Who’s the greatest- Serena or Steffi?

AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye

Who’s the greatest- Serena or Steffi?

In recent years the narrative that Serena is the greatest female tennis player of all time has been the norm. I’m not going to argue the fact that Serena is an exceptional tennis player. She has accumulated a staggering 23 Grand Slams! But what about Steffi Graf? I think Steffi is still in this conversation.

It makes absolutely no sense to me that people have built this narrative around Serena being the greatest when Steffi Graf accomplished 22 Grand Slams, including being the last tennis professional to win a Grand Slam, meaning all four Grand Slams in a calendar year (1988). Nobody has been able to accomplish this feat in the open era, not Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, and certainly not Serena.

Additionally, Graf had a much shorter window to win those 22 Grand Slams given she retired at age 30 in 1999. Also, it has to be noted that she retired at the very top of her game, having won the French Open for the sixth time and reaching the Wimbledon Final in 1999.

So, why does everyone give Serena the Greatest of All-Time moniker? Some of it has to do with the domination of American media, and the pundits influencing this narrative. But let’s give Serena more credit. They can influence this narrative nicely now because she does have 23 Grand Slam titles to Steffi’s 22.

However, that is where it ends, 23 Grand Slams vs. 22 is the only stat where Serena wins out. Consider the additional stats and facts that favor Steffi:

  • Steffi won a total of 107 singles titles during her career vs. Serena’s 75 singles titles. And it took her 14 years to accomplish this vs. the 21 years it has taken Serena to win 75

 

  • Steffi accomplished her 22 Grand Slam titles in a shorter window: 12 years. It took Serena 16 years to reach 23 Grand Slam titles.

 

  • Steffi Graf ended the year number one eight times vs. five times for Serena

 

Finally, it is common knowledge that the Australian Open was not considered a must on the calendar until the late 90s. Many top players did not make the trip to Australia as they considered it too early in the season, and not as prestigious as the French, Wimbledon and the US Open. Steffi skipped the Australian a total of five times during her 12-year Grand Slam run. Serena has won the Australian a total of seven times vs. Steffi’s four. If Steffi was playing in this day and age, she would not be as quick to skip the Australian.

In my view, there’s a clear case for Steffi to be considered the greatest. No tennis player, man or woman, has accomplished what she accomplished in such a short span of time. So, let’s not be so quick to anoint Serena the best ever. How about giving both Steffi and Serena the distinguished title of Greatest Ever? Let’s start getting away from the “winner take all” mentality. Both these ladies are worthy.

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