In an era where the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have been battling it out lead the men’s all time grand slam count, one question arises. The question is simple: why is there often still an active debate over who is the greatest women’s tennis player in history?
Why this is particularly interesting, is because of the revisionist history which has dominated the debate in recent years. So much so that now Margaret Court has been thrown into the debate, with her 12 grand slams won before the Open era(before professional tennis) now added to the equation.
At no point during Steffi Graf’s career was Margaret Court’s record ever a consideration. Martina Navratilova was the greatest woman’s player in history before Steffi Graf surpassed her major tally (by 4 grand slams no less).
For the longest time, Serena stumbled while trying to win her 22nd major. So much so that in 2016, Serena Williams lost 2 major finals. In one single season (2016) Williams lost as many major finals as she had in the previous 10 years combined (twice- 2008 Wimbledon and 2011 US Open).
At the time, it was clear and obvious that the pressure of equaling major 22, and catching the greatest woman’s tennis player in history, Steffi Graf, was weighing on her. In 2015, she made the final of 3 grand slams, and was one match away from making the final of every grand slam, at 34 years of age.
However, after losing 2 more major finals, Williams finally matched Steffi Graf’s tally. Then in 2017, she overtook the greatest women’s tennis player in history, Steffi Graf, by winning her 23rd grand major.
It begs the question: why are the goal posts consistently being shifted to distort accolades in the women’s game? If Steffi Graf’s 22 majors was always considered the gold standard, and the record to beat, for any women’s tennis player, then why is Serena Williams’s 23 never cast in the same light as Graf’s 22?
Why all of a sudden – since we saw Serena break the major record of Graf- are we hearing about Margaret Court’s “24” majors, like it was ever a thing?
To those who are unfamiliar, Margaret Court won 12 majors before tennis was a professional sport. Many women’s tennis players had other careers, such as teaching, as tennis alone was not enough to make a living, full time. It was a era when the draws for some majors consisted of just 8 players, and many tennis players did not bother to travel to Australia, as it wasn’t considered at the same level as some other majors.
However, in the professional era, where tennis players are essentially spending all their time playing tennis, the sport is obviously radically more competitive, and achievements from before the Open era cannot be compared to those after the Open era.
Thus, to compare Margaret Court’s majors as the benchmark for women’s tennis is completely invalid.
At the very least, it is intellectually dishonest.