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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Comments: 8

  1. Matt Forster

    Hey Marco,
    You make valid points here.
    Now compare them both to Margaret Court then we’ll have some true perspective.

    Reply
    • eric samera

      MATT FORSTER you’re totally right

  2. Joey Dugan

    Steffi won 89% of her matches, Serena won 85%. Steffi won many more matches, despite retiring ten years younger than Serena. Steffi was number one for a record (male or female) 371 weeks…about a year more than Serenas’s 323 weeks. Martina Navratilova has 332 weeks (IMHO, she has the best case for the women’s GOAT). Some rightfully point out that Steffi’s greatest rival, Monica Seles, was stabbed by a Steffi fan, and never regained her top form, which allowed Steffi to dominate more easily. This is true. But Serenas’ FOUR top competitors were all taken away from her by injury , sickness, or marriage and emotional turmoil” Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Martina Hingis, and Venus. But both women could only beat the players who were put in front of them, so I don’t think we should punish either. Serena only had an 80% winning percentage in her 20s….it wasn’t until her 30s that she reached her pinnacle, but that was after all her top rivals were gone…..Actually, Margaret Court had a winning percentage of better than 91% in the amateur era, and then again in the Open era. She won the grand slam (in singles and doubles)….Chris Evert won at a 90% rate….Both Chris and Martina skipped TEN slams at their absolute pinnacle because the Australian and French Opens were not as important as team tennis and establishing the WTA tour. But each won 18 slams anyway. All four women performed MUCH better than Serena at slams when you take into account how many finals, semiifinals, and early exits each one had….if one is objective, Serena should rank fifth in terms of dominating her time.

    Reply
    • John

      100 % agreed. Even watching both of them playing, Graf was a more accomplished and complete player. People don’t know one more thing, seles’s injury was a minor wound which healed in 6 weeks. Her father got cancer just two days after her stabbing. She never disclosed and let the world think that she was mentally shocked with the stabbing and the truth was, her “fathers cancer was the most grieving and stressful news in her life”. Graf started losing because of something similar, her fathers affair scandal which became a nusidance for her family and took two years to settle down till dna was done.

  3. Waldo Pepper

    First, I vote Steffi. Period. Hands down. I should point out to you however, that I disagree with you about career and years as a player. That doesn’t matter. Whether you play 10 years, 15 years or 20 years… your career is your career. Steffi retired due to injuries and pain….one could argue that Serena is more durable and longevity matters for impact on the game. Again, I don’t buy that. YOUR CAREER is YOUR CAREER period. What you do in that time is your record of achievement. So standing alone, and not considering years played, Steffi by the numbers takes Serena. The amazing 1988, a Slam, Then Golden Slam adding the Olympics, and Then to become A SUPER Slam by adding the year end WTA finals Championship is an astonishing accomplishment. Steffi winning at least 6 slams on 3 different surfaces (clay,grass, hard) stands alone, 377 weeks at number one, 107 career wins to Serena 75.

    Reply
  4. Waldo Pepper

    First, I vote Steffi. Period. Hands down. I should point out to you however, that I disagree with you about career and years as a player. That doesn’t matter. Whether you play 10 years, 15 years or 20 years… your career is your career. Steffi retired due to injuries and pain….one could argue that Serena is more durable and longevity matters for impact on the game. Again, I don’t buy that. YOUR CAREER is YOUR CAREER period. What you do in that time is your record of achievement. So standing alone, and not considering years played, Steffi by the numbers takes Serena. The amazing 1988, a Slam, Then Golden Slam adding the Olympics, and Then to become A SUPER Slam by adding the year end WTA finals Championship is an astonishing accomplishment. Steffi winning at least 6 slams on 3 different surfaces (clay, grass, hard) stands alone, 377 weeks at number one, 107 career wins to Serena 75.

    Reply
  5. Kevin Sander

    Pretty much everyone who says Serena is the greatest ever is from the US which is a country not possessing a lot of ability to acknowledge the greatest of others. An example of this happened in 1996. The winner of the 100 metres at the Olympics has always been called the worlds fastest man until ‘96 when Michael Johnson won the 200 and Donovan Bailey of Canada won the 100. US media called Johnson the fastest. In a 150 metre match race the next year Johnson pulled up “lame” when it was apparent he wasn’t going to win.

    Serena doesn’t have the most majors nor does she have the most weeks at number one. Two pretty important criteria. How can the greatest player ever not be at the top of either of these categories? You’ve also made a lot of other great points. In situations like this, the opinions of those in the US can be given little weight. Fairness and objectivity aren’t their strong suits.

    To me, Serena doesn’t deserve it. Court and Graf are my top 2.

    Thanks for writing the article.

    Reply
  6. John

    Agree. Some more facts to let the readers know the length America and its media go to promote their players. In 1987 when Steffi took over world number 1 ranking from two Americans, they changed the ranking methodology by out voting Steffi. It meant Steffi had to win twice as many matches to retain. That motivated Steffi however as she won 98 % of her matches in 1988.
    Whats important in life is results, not explanations. Serena does not have one single all time lead in any metric whatsoever (except of course earnings or number of matches played which are meaningless). Not very many people know this due to the fog created by the hype of the media. Not a single record and you can check

    Reply