Before Serena Williams became one of the greatest players of all time — before she won 21 major titles and hoisted 68 WTA trophies in her career, and before she and her sister Venus became a part of our national lexicon — she was a 17-year-old girl from Compton, California, standing on the baseline inside Arthur Ashe Stadium with her mouth agape in shock, left hand on her chest.
That was 16 years ago, and that was just after the first Grand Slam victory for Williams, now 33. When that same event, the U.S. Open, begins later this month in Flushing Meadows, Queens, the world No. 1 will go for the calendar Grand Slam (winning all four of the sport’s major titles), something that hasn’t been done in tennis since 1988, when Steffi Graf did so. Williams will also look to tie Graf’s Open-era record of 22 Grand Slams, the most of any man or woman.
A Tinseltown Story
Early on in her career, Williams marveled at Hollywood. As the powerful and uninhibited youngster slowly stacked the accolades into her resumé, she dreamed of a career as a silver screen actress and made appearances on Law & Order: SVU, ER and The Bernie Mac Show.
But there was no script for what Williams would achieve on the tennis court. Her 19-year career has been a kind of fairy tale that has touched every corner of the globe and launched Serena into other-worldly status. And still the question remains: Is she the greatest of all time?
It’s a debate that is raging within tennis as Williams marches toward the New York City skyline and the U.S. Open. She has been frighteningly dominant against the current generation of women’s tennis players, with a crushing 72-7 combined record against the current crop of top 10 challengers. She has won eight of the last 13 Grand Slams she’s played in, dating back to the summer of 2012, when she brought on French coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
A New Challenge
She has not, however, matched Graf’s mark of 22 majors, or the 24 that Margaret Court won before tennis become a fully professional sport. Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert are still above her in the tally of weeks at No. 1 and Navratilova, owner of many records, sits at a seemingly unreachable 167 singles titles won, nearly 100 more than Serena.
But modern women’s tennis is a different beast than the sport that Navratilova, Evert, Court or even Graf played. The global game that Williams has so dominated is as diverse and international as ever, making her 85 percent winning percentage — and the fact that no major rival owns a winning record against her — more than impressive. It makes her among the best in the world, ever.
“I’m the kind of person where I’m like a sponge,” Williams told reporters after her Wimbledon win last month, which completed her run of four majors in a row, the second time she had achieved such a thing in her career.
“I learn so much from every loss. [They] propel me. I’m the kind of player when I lose, I learn a lot from it. That’s helped me in my career.”
Will there be a loss in New York come early September? Probably not, but time will tell. But the player she has become is unmatched no matter what, even when measured against history.