Time to Settle This: Serena Williams is the GOAT feat. Shamira Ibrahim
This past weekend, Serena Williams won Wimbledon for the sixth time after (relatively) easily beating Garbine Muguruza.
Unhappy simply enjoying the moment, the question came back to mind…
Is Serena the greatest ever?
Thing is, I’ve never really set about answering this question.
So without years of research to rely on, I did the next best thing: I phoned a friend.
Meet Shamira Ibrahim. You’ve seen her on VerySmartBrothas, #SexyShred’ing, and around these parts commenting intelligently on many topics. She’s also on Twitter at @inomallday.
She’s my Serena Expert, and the person I trust most with this topic. We talked it over, and she agreed to help settle this question once and for all.
I’ll let her make the case for Serena. I did some fancy book-learnin’ and tried to figure out whom else you could argue:
Margaret Court –
Court is more or less the George Mikan of women’s tennis (using NBA comparisons was super helpful).
She racked up a TON of titles in a bygone era. Court was the shit in the ‘60’s, before what we now know as the “Open Era” where all eligible players can compete.
So Court can go down as the first great player, but not the greatest ever.
Martina Navratilova –
Navratilova is the first greatest player of the Open Era. I compare her to Bill Russell.
She has all of the titles. All of them.
More specifically, Navratilova has 167 WTA singles titles, including 18 Grand Slams spread over 1,177 total singles matches won.
Navratilova has the counting stats to be considered one of the greatest ever. The greatest ever though?
Steffi Graf –
The all-time Singles Grand Slam title-holder, Graf is considered by most to be the greatest player of all time.
She has the most weeks ever at #1 AND the most consecutive weeks atop the rankings. Kinda like Jordan, she mastered the style of play we’re most used to seeing today.
Style of play, stats, and Grand Slams seem to set Graf apart in history. To top it all off, she has the game’s only “Golden Slam,” reserved for those who win a Calendar Slam (all four Grand Slams in a calendar year) and an Olympic gold in the same year.
So I’ll turn it over to Shamira at this point…why is Serena the GOAT?
Hey, folks. Let’s get right to it.
Point blank, Serena’s dominance this far into her career – almost 20 years, including 2 returns from nearly career ending injuries – makes her the GOAT. If folks need her to get the Calendar Slam to make it really real then so be it. But at this point deniers sound like Kobe stans who hold on to his ring count to deny that Lebron is just flat out a better all-around player.
Before I even break down why all the other names bandied about are her lessers, let’s just take some facts about Serena’s play into account.
Serena has the best serve in women’s tennis history – not just because of speed (she averages 125 mph (her sister has actually shot a faster recorded speed of 129)) (that’s right, double parentheses), but also because of her ability to place the ball exactly where she wants it. When she’s at her peak, her serve is damn near unreturnable – her 102 aces in 2012 Wimbledon come to mind – facilitating her ability to make comebacks and run up sets in an unprecedented manner. Steph Curry with the shot, if you will.
That isn’t the only tool in her arsenal. Her groundstrokes (backhand and forehand) are superb. Her court coverage is phenomenal; and her at-net volley play is much higher than average for someone who flourishes on the baseline, especially with a strong overhead shot. All that to say, Serena is a supremely well-rounded player who is pretty much unstoppable when she sets her mind to it.
Now let’s get to dismantling the simpletons:
I’ll start with Margaret Court…by not acknowledging Margaret Court. Honestly, her 24 championships are a nice grail to aspire to, but it holds as much water as single twenty-somethings who keep comparing all romantic partners to Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Jebediah’s 50 year marriage. Jebediah had outside kids and a gambling problem. Similarly, 11 of Margaret’s majors were pre-Open era, meaning she wasn’t even competing with the full pool of tennis players at the time. So there’s really only 13 we need to count. 13 is…cute.
Plus she’s come out as a raging homophobe, which is why she’s never invited to hold court (see what I did there) with the other esteemed women of tennis history.
Navratilova is already out of discussion with less Grand Slams than Serena, however merits mention because her athletic style of play paved the way for several “athletic” female tennis players to come into their own later. But her physicality pales in comparison to Serena. And I’m not just talking size. I’m talking pure power.
Navratilova would not be able to meet her level of ferocity and court mobility if they were both at their best games. Yes, Navratilova held #1 for quite a long time, but everyone knows that rankings are inflated by the frequency of play above all else, and the few instances over the past few years where Serena DID let her #1 lapse was mostly due to her interest in things like a design career or varying light skinned rappers. I’m not subtracting points from Serena for wanting a life.
And now we get to Steffi. Steffi’s two notches against Serena are as follows:
1) the “Golden Slam”, and
2) One measly championship, which Serena will presumably grab at the US open in a few weeks to cement her Calendar Slam.
For one, folks that stick to those numbers always like to forget that Serena, unlike Graf, has won 3 out of the 4 Majors at least 6 times. For two, Serena has successfully completed two “Serena Slams” – holding all Major titles within twelve months (but not within the same calendar year).
And last but certainly not least, Graf got the biggest break in the world in the form of a psychopath literally stabbing her rival Monica Seles in the back and ruining her career. (Seles would return to professional tennis and make it back up to No. 4, but her style of play would never be as dominant as it once was). Prior to Seles’ injury, Steffi was the Sharapova – good, but not good enough to get past her with any level of consistency (Seles had won 8 majors). Then Seles took an almost three-year hiatus and Steffi gobbled up 10 more majors. Long story short: ASTERISKS EVERYWHERE.
Serena, on the other hand, has managed to dominate every major tennis rivalry put her way:
Maria Sharapova can’t get a W to save her life. (Joe edit: GET EM!!)
Justine Henin had to retire TWICE. (Son! GET EM!!)
Capriati got sent back to whatever rehab center she crawled out of. (GET EM!!)
Martina Hingis’ racist behind can only be found on the doubles circuit – that is, if the Williams sisters aren’t playing (and when she’s not nose deep in cocaine). (*Jamaican Air Horns*)
Mauresmo became Andy Murray’s coach…a lot of good that did him. (Hammer, don’t hurt ’em!)
Not to mention her sister – arguably her biggest rival in their earlier years, and at one point presumed to be the stronger player of the two – now a foregone conclusion at the mercy of Serena’s first serve. All of them phenomenal players – none of them able to bridge the gap created by Serena’s combination of ability and power.
It has been said ad nauseam over the past few months, but it sincerely bears repeating – Serena Williams is the most shining embodiment of the American Dream today. It was Serena (and her sister) that made the finals of Women’s tennis must-watch TV (they moved it to prime time!). It’s Serena who still guarantees sell out crowds at Round of 16 matches. Serena who, even at 33 shows minimal signs of slowing down.
Wait for her to get that 22nd, 23rd, or 25th trophy if you must, but all you’re doing is delaying the inevitable crowning of Serena Jameka Williams from Compton, California as the Greatest Women’s Tennis Player of All Time – and arguably the greatest athlete of our generation.
Joe here…I guess I’ll drop the mic for Shamira…
and turn it to you, Dear Reader.
Is Serena the GOAT? Hit the comments and let us know what you think!