November 23, 2010

Can Serena win the Grand Slam of Grand Slams?

(Nov 9, 2010) - It was the great Margaret Court who dominated Ladies tennis prior to the ‘open era’ back in the sixties, but she was soon forgotten as Ladies tennis became far more competitive once prize money (and lots of it) became available. The seventies and eighties was shared almost ‘down the middle’ between two legends of the women's game, Chris Evert from the USA and Martina Navratilova, originally from Czechoslovakia but later of the USA, who won 36 Grand Slam titles between them (18 each). Whilst Navratilova had the edge on grass, it was Evert who dominated on clay with honors shared on the hard courts, but it was the rivalry between the two that helped to put Ladies tennis into the big time.

The eighties also saw the emergence of arguably the greatest ladies player of all time in the form of leggy German, Steffi Graf. She went on to dominate most of the nineties, eclipsing all those who had reigned before her, winning an incredible 22 Grand Slam singles titles, shared almost equally between the four tournaments, which of course are played on four different surfaces. She is the only woman in the ‘open era’ to win all four Grand Slams in the same year, which she achieved in 1988.  It was not as if she had no rivalries of her own, because she did. Navratilova was her first in the late eighties and early nineties but then came Monica Seles, herself a winner of 8 ‘Slams’ plus of course the dogged, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, who won four.

It was hard to imagine that the world could produce someone even better than Graf, however, no-one had considered dedicated father, Richard Williams, who had nurtured the talents of two seriously athletic children of his; namely Venus and Serena.  Venus the older of the two Williams sisters was first to hit the headlines, winning several tournaments and climbing up the world rankings eventually establishing herself in the top ten. Few  realized however at that time that Venus was only the Williams second string as Serena was soon to prove. Serena had made similar progress as her older sister, winning one or two small tournaments but also getting herself  into the world’s top ten.

It was not long however before Serena made the world sit up and take note by winning the 1999 US Open, defeating the then world number one, Martina Hingis in the final.  She had overtaken her sister in the world rankings, whilst at the same time captured the imagination of the tennis world.  It was to some great surprise therefore that Serena for several spurious reasons dropped back out of the limelight and failed to win another ‘Slam’ for almost three years. In that time Venus had dominated the game winning back to back Slams at both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2000 and 2001, becoming world number one in the process.

It was probably in the wake of her sister’s success that Serena began her own earnest assault on the ladies tennis world. She began that assault by winning the French Open on her least favorite clay surface in 2002, defeating her sister in the final. She went on that year to win Wimbledon for the first time and take her second US Open. She also won the Australian Open in January 2003, which made her only the fifth woman to hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously.
Since those heady days Serena has gone on to win 13 Grand Slam titles compared to the seven won by Venus.

Although currently injured, she will be the defending champion in 2011 of both the Australian Open and at Wimbledon and will be looking to seal her ambition of becoming the first player since Graf in 1988 to win a calendar year Grand Slam. She begins her quest at the Australian Open, which takes place January 17-30, 2011 in Melbourne and who could argue about her credentials of adding more majors to her roll of honour and at the age of 29 she still has time to confirm her place as the greatest women's player of all time.

Rod Crowley (Contributor) - Bleacher Report

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