We count down the major reasons why Serena Williams is the Greatest Of All Time
There are very few certain things in sports, but this summer at Wimbledon, when Serena Williams won the 22nd major title of her career, she for all intents and purposes ended the debate over who is the Greatest Female Tennis Player of All Time– or GOAT, if you will. In fact, as she would like to remind you, she’s now firmly in the conversation for the greatest player of all time, regardless of sport or gender.
We’ve been watching Williams play tennis since she was 16 years old. She won her first major when she was only 17. Her dominance has been a part of the fabric of our society for so long, that it’s easy, even understandable, to take it for granted.
But now that the chase for 22 is complete, and she turns her focus towards running up the score on history, it’s important to dig a little bit deeper. Why exactly is her greatness so irrefutable?LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 09: Serena Williams of USA celebrates with the Venus Rosewater Dish after her victory over Angelique Kerber of Germany in their Ladies’ Singles Final match on the outside balcony of the Centre Court
on day twelve of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 09, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Stephen White/CameraSport via Getty Images)
Let’s Do The Numbers
The numbers alone tell a big part of this story. She’s now tied with Steffi Graf with 22 major titles. The only person above her is Margaret Court, who has 24, but Court’s majors were amassed in a tennis universe so different that an asterisk doesn’t even do them justice. Additionally, Williams has 304 match wins at majors, which only trails Martina Navratilova’s record by two. She is 22-6 in major finals, which is by far the best in history for players with a minimum of five major wins. In two weeks, she will pass Steffi Graf atop the list for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 with 186, and she’s doing that just a month shy of her 35th birthday.
In fact, her years post-30 are the most impressive of her career. She found the consistency and day in, day out drive to really make the most of her talent at an age when so many of her peers were retiring. She has been the oldest No. 1 in WTA history for the past 3 ½ years. Since 2013 French Open, she has been seeded No. 1 at every major — a streak of 16 straight majors. In the 14 years of her career before that? She’d only been the top seed eight times. Nine of her 22 major wins came after the age of 30.
Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous.PARIS, FRANCE – JUNE 04: Serena Williams of the United States serves during the Ladies Singles final match against Garbine Muguruza of Spain on day fourteen of the 2016 French Open at Roland Garros on June 4, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
Girl Got Game
But even before Williams started tallying up these gaudy numbers, she was already in the GOAT conversation. Why? Well, because her game is just that good.
Her serve has been called “the most important shot in tennis history.” That was on full display at Wimbledon, when she hit a tournament-leading 74 aces, more than double the second person on the list, semifinalist Elena Vesnina, who had 31.
She regularly serves in the 120s, but power isn’t the only thing that makes it so special. Opponents find it almost impossible to read her serve, because her toss is consistent. She doesn’t change the height of her toss or her form based on what serve she is about to hit. She gives away nothing.
“Williams’ motion is deadly in its simplicity — She is calm at the line; her windup is silky smooth, her toss regular, her leg thrust powerful, her swing compact,” Doug Robson wrote in 2012. It’s certainly no surprise that she modeled her serve after Pete Sampras.
But while it’s perfectly fair to start conversations about Williams’ greatness with her serve, it’s down-right criminal to end it there.
Williams’ entire game is well-developed. She has fantastic hands at the net. She can generate angles from anywhere. She can hit drop shots and slices and lobs. Her return is lethal. In short, she can do everything. That’s because she wasn’t always the strong, powerful woman she is right now.
“[W]hen I was younger, I was so small. I was like the runt. I didn’t have power, so I had to learn how to play other ways,” Williams told reporters back in 2013. “I think that also taught me how to be mentally tough because Venus used to win her matches really fast and I would be out there grinding, hitting lobs and fighting and grinding and grinding. In the end I think that really developed me as a player, to learn how to win. Then when I did get bigger and stronger, it just helped me to win more easily.”HOLLYWOOD – JULY 13: Michelle Williams, Beyonce Knowles, and Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child with Serena Williams perform onstage at the 13th Annual ESPY Awards at the Kodak Theatre on July 13, 2005 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Serena Off the Court
Okay, so she’s got the stats and the serve, and every other shot in the book. Her resume on the court certainly qualifies her as GOAT. But perhaps the most important thing about Williams is how much she resonates off the court.
She is a black woman in a historically white sport, who has never shied away from talking about race, or for taking a stand against racism. I mean, she boycotted one of the most important events on the tennis calendar for 13 years after being subjected to boos and racial slurs from the crowd. She’s never tried to force herself to fit into mainstream (read: white) standards of beauty. Whether her hair was braided, beaded, or just big; or her outfits leopard print, catsuit, or merely a denim skirt and bedazzled crop top, she’s always just been herself.
She’s crip walked on the grounds of Wimbledon and twerked with Beyonce. She’s built schools in Africa, designed clothing collections for HSN, and guest edited an issue of WIRED dedicated to racial and gender equality. She’s spoken up about equal pay for women and Black Lives Matter.
And, perhaps most importantly, she’s never forgotten where she came from or what she has overcome to make it to the top. She began playing on the public courts in Compton, and would often have to stop practice due to gunshots. In 2003, her sister Yetunde Price was shot and killed on those same streets. She’s battled through countless injuries, and a few years ago even suffered blood clots that could have been fatal. But through it all, she’s just kept going.
There’s no telling how many more years Williams will play or how many more major titles she’ll win. As superhuman as she seems most of the time, she is indeed mortal, and her career will end sooner rather than later. But when it does, there should be no debates, no questions, no what-ifs. She’s the GOAT, plain and simple. The rest is just gravy.