After the disappointment of losing in the final of the year’s first Grand Slam in Australia, US superstar Serena Williams got her French Open title defence off to the perfect start on Tuesday, dropping just two games as she dispatched Magadlena Rybarikova in quick time. And already, the 34-year-old starlet will have her eyes focused on picking up a third title in four years at Roland Garros.
As per Grandslamtournooi.nl, Serena has been considered firm favourite to defend her crown for months. Her positive start, combined with the suspension of nearest rival Maria Sharapova and the early exits of Angelique Kerber, Roberta Vinci and Victoria Azarenka, will only further enhance those feelings that the younger Williams sibling is destined for her fourth career victory in Paris.
A first Grand Slam this year would also see the Michigan-born starlet join Steffi Graf on 22 career titles. Even if she fails at Roland Garros, it seems inevitable that she will overtake the German’s record at some stage while many would back her to even surpass Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24. However, if Serena does register her first Grand Slam of 2016 on June 3rd, it would be hard to argue against her credentials as the greatest woman to ever pick up a racket.
It’s not simply a case of winning titles; it’s the manner in which she has done it. After all, Serena hasn’t had it easy. The overall standard of women’s tennis in the past 15 years has arguably been higher than any other era, and the World No.1 has had to overcome a number of rivalries to reach, and stay at, the pinnacle.
Serena’s first major challenge, around the turn of the century, was to simply prove that she was the best tennis player in her family. Four consecutive Grand Slam final victories over Venus, starting at the French Open of 2002, cemented her place at the top of the family tree. Aside from her older sister, Williams has also faced competition from the likes of Sharapova, Azarenka, Justine Henin and many others. Whilst she has encountered low moments during her her career, it’s now been the best part of 15 years at the top. That would be an incredible feat in any sport, but in tennis, it’s almost unheard of.
Even Graf only enjoyed a decade of dominance, although she did win one more Grand Slam at Roland Garros almost three years after No.21. However, the German failed to reach a single semi-final in that interluding period. Conversely, Serena has reached at least one final in 15 of the last 16 seasons. For longevity alone, especially at a time where the physical and mental demands are greater than ever, the younger Williams sister stands out on her own.
Her success has worked wonders for the game, particularly due to her authoritative power play on the court. Quite simply, Serena has been the figurehead to lead women’s tennis to the highest place it’s ever been.
There is no doubt that Serena will be regarded as one of the sport’s all-time greats. Not least because her 21 victories have been spread out over all four Grand Slam events. If she does pick up the trophy at Roland Garros, it will complete a career haul of at least four titles at each of the big tournaments, a feat that would see her match Graf.
However, given the her style and achievements for women’s tennis as a whole, it would be hard to argue that Serena doesn’t deserve to be placed on a pedestal of her own. Williams is already amongst tennis royalty. Win at Roland Garros, and she’ll have to be considered the queen.