For Serena, there is only one Court left to vanquish

(Above) Serena Williams posing with her Australian Open trophy last Saturday after defeating her sister Venus to overtake Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 crowns.
(Above) Serena Williams posing with her Australian Open trophy last Saturday after defeating her sister Venus to overtake Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 crowns. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

MELBOURNE • When it comes to Grand Slam singles titles in any era, only Margaret Court remains ahead of Serena Williams, and the gap has now been reduced to one.

Williams has 23 and is showing no signs of calling it a day. Court, a powerful and attacking Australian, won 24 from 1960 to 1973 and seemed well aware that she would probably not be the leader for long.

"If she beats my record, she deserves it," Court, 74. said. "I'm not going to lose any sleep over it."

She also knows that neither Williams nor anyone else is closing in on her most remarkable record: 62 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed.

"Nobody will ever hit my 62," she said.

That is not a bad prediction, considering how dominant Court once was and how few players still compete in all three events at every Grand Slam tournament. But perhaps it is wise for Court not to give Williams any additional targets.

 

  • 24

    Number of Grand Slam singles titles won by Australian Margaret Court. Serena Williams moved to 23, one behind her, after her win at Melbourne Park on Saturday.

The American, who has a combined 39 singles and doubles Major titles, has created history at an age when Court and most of her contemporaries had already retired. At 35, Williams romped to her seventh Australian Open singles title without losing a set. Court was a frequent observer from the front row.

"The men, I enjoy," she said of the modern game. "The women, I don't enjoy so much, because it's up and down the centre the whole time. I think it's boring."

As for Williams in particular?

"I think her serve gets her through," she said. "She's got a wonderful serve. I think if that's not working, then she gets wobbly."

Never afraid to rush the net during a career in which she defeated the likes of Maria Bueno and Billie Jean King, Court remains unafraid to speak her mind.


(Above) Margaret Court won 24 Grand Slam singles titles and 62 in total during a career that straddled the amateur period and the Open era. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Despite the show court at the Australian Open that bears her name, she is in many respects a marginalised figure in women's tennis.

Her phenomenal achievements - she completed a calendar-year Grand Slam in 1970 - and her pioneering approaches to intense physical training and to competing after motherhood are underappreciated for many reasons.

Her career straddled the amateur and Open eras, and the emphasis today is increasingly on Open-era achievement. She was never No. 1 in the WTA computer rankings, which began in November 1975, when Court was playing little and edging toward retirement.

Eleven of her Grand Slam singles titles came at the Australian Championships, where the fields were predominantly or exclusively Australian in her earliest years and the draws were sometimes as small as 32 players.

There is also the delicate matter of her social views. A senior pastor at the Victory Life Centre, a church in Perth, she is outspoken in her opposition to homosexuality, which has driven a wedge between her and the WTA Tour. Two of its most iconic past champions, Martina Navratilova and King, are openly gay.

Aware that her views continue to make her a champion non grata in some circles, she said she believed she deserved a wider forum in the sport she once dominated.

"I go and talk to schools, and I talk to children, but particularly the tennis circuit is too scared to have me speak because they think you are going to perhaps go and evangelise," she said. "I mean, I'm not that silly."

She is correct that tennis officials are concerned about handing her the microphone. But her playing career and her opinions will be back in the spotlight as Williams chases No. 24 at the French Open in May.

Williams already holds the Open-era record for Grand Slam singles titles. Her victory in Melbourne gave her one more than Steffi Graf's 22.

"With all the respect to Margaret Court, it's another era," Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams' coach, said. "Of course the record is there, and we definitely want to beat it, but there is a professional era, and the record was Steffi Graf."

Williams was asked after her latest Major victory whether she put a mental asterisk next to records like Court's.

"Well, yeah, it's definitely different now - you know, 128 in every one that I played," Williams said, referring to the size of draws at Grand Slam events.

"But, yeah, she definitely deserves her credit for her hard work. I do, too, and Steffi does, and Chris (Evert) and Martina do. Different eras. Different types and different people. I would've been good if I played in that era."

Court did not dispute that view, but pointed out that Williams would have been limited by equipment like wooden rackets.

"You would not have got the power off the ground," she said. "Because, I mean, I did a lot of weights, and I was strong, and I hit the ball hard. But you wouldn't have got the power."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'For Serena, there is only one Court left to vanquish'. Print Edition | Subscribe