Caroline Wozniacki. It was history. Every once and a while, somebody like this comes along in sports, a player that makes you pull out the record book and reassess what defines the “greatest ever.” Serena Williams is that kind of athlete. So whether you like her or not. Whether you are a fan or not. If you respect what it takes to be better at something than anybody else has ever..EVER…been at that thing, then you should at least be able to tip your hat and acknowledge the brilliance of somebody who is one of a kind. There is everybody else who has played women’s tennis and then there is Serena, quite possibly the best ever.
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1 SERENA WILLIAMS (won 6-3 6-3 vs 10 Caroline Wozniacki)