Serena Williams will play in the Wimbledon final on Saturday morning. If she wins, which seems more likely than not, it will be her 24th grand slam, and her 8th time winning Wimbledon. This mark is important because it will mean Serena will tie Margaret Court for the most grand slams in women's tennis history. That alone is remarkable. What's even more remarkable is how long it's taken her to get to this point.
Serena won her first major when she was just 16 years old, the U.S. Open in 1999. It's been nearly 19 years since then and she's still winning majors. Court won her 24 majors from 1960-73, note that the Open Era began about halfway through her dominant stretch in 1968, so there is somewhat of an asterisk on her resume. In the Open Era, there have been three other dominant women's players, close to the level of Serena. Chris Evert won 18 grand slams from 1974-86. Martina Navratilova won 18 majors from 1978-90. Steffi Graf won 22 slams from 1987-99.
These four players won more championships in a shorter time span, so you could argue that they were more dominant during that time span, but is that really important? Court's dominance stretched 13 years, while the other three's dominance stretched 12 years. Being that good for over a decade is a remarkable feat. But it doesn't touch being that good over a two decade span. If Serena wins on Saturday, it will have been almost 19 years since her first, six years longer than Court, and seven years longer than the others. Longevity of a career is just as big of a factor as is dominance. Serena owns the longevity category. And for how it looks like right now,
Another factor is age. Federer gets loads of attention for still being the best at 36, but people rarely focus on Serena's age. Serena is just one month younger than Federer and she's also still the favorite at majors. Serena may never have a calendar year grand slam like Graf, but she's still winning titles late into her 30's. Graf won her last grand slam when she was 29, seven years younger than Serena is now. Navratilova won her last grand slam when she was 33, Evert was 32 and Court was 31 in their respective final grand slams. Serena won the 2017 Australian Open when she was 35. Even if she doesn't win the final on Saturday or never wins another major, she has already transcended all of these other greats by winning later in her career.
If you're familiar with Serena's story, you might be wondering why I haven't talked about the most remarkable factor yet. Don't worry, I didn't forget. Serena had a daughter last year, at 35. She won the 2017 Australian Open while she was pregnant! If she hadn't had her daughter, she might have already passed Court's record. Serena missed a full years worth of grand slams during her pregnancy and in the months after giving birth to her daughter. If Serena wins on Saturday, she won't be the first mom to win a grand slam after giving birth, but one of the few. Court is the only other on this list. Graf and Evert had kids after retiring. Navratilova didn't have kids. The physical toll on Serena's body is incredible, and yet we will probably be praising her for winning her 8th championship at Wimbledon in just a couple days.
Serena is certainly the tennis GOAT. However, is she the ultimate goat?
I would say yes. There are only a few athletes who have had a dominant career as long as Williams. Kobe Bryant is one of them. Lebron James will be one too. Tom Brady is another. Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and a handful of other baseball players have also had dominant 20+ year careers. None of them are women. None of them gave birth. None of them have had to deal with their gender's sport not being taken as seriously as the other gender.
Serena Williams, whether or not she wins Wimbledon again on Saturday, whether or not she breaks Court's record, is the greatest athlete of all time.