Sunday, 29 January 2017

Is Serena Williams the Greatest Tennis Player of All Time?

by Oliver Wright

The Australian Open

Serena and Venus Williams
The 2017 Australian Open has been littered with shocks and records, consequently resulting in a very nostalgic pair of Singles finals. On Sunday, (at the time of writing) two of the modern greats of male tennis, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, are going head to head in a Grand Slam final for the first time since the Spaniard’s defeat of the Swiss at the 2011 French Open. With the pair being the dominating two players prior to the apparent beginning of the Murray/Djokovic era, it offers people to once more bask in the glory of the two majestic former world Number 1’s. Add this to the reigniting of one of the most prolific sibling rivals in sport, with the Williams sisters having fought out their 9th clash in a Grand Slam final, many tennis fans had prepared for a sentimentally brilliant weekend of tennis.

Serena Williams beat her sister Venus to claim her 7th Australian Open title and her 23rd Grand Slam to become the most successful tennis player to grace the Open-era of the game. Serena’s straight sets victory (6-4, 6-4) enabled her to pass Steffi Graf in the all-time list of major winners, with the top spot being only 2 Grand Slam wins away, the Australian Margaret Court topping the list with 24 major successes (the greater number of those coming before the professional era of tennis however).

The Match

Serena went into her 47th Grand Slam final as the clear favourite, ranking 15 places above her sister, and this showed through her breaking of Venus’s serve in the very first game. The latter quickly posed a comeback however, with the pair winning each other’s service games to make the score 2-2. The erratic start to the match whilst entertaining, proved too frustrating for the now seven-time Australian Open singles Champion, with Serena smashing a racquet during the third game, highlighting how the importance of the situation was weighing heavily on her mind. While Serena struggled to find her typical powerful rhythm, she eventually began to combat the intense pressure Venus was putting her under, capitalising on her sixth break point of the set to claim what evolved to be the vital break of the set, pressing on to take the first set 6-4. While many believed this was Venus’s opportunity to take her first major trophy in 8 years, they were soon shown to be optimists as the second set progressed, with Serena eventually serving out the match to reciprocate the comfortable score of the previous set.

The Big Picture

Although a huge achievement for Venus, with her reaching her first major final since 2009, this final won’t live for a particularly long period of time in the minds of those who watched it. It was a very straightforward match that eventually served as a form of procession for the woman who has, for over 17 years, been lifting these Grand Slams for fun. Serena Williams had already cemented her name in the history books of tennis before this match, yet this victory proved to compound upon the remarkable nature of her achievement. Sitting just one major win behind Margaret Court’s record, Williams has the chance to, in the words of 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova, ‘shatter’ this figure. And if, in the near-inevitable result of Williams breaking this record by the end of her career, she will be deemed in the eyes of many, as the most dominant player the sport has ever seen. While this could be viewed as the hyperbole of a romanticist, the statistics are undeniable. No one in the modern era, man or woman, has the record that she does. Overtaking Steffi Graf in major wins is the literal penultimate hurdle in officially becoming the most successful tennis player of all-time, however, when you consider a career containing her singles and doubles achievements (4 Olympic Gold medals and 47 Grand Slams) there is no one as prolific.   

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