“I started playing tennis not to be the greatest but just because I had a racquet and a dream,” Serena Williams said after her quarterfinals victory against Carla Suarez Navarro during the US Open. After winning her fifth US Open championship and her 17th career Grand Slam title, the little girl who had a racquet and a dream may end up going down as the greatest women’s tennis player ever.
Williams dominated the women’s field at the US Open in New York City, losing only one set in seven matches, and winning three straight sets 6-0 during her run. Serena, who is ranked number one in the world, defeated the number two player in the world, Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 in the Women’s Final. On her title run, she also knocked off other top players, including Li Na and fellow American Sloane Stephens.
Williams won her first US Open title 14 years ago, which prompted me to ask her about a hypothetical matchup between the 17-year old with the youthful enthusiasm and the braids and beads and the mature and mentally tough 31-year old. “I don’t know. I have been looking at film when I was 17. I remember I played Steffi Graf in Indian Wells, and gosh, I was good,” Serena said with laughter. “Both of us are fighters, we both never give up, so it would be interesting to see.” Perhaps there is a video game maker who is preparing that fictional battle as you read this.
What makes Williams so good? A large part of it is her skill. She has a serve that is both powerful and accurate, and can dominate a match with it. I also think her will to win is unmatched. Serena seems to have that desire to crush every opponent she faces similar to what Michael Jordan possessed, and her 17-4 record in Grand Slam finals is evidence of that. (Two of those four losses in Grand Slam finals were at the hands of her older sister Venus Williams.)
There are those who have questioned the ability of her father, Richard Williams, as a coach, but Serena had wonderful things to say about his ability and the outcome. “The results spoke for themselves between myself and Venus.” She continued to talk about his impact on her and her sister’s game. “I think one of the reasons I’m still playing some of the best tennis at 31 is because he built my game and my sister’s game. He gave us a good foundation.”
So is Serena the greatest women’s tennis player ever? You won’t hear her say that just yet. “I feel like people like Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf, they just, right now, are to me the ultimate tennis icons in history.” Serena also spoke about them after winning title 17. “To be compared with Crissy and Martina, not yet, because I’m still not quite there yet.”
With that being said, you have many tennis experts and former players who already say she is the greatest. With Serena playing the best tennis of her career at 31, having won four of the last six Grand Slam titles and the gold medal during the 2012 Olympics, it seems only inevitable that she will catch Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who each have 18 Grand Slam titles, and eventually pass Steffi Graf, who has 22. If she does, perhaps then we will hear Serena herself agree that she is the greatest. Serena put it best when she talked about her continued motivation to play tennis. “I just am still that girl with that racquet and a dream and I’m just playing for that.”