This week we dedicate to the G.O.A.T. Across a wide range of sports, we will debate and remember the Greatest Of All Time, and look ahead to who’s next. Follow along here.
Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time.
Start with her 23 Grand Slam victories — each one at least three times. Then her 72 WTA titles. A 343-48 Grand Slam record. Four Olympic golds.
But let’s put aside, for a moment, the fact that she has more Grand Slam wins than any woman or man in the Open Era and is just one championship away from tying the all-time record. Let’s ignore that she’s won Wimbledon and the Australian Open seven times each. And let’s forget for a moment that she won her most recent Grand Slam while pregnant, almost died having a baby and has since played in three major finals with win No. 24 within her grasp.
Let’s briefly go back to 2012 in London and talk about the only time she’s ever won an Olympic gold medal in singles — not because the Olympics mean more but because her performance through the Games, particularly in the final, is one of the many moments perfectly encapsulating her greatness.
Serena cruised to the final, including beating then world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the semis. She never dropped a set and didn’t lose more than three games in a set. And then she had “rival” Maria Sharapova waiting for her in the final.
Wrecked, obliterated, vanquished — pick a synonym. There are countless ways to describe how badly Serena destroyed Sharapova in that final. She won, 6-0, 6-1, in all of 63 minutes to add another note to the most lopsided non-rivalry in sports. Serena leads Sharapova 19-3 in a head-to-head matchup, and it’s really 19-2 because Williams had to withdraw ahead of last year’s highly anticipated French Open match with an injury. But that’s the point.
Even Serena’s supposed rivals can’t keep up with her. Her resume is unprecedented, her power is incomparable and, as she’s about to turn 38, she’s still going strong after a quarter century. Not to mention that as a strong and vocal woman of color, she’s had an immeasurably significant impact on tennis.
Serena is the GOAT, and we’re not going to further litigate that here. Instead, here are quotes from 10 of her peers and fellow stars about her greatness and what makes her so dominant.
If Roger Federer says Serena Williams is the GOAT…
In this current moment in the greatest era of tennis — seriously, we’re so spoiled — there is no question that Mr. Roger Federer also deserves to be included in any GOAT debate. But if Fed says Serena is the overall GOAT, that’s the end of the debate.
“It’s been fascinating to watch. She had a totally different upbringing—I came up through Switzerland with the federation, she did it with her dad and her sister. It’s an amazing story unto itself—and then she became one of the greatest, if not the greatest tennis player of all time.”
I have to ask: Did Federer, considered by some to be the tennis GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), just suggest Serena was the GOAT? Did he mean GOAT on the women’s side—or overall?
“Overall,” Federer clarifies. He ticks off the staggering stats of players like Williams and Steffi Graf, which eclipse those of anyone in men’s tennis, especially when one factors in all of Serena’s doubles titles.
Venus Williams: Serena is “the best”
Among active players, Venus is second to only Serena on the Grand Slam wins list, and she has seven. In the early 2000s, especially when Venus won at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2000 and 2001, Venus was the better player. But a few years later, Serena passed her by — she has an 18-12 head-to-head edge — and Venus, of course, has nothing but good things to say about her sister:
“When I’m on the court with her, I’m playing the best competitor in the game.”
The Williams sisters played each other in the 2017 Australian Open final, and Venus has jokingly said Serena’s win wasn’t fair because her sister was pregnant so it was two against one. After that match and Serena’s Open Era record-breaking 23 Grand Slam win, they were both emotional.
“It’s a great number. I know she would like to have a little more. Who wouldn’t? It was a great moment. I’m very happy that she’s been able to, you know, get to number 23 because there’s 22 ahead of that that she also earned, and she earned it. …
“She’s a champion. She’s a champion on the court. She knows how to take it to that next level. Then off the court, obviously she’s an amazing person, an awesome sister. I couldn’t ask for much more.”
Maria Sharapova after losing to Serena in the 2015 Australian Open final
Though Sharapova and Serena have a years-long, well-documented feud, the Russian player had no choice but to admit Serena was the best — at that point. And, perhaps a little begrudgingly, she’d probably have to acknowledge her GOAT status now. After losing in the 2015 Aussie Open, Sharapova said:
“I believe we attract what we’re ready for. Yes, I haven’t won against her many times, but if I’m getting to the stage of competing against someone like Serena, I’m doing something well. I’m setting up a chance to try to beat her, and it hasn’t happened, but I’m not just going to go home without giving it another chance. That’s just not who I am and not who I was raised to be. I’m a competitor.
“If I’m getting to the finals of Grand Slams and setting myself up to play Serena, I’m happy in that position. I love the competition. I love playing against the best, and at the moment, she is.”
Novak Djokovic celebrates Serena’s return
The 2018 French Open was Serena’s first Grand Slam since she ended her maternity leave following the challenging birth of her daughter back in September 2017.
While her competitors might not have been thrilled to have to face her again, Djokovic was happy to see her, writing this while posing with her daughter, Olympia:
Future champion @olympiaohanian!! Welcome back to strong and fearless mom, @serenawilliams 💪👏👊
Simona Halep on why Serena is always a threat
Halep beat Serena in the Wimbledon final last month and touched on why it’s always dangerous to think you’ve got the win against Williams before it’s officially over. She said:
“I knew that I have to be aggressive, being 100% for every ball, that I don’t have to let her come back to the match because she’s so powerful and so strong. She knows how to manage every moment. So I knew that I have to stay there, which I did pretty well today.
I’m very sure that was the best match of my life. Also on grass against her is never easy.”
Naomi Osaka before and after the U.S. Open final
The 2018 U.S. Open final took a controversial turn as Osaka beat Serena. But before the match, Osaka had this exchange with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi:
Naomi Osaka: “I really want to play Serena”
Tom Rinaldi: “Why?”
Osaka: “Because she’s Serena”
And even after the match — which was Osaka’s first Grand Slam win — she said Williams’ argument with the chair umpire about his sexist behavior had no negative impact on her opinion of the GOAT.
“It doesn’t change anything for me. She was really nice to me, like, at the net and on the podium. I don’t really see what would change.”
Caroline Wozniacki defends her friend, who she says is already the greatest
As the tennis world picked sides between Williams and the chair umpire after the controversial 2018 U.S. Open, Wozniacki said she understood Serena’s argument. The two are longtime friends, and the GOAT was recently a bridesmaid in Wozniacki’s wedding. While defending Serena, Wozniacki said in 2018:
“I think that when you’re going into a Grand Slam final, you’re fighting for your 24th Slam, you’re fighting to be, on paper, the best player to ever have played the game – in my opinion I think she already is – I think there will be emotions involved.”
Madison Keys is confident Serena will tie Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam wins record at 24
Keys said in 2018 after Serena lost in the 2018 U.S. Open final:
“I definitely think she can do it, and I definitely think it’s something that she thinks about,” Keys said.
“I think she wants it and I think when Serena puts her mind to something, it usually happens,” she added. “She came back and she played three Grand Slams and made two finals. No one is ever going to be Serena and I think she’s done a ton for the sport and has helped players like me a lot,” she added.
Keys also said that it will be a big loss for tennis when Williams finally retires. “Obviously when she decides to stop playing it’s going to be a big loss but I think she’ll always be a part of it, and she’s always going to hold all these records and still be the greatest tennis player ever.”
Angelique Kerber on Serena’s greatness elevating her opponents
Although Kerber won the 2018 Wimbledon final — Serena’s first Grand Slam final since having a baby — she lost to Williams in the 2016 grass court final. Serena said she enjoys playing Kerber, to which the German star said:
“I also like to play against her because I know that against her you have to play your best tennis. She is putting me to playing hundred percent.
“She’s a great opponent to play, but also a great person. She’s a champion. … When you are playing against her, I know that you have to give everything, yeah, to play a good match or to beat her.”
Andy Murray as Serena’s doubles partner
Murray and Williams teammed up for doubles at Wimbledon this year, which led people to create nicknames for the duo. SerAndy and MurRena were the frontrunners, but Serena liked MurRena, to which Murray hilariously said:
“I think Serena is the boss so whatever she says goes.”