23. That is the number of Grand Slam titles Serena Williams has won. She has been the best player in women’s tennis since she entered the top 20 all the way back in 1998. Serena has won every major at least three times, and has won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon seven times each. Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player to ever play the sport. Yet, there is one record which she still does not own.
24 is the record for most Majors in tennis history. This record is held by Margaret Court. Court played in the Amateur Era, which only allowed non professional players to play in the Grand Slam tournaments . Players that competed in the big tournaments in that era were not paid anything for playing in those events. Players that wanted to be paid were considered professionals and were not allowed to play in these big tournaments. Serena Williams is playing in the current “Open” Era, where both professional and amateur players compete together. Looking at the record books, you will find that Serena is ranked second all time in Major titles, one behind Margaret Court.
Serena has not won a Major in over three years, and is 0-4 in her last four Grand Slam finals. Serena Williams is now 39 years old and is in the final stretch of her incredible career. Her best result this year in a Major was at the US Open, where she lost to Azarenka in the semis. The biggest topic of discussion right before every Grand Slam Serena plays in for the last three years has been, “will she win number 24?”, “is she going to tie the record?”, “is this her last chance to do it?”.
Most believe Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time, yet so many want her to tie or break the record of 24 Major titles. The 24 Major titles that were won with professionals banned from playing in these big events. Although this has little effect to the women’s game, the Australian Open, which Court won eleven times, had draw sizes of no more than 52. Court is not considered the best by any who cover the sport. There are more arguments that Steffi Graf, Chris Evert, or Martina Navratilova should be considered the greatest as opposed to Court. So here is why Serena Williams’ legacy does not change whether she wins number 24 or not.
The Asterisk With 24
To be the best of all time, you need to first be the best in your era. Well, what happens when you are in an era where you are winning all of the big tournaments, but there are so few players playing in that tournament. That is where numbers become skewed and meaningless. Court won 11 Australian Open titles. Back then it was called the Australian Championships because is was not yet open to professionals. In those Australian Open tournaments, the draw sizes were between 27 and 52. Draw sizes for Majors now are 128. It is much harder to be the last one remaining of 128 then it is when there are only 27.
Another thing to note, many players did not travel to compete in the Australian Championships. Most of the field back then was made up by local Australians. Of Court’s 24 majors, only four came in the Open Era. Even when she did win in 1969, it was in a tournament where the size of the draw was 32. In tournaments like the 1962 French Championships, Court only had to win five matches to lift the title in Paris. Serena Williams needed to win seven in a row to capture each of her three French Open titles.
I am not trying to say that Court was not a great player. She was an amazing player who is considered one of the 10 best players of all time. However, when we are comparing the record of 24 Majors to Serena’s 23 Majors, it is easy to see why Serena’s 23 was much more difficult.
Serena Williams was training to become a professional tennis player when she was very young. Serena and Venus, both taught by their father, had an incredible amount of pressure when coming onto the tennis scene. Their father believed at a young age they would be destined for greatness in the sport.
It did not take long to prove him right as Serena won her first Major at just 17. She became only the second African-American women’s tennis player to win a Major title after Althea Gibson did in 1956. Ever since that win, Serena Williams has dominated the sport. She completed the career Grand Slam, winning all four Majors, in 2003 when she won her first of seven Australian Open Titles. From 2002-2003, Serena won all four Major titles in a row, something she did again in 2014-2015. Serena Williams has also won the US Open three consecutive times from 2012-2014.
Serena’s overall record once turning pro has been an incredible 843 wins and only 147 losses. She has dominated her fellow competitors. The women with the second most titles during the Serena era has been her sister Venus and Justine Henin. They both have seven Major titles. Serena holds a 18-12 advantage over her sister and a 8-6 advantage over Henin across all tournaments. Serena is also 7-2 against her sister and 1-0 against Henin in Grand Slam finals.
Although she does not hold the record for most Majors for now, she does hold many other records. Serena holds the record for most career prize money with over 93 million dollars, is tied with Graf for most consecutive weeks at number one with 186 weeks, and is also tied with Navratilova with six major titles won without dropping a single set. To go along with all her records and 23 Majors, Serena has also won four Olympic Gold medals, three with Venus in doubles, and one singles gold in 2012 in which she won both the singles and doubles event.
Serena Williams turned 39 in September. Her current ranking is number 10 in the world. She has been ranked in the top 20 at some point of every single year from 1998 to now 2020. That is 22 years of dominance, in which she was the year end number one five times. She continues to play at a high level, and while some have said her level has dropped, she still continues to be one of the favorites to win every Major.
Most players who start playing tennis at a young age tend to burn out from all the pressure and stress of the sport. To be the best and to constantly prove it puts a lot of pressure that can be impossible to handle for many. Many players quit the game before they turn pro because they just do not enjoy it anymore. Serena is the complete opposite. She continues to play in her late 30’s because she simply loves the sport and the pressure that comes with it. While most have faded once winning a major or two, Serena Williams plays as if she has not won anything.
Serena won her first Major title at 17 years old, won the Australian Open while pregnant for eight weeks, gave birth to her daughter at 35, and continues to play now at 39 years old. It is incredible to see her fight in every single match. She believes she has more to prove and more to accomplish. When she won that Australian Open while pregnant in 2017, she became the oldest woman to win a Major in the Open Era. Serena and Evert are the only two women to win a Major in their teens, 20’s, and 30’s. The best record Serena holds that shows her longevity in the sport. That would be 10 Major titles after turning 30 years old, which is seven more than the next woman.
Will Serena Get to 24?
This question has come up ever since she won her 23rd Major at the Australian Open back in 2017. She has been very close on several occasions, reaching the finals of a Major four separate times. Yet, as she continues to get closer to the end of her career, everyone is wondering, will she get to the record of 24?
The best answer for this question would be to ask yourself, “would Serena Williams be playing if she did not think she could win?” The Answer. Absolutely not. She believes she can win in every tournament she plays. The biggest issue though, will revolve around her age. Although a 10 time Major champion after turning 30, she is now approaching a number that so few have ever reached in the sport, 40.
Serena has one more year before she turns 40 years old. People might believe that could be her final year, but she has said numerous times that she is not done playing anytime soon. Venus is a year older than Serena and is still playing. Although Venus’ level has significantly dropped in the last few years, Serena’s has not. I also do not expect Serena’s level to drop as significantly when she turns 40. I believe she can still win another Major or two, but only if she stays healthy. In the last couple years, injuries have started to pile up for Serena. Not the major injuries Federer has had that has forced him to miss major parts of the year. These are the small lingering issues that prevent Serena from playing her best.
In the past, Serena did not necessarily have to play he best tennis to win tournaments. With the rising young talent in the women’s game and Serena’s increasing age, she now must play her best tennis to win another Major. Every time we start counting Serena out, she proves us wrong. Looking at when she last won a major may give you signs that she is heading towards the end. However, in 2018 and 2019, Serena did make the finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open. So, although she has not won in over three years, she has come very close and has shown that she has what it takes to get to the record of 24. Who knows, maybe 25 will be the new number.
Serena Williams is the greatest of all time. She has won all there is to win in the sport. Seven Australian Open titles, six US Open titles, seven Wimbledon titles, and three French Open titles. To go along with those major titles, four Olympic gold medals. In total, she has won 73 singles tournaments.
She holds many records in the sport, many of which might stand for decades to come. Tying the record of most Major titles in the sport would be a great story, but other than that, it does not change what we already know. 24 is the record, but there is a giant asterisk beside it. With many of those coming in small draws and limited international players, that number does not represent how difficult the sport is now. Serena’s 23 is one of the most amazing feats in sport.
128 players, all fighting for the same thing, to hold that Grand Slam trophy at the end of the tournament. Serena has been the final one standing 23 times in her career, along with 10 other times where she was the runner up. She has had the biggest target on her back since she turned pro. This target is because people know how great she is and how badly she wants to win every match. To deal with the pressure of being the best player in the world, with so many trying to take it away from her, is just simply incredible.
She is considered with Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, and Usain Bolt as some of the most dominant athletes in their respective sports in history. It is not like men’s tennis where we have two tied at the top with 20 and one close behind with 17 in the same era. Serena has completely dominated her era of tennis. Both Venus and Justine Henin won all their Majors between 2000-2009, in which they won seven each compared to Serena’s 10 in that decade. The 2010’s was when Serena took over the sport, winning 12 Majors in the era. The second most in that era. That would be Angelique Kerber with three.
Would it be nice for Serena to win number 24 and tie the record? Of course. I speak for most fans when I say I hope she does win another Major. Yet, the number will mean nothing for Serena’s legacy. Getting to or surpassing 24 Majors does not change what we already know about Serena Williams. So whether she stays at 23 or not, she is still the greatest to ever play the game.