Will Serena end up being the Greatest Sportsperson of all time?

Every sports fan loves a good ‘who is the greatest of all time?’ debate. The historical origins of this sport within a sport probably goes back as far as time immemorial.

In our modern media dominated era, it seems like Mohammed Ali was the first real proponent of the greatest hype. The irony is that he didn’t have any real competitors when he was at his peak but he certainly seems to the first person who really understood media hype. The fans love to argue over a beer about who is the greatest of all time and there seems a never ending thirst for facts to put a certain fan’s point of view across.

If we fast forward to the present day there are many greatest of all time battles going on at the moment across all sports. These arguments are never clear cut, which is to the delight of everyone except the more emotional and intense fanatical fans.

Serena might be the GOAT?
What isn’t disputable is that individual sports are much ‘easier’ to discuss in GOAT terms than team sports. It helps to unmuddy the waters. Take for example, the world of soccer, and the fans of Messi and the fans of Ronaldo. They can argue until they are blue in the face about all sorts of things, but they would never know how Messi would perform playing international events with Portugal, and likewise Ronaldo playing for Argentina. From a scientific point of view there is no control. This makes it even harder to judge who is better than who, if you are the kind of person who likes to place a sporting bet, we’d advise you to be careful with your money.

There is no such problem with individual sports. The discussions around Tiger Woods versus Jack Nicklaus are not muddied by their career stats being surrounded by their countrymen (The Ryder Cup excepted of course). The same with tennis. Although there is the doubles game, most of the top players now concentrate on singles only.

In the men’s game there is a fascinating three way argument going on at the moment. For a decade it has always been an argument that the GOAT in tennis would only ever be decided between Roger Federer from Switzerland, the Swiss Maestro as he is known, and Rafa Nadal, or the Spanish Bull, who one can just not beat on the clay surface.

But more recently The Serbian Novak Djokocic has been making a threeway argument for who is in the running to be regarded as the greatest of all time. He recently stopped a drought of over two years without winning a major title to win Wimbledon in excellent style and put his private life troubles and elbow injury behind him. He is now on 15 Grand Slams where Nadal is on 17 and Federer on 22. Federer is five years older that his two rivals so there is plenty of scope for both the Serb and the Spaniard to catch up and beat Federer.

With the women’s side there are a set of issues that makes looking for a clear cut answer as to who is the GOAT of the WTA more tricky.

The brilliant and long lasting Serena Williams recently overtook Steffi Graf’s record of 22 grand slam singles titles to reach the grand total of 23. This was at the Australian Open in 2017. She then astonished the tennis world by revealing she was two months pregnant when she beat her opponent in a gruelling battle. Doctors at the time commented that hormonally she would have been facing severe disturbances in her usual athletic balance, so to have got one more than Graf with a baby on the way only adds to the argument s she should be considered the greatest of all time.

Graf and Sabatini know it’s hard at the top.
But if she has left the German in her wake, we now have to consider her only other arguable challenger for the crown of female tennis player GOAT. This is sixties and seventies legend, the indomitable and long limbed Margaret Court.

Before we move on to this endgame in the women’s GOAT argument, it is appropriate to mention a much argued point when Graf fans come into contact with Williams fans. Steffi Graf, although she is now one Slam and potentially several more behind Williams in the singles total, has achieved two very rare things that Serena has not been able to do.

Graf is a holder of the Golden Grand Slam, which no one in the history of tennis has been able to achieve before or since, and she also won the Calendar year Grand Slam. She achieved both these excellent feats in the same year, 1988, when she was only 19 years old.

A Grand Slam is holding all four tennis majors at the same time in one Calendar year. And the Golden Slam is doing this and then winning the Olympic medal in the same year. Given that the Olympics only happens once every four years, it means that tennis pros only have three or four, or at the very outset only five chances to win the golden slam.

Serena got to two matches away from winning the US Open in 2015, having been the winner of the other three. But then she choked horribly and lost a semi final against the brilliant Italian player Roberta Vinci, to whom she had not even lost a set in four previous matches. The mental pressure had got to her.

Court was one of the best of her time.
Margaret Court is the holder of 24 Grand Slam titles. And she also won the Calendar Grand Slam in 1970. She didn’t have the chance to win the Golden Slam as the Olympics wasn’t played in her era. The big negative point in Court’s ledger is that 11 of her 24 Grand Slams where in her home tournament the Australian open. In the seventies hardly anyone made the trip down under, but a win is a win and you can only play who is in front of you.

We would say it is highly likely Serena will get to 25 slam wins and then she could leave the sport with her head held high knowing she gave her all and is the best. But she’ll also know the fans will never stop debating whether this is true or not. It will be a sad day when she hangs up her racket.

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