by Isaiah Buse
24 is more than 23. I don’t know too many people who would disagree with that statement.
Margaret Court was better at tennis than Serena Williams. I know a lot of people who would disagree with that statement.
Even though most tennis experts and casual fans alike would agree that Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player of all time, many still argue that Margaret Court was a better player since she won more Grand Slams.
If Serena were to even tie Court’s record by winning one more Slam, it is very likely that the tennis world would unanimously crown her as the best to ever do it. If she won two more and overtook the record, many might even consider her the best regardless of gender.
But, the reality of the situation is that Serena Williams will never win another Grand Slam and tie Margaret Court’s record. And it doesn’t matter.
Whether or not Serena Williams winning another Grand Slam really matters in terms of making her the best female player of all time is the most important question to be answered.
But, before that question can be answered, it is important to make the reasons why she will never win another Grand Slam clear.
There are a plethora of reasons, but they all basically come back to three main reasons.
For many years, the WTA was one of the most predictable leagues in all of sports. You really didn’t have to watch too much tennis to know that Serena Williams was probably going to be the name on the trophy.
But, as Serena has reached the latter stages of her career, the WTA has become one of the most exciting, unpredictable leagues in the world.
With players like Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, Simona Halep, Bianca Andreescu, Aryna Sabalenka, and so many others, there is no longer a dominant force but rather several strong contenders.
Following her win at the 2017 Australian Open, Serena has made it to four Grand Slam finals. In those finals, she lost to Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, and Bianca Andreescu.
Not to take anything away from those players, but the point of saying that isn’t to show the level of talent she has played but rather that she has had to face four different opponents who all represent an obstacle to her Grand Slam quest.
The problem isn’t that the WTA has produced another Serena Williams, although Naomi Osaka or Coco Gauff might change my mind on that soon, the problem is that it’s produced many very good players.
Grand Slam draws — which are vast by nature — and the two-week tournament format do not favor Serena in this stage of her career for other reasons that we’ll discuss later but particularly because of the increased competition.
As an illustration, at the 2021 Australian Open, Serena had to face (7) Sabalenka in the 4th round, (2) Halep in the quarterfinals, and (3) Osaka who she would lose to in the semifinals.
That was as the 10th seed. Inevitably, now that she is playing fewer tournaments, Williams’ ranking will continue to drop, only increasing the difficulty of her draws.
With many young players climbing to new heights as Williams descends, her quest for a Grand Slam championship has become much harder.
As I alluded to in the first reason, tough draws during Grand Slams aren’t the only thing that makes major tournaments difficult for her.
In addition to this, her physical and mental decline has caused her to falter late in tournaments. To no fault of her own, the birth of her child combined with her increasing age has not treated her conditioning kindly.
Aside from her conditioning, Serena has also dealt with several injuries lately, most notably her shoulder and Achilles.
At the 2020 French Open, Williams was forced to withdraw prior to her second round match citing an Achilles injury. In 2021, at the Yarra Valley Classic, a tune-up tournament for the Australian Open, Williams withdrew prior to her semifinals match due to a shoulder injury.
Although it seems as if neither of these injuries turned out to be anything serious, I think it is safe to say that her body is beginning to give in to many years of training and grueling tournaments.
It’s almost a low blow, but Serena even withdrew from the Miami Open due to an oral surgery that she had prior to the tournament. I know it isn’t what Serena or her fans would like to hear, but she’s not getting any younger.
Not too many people want to say it due to the inevitable public scrutiny — and Ion Tiriac certainly went about it the wrong way — but Serena’s game is built around athleticism and to be brutally honest, she just isn’t athletic anymore.
To say that Serena doesn’t know what it takes to be a champion is absolutely nonsensical. She truly has gone from rags to riches and earned everything that has come her way.
That being said, in the last few years, Williams has lost the edge and drive that she once had when facing an opponent on the tennis court.
The combination of a declining game, raising a child, social activism, and many others things have caused her to lose some motivation to lose blood, sweat, and tears over the game.
There is also something to be said about reaching a level of supreme success at anything in life and still being able to push yourself to do more. It isn’t easy to be the best at something and taste all of the success that you possibly could and still be completely motivated to grind.
No matter what the reason, or combination of reasons is, Serena has not only lost some of the opponent intimidation that she used to have just by being on the court but also some of her own drive to succeed.
I didn’t pull many punches when explaining why Serena won’t win another Grand Slam. That was on purpose.
As much as you might want to believe that she can, it is highly unlikely and just isn’t going to happen. But, in spite of that, Serena Williams is the best female to ever touch a tennis racquet.
Truly, if anyone should be considered alongside Serena it should probably be Steffi Graf, but that’s an article for another day.
Right now, let’s discuss why Serena only having 23 Grand Slam championships compared to Margaret Court’s 24 doesn’t matter.
Once again, I’ll use the magic number of three reasons to show why Serena is the G.O.A.T regardless of her Grand Slam count.
The first reason Serena is the G.O.A.T regardless of her Grand Slam count has less to do with her play on the court and more to do with her impact off of it.
Whether or not you think she is the best to every play, you can’t deny the amount of exposure she has given the sport and the amount of young girls that have picked up a racquet because of her.
She isn’t only the most well-known female tennis player of all-time, but rather the most well-known female athlete of all-time.
In addition to the publicity she has brought the sport, Serena has won over the hearts of most, if not all, tennis fans. Her contagious smile, likable personality, and willingness to fight for civil and social rights, among many other things have caused her to become an icon and role model.
On the other hand, whether or not you agree with Margaret Court’s stances on modern issues such as those on gay rights, the media, and pop culture have made it very clear that they do not. So, that clearly gives Williams an edge in the public’s eye.
Even if you would consider their careers on the court very similar in terms of success, Serena has clearly had a much more prosperous career off of the court in terms of public opinion, publicity, and perception.
Despite having one less Grand Slam than Court, it could easily be argued that Serena’s 23 were harder to win than Court’s 24.
First, Serena has extended her dominance over a longer period of time. Serena’s Grand Slam victories have come over a stretch of 18 years while Court won all of hers in 13 years.
Granted, Court was very dominant during that stretch, but there is something to be said about the prolonged dominance that Serena has had.
Next, the level of competition at the Australian Open during Court’s career has long been questioned. And, because Court won 11 of her 24 Slams there, her total is of a much weaker stature than Williams’.
As for Serena, she has won 7 Australian Open and Wimbledon titles, 6 at the US Open, and 3 at the French Open, proving her dominance on every surface and in every facet of the game.
Finally, the validity of Court’s 24 Grand Slams easily comes into question when you consider that one of them came on a walkover.
At the 1966 Australian Open, Nancy Richey withdrew from the final, becoming the first to ever do so and giving Court her 7th straight AO championship.
When you compare this to the 2017 Australian Open that Serena won while she was pregnant, the gap between 23 and 24 becomes much smaller if not nonexistent.
Of course the number of Grand Slams you have won matters. There is certainly a difference between somebody with 20 championships and somebody with only 1.
But, when the gap is much closer, say 23 and 24, why do we put so much weight on who has one more? In the NBA, the constant debate is whether Michael Jordan or Lebron James is the greatest player of all time.
Yet, Jordan only has 6 championships and James 4, compared to Bill Russell’s 11 championships. Granted, basketball is a team sport, but to be considered the greatest of all time, you must be the best player on your team and thus the most vital piece to their success.
Either way, more basketball fans than tennis fans understand that it’s more about your relative success compared across eras, your influence on the game, and domination of the sport.
If you’re allowing something as silly as a one number discrepancy stop you from recognizing Serena as the G.O.A.T, you’ve built the foundation of your argument on sand.
As was mentioned in the previous section, one of Court’s Slams was won via a walkover. On top of that, some of her career was played prior to the Open Era, bringing to question the quality of her competition.
Trust me, I love stats as much as the next person, but sometimes we have to see things with our own eyes.
Sometimes, when my girlfriend thinks it’s raining outside she will get out her phone and check the weather app. When the app confirms that it’s raining she just takes it at its word.
To be fair, around 70% of the time it is right, much like numbers really can get things right a lot of the time. Still, I’m not satisfied with just taking things at face value.
I think sometimes you have to get up off of the couch, pull back the curtains, look out of the window, and decide for yourself whether or not it’s raining. In the same vein, in the case of Williams vs. Court for the title of the G.O.A.T, the numbers by themselves don’t tell the whole story.
Don’t allow yourself to just automatically assume that Court is the G.O.A.T because she has one more slam, because once you pull back the curtains there’s a lot more to be seen.
The next time you’re part of or hear a Williams vs. Court debate going on, take a moment to kindly educate your number-infatuated friends with the truth.
Serena Williams’ chances of winning a 24th Grand Slam and tying the record are slim to none, but, with your help, her chances of being remembered as the G.O.A.T are looking good.
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