Michael Jordan. Tom Brady. Kobe Bryant. Floyd Mayweather. Lebron James. What do all of those names have in common? They are the names of athletes frequently brought up when people discuss who the greatest athlete of all time is.
From sports shows to barber shops, these athletes are argued and fussed over so much that people tend to forget there’s one name missing from that illustrious list. Her name is Serena Williams.
We can say her name is left off the list because tennis is not as popular as sports like basketball and football. We can say it’s because some people believe tennis is not as physically demanding as other sports. We can come up with reason after the reason or we can address the elephant in the proverbial room.
Some people don’t consider Williams to be the greatest athlete of all time because she is a woman.
It’s no secret, most sports are male-dominated. Male athletes typically make more money than their female counterparts. They have better endorsement deals, better TV ratings, and overall a better relationship with the media. There’s no debating that it’s more profitable to be a male athlete.
This is not to say female athletes never make more money than male athletes, it’s just rare and Williams is one of the rare instances.
Of all active tennis players, Williams has the most Grand Slams. With 23 Grand Slam singles wins, Williams sits at the top with more major wins than any other active tennis player, male or female. The only player with more wins than Williams is an Australian player, Margaret Court.
When Court retired in 1977, she had won 24 major wins. Williams is the only player, male or female, to come close to Court’s records.
Williams’ record is not new to me, but when doing my journalistic duty by fact-checking to make sure I had her wins correct, I was faced with something that perplexed me. When you google “Which tennis player has the most Grand Slam wins?”, neither Court nor Williams’ names pop up.
Whose does, you ask? Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. How many Grand Slam titles have they won? 20.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, math is not my thing but even I know 23 is more than 20. So why, when you ask America’s favorite search engine who has the most wins, two players who in fact, do not have the most wins pop up first? I’ll give you a hint, it’s because they are men. The first five search results explicitly state Federer and Nadal have the most wins in men’s tennis.
One could argue because I didn’t specify male or female, Google assumed I was referring to male players, but that just proves my earlier point. Even Google overlooks women players in favor of men, even when those players don’t have as many wins as female players.
Winning 23 Grand Slams is no small feat but from an early age, Williams has shown us she had the potential to be one of the greatest of all time. At the age of 17, Serena won her first Grand Slam, becoming the first black woman to do so since Althea Gibson in 1958. For over 20 years, Williams has continued to dominate her sport.
Her list of accomplishments is so long, they have their own Wikipedia page. How many players have broken so many records that they need their own web page to list them all? Let’s delve into some of Serena Williams’ most impressive accomplishments.
At the 2003 Australian Open, Williams broke numerous records. After defeating her older sister Venus, Serena became the first Black woman to win the Australian Open. Not only did she become the fifth woman to win back-to-back Grand Slam titles, but she also became the fifth woman to hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously. On top of that, Venus and Serena became the first players to compete in 4 consecutive slam finals.
The Australian Open appears to be Williams’ playground because, with seven titles, she holds the record for most wins at the AO. Her last win at the AO is by far her most impressive because days before she won the final match, she discovered she was pregnant.
“Oh my God, this can’t be — I’ve got to play a tournament,” Williams said. “How am I going to play the Australian Open? I had planned on winning Wimbledon this year.” Even upon finding out she was with child, Williams decided to compete and won without losing a single set. If that’s not G.O.A.T status, I don’t know what is.
Like any other sport, of course, there are other players in the tennis world who believe Williams is not the greatest because what’s a debate without naysayers. Martina Navratilova, a tennis great in her own right expressed there’s room for discussion of who’s really the G.O.A.T of tennis.
“If you just go on majors, then you have Serena,” Navratilova said during an interview with Forbes in August 2020. “If you go a different way, then it would be me or Steffi Graf, perhaps Margaret Court. It just depends how you want to measure that.”
Navratilova, who recorded 18 Grand Slam singles titles and 58 overall Grand Slam championships (mixed doubles; 18 women doubles) isn’t the only tennis player with an opinion of Williams’ G.O.A.T status. After suffering a Wimbledon loss to Simona Halep in 2019, Billie Jean King expressed maybe it was time for Williams to focus on tennis instead of “behaving like a celebrity” and “fighting for equality.”
In response to King’s comments, Williams made it abundantly clear, she has no plans to stop running her multiple businesses or fighting for the equality of others.
“The day I stop fighting for equality and for people that look like you and me will be the day I’m in my grave,” Williams said.
When Lebron James and Tom Brady goat-like greatness is brought up, one thing we constantly harp on is their age. They are currently among the oldest players in their respective leagues but also considered to be the cream of the crop despite their age. We praise them for being great when typically skill decreases as you age.
But despite Williams being the oldest player to reach the No.1 ranking in tennis at the age of 35, she just doesn’t get the same praise. Not only is she the oldest number one ranking, but she is the oldest tennis player to win a Grand Slam title.
I know the concept of “the greatest athlete of all time” is subjective. Different people have different reasons for why an athlete should be considered the greatest. I’m aware that we won’t always agree on this subject but I do think most people can admit it is almost disrespectful to exclude Serena Williams from this conversation.
For over 20 years, Williams has been a record-breaking athlete. She has pushed through adversity, health scares, and even competed while pregnant and still she is classified as the greatest female of all time. I’ve never heard Michael Jordan or Floyd Mayweather referred to as the greatest male athlete of all time, so why do we do it with women? It’s time to put some respect on Serena Williams’ name and give her a rightful seat at the table of G.O.A.Ts.
Featured Image: September 9, 2020 – Serena Williams in action against Tsvetana Pironkova during a women’s singles match at the 2020 US Open. (Photo by Simon Bruty/USTA)