Written by Jen Offord


Who run the world?

Serena Williams is the GOAT. No doubt about that, says Jen Offord. So why doesn’t she get her due?

Serena Williams
On Saturday, Serena Williams took on her sister Venus in the Australian Open final to inspire not just a generation of tiddlers watching their idols, but hopefully a far wider-reaching audience.

It’s hard not to love the Williams sisters, such amazing ambassadors for women’s sport. Aged 35 and 36 respectively, and still dominating the sport after almost 20 years, they inspire us all.

None more so than Venus, who in 2011 was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, an auto-immune condition that sometimes rendered her incapable of playing. And yet, on Saturday, she returned to her first grand slam final since Wimbledon in 2009 (prior to which she had won seven grand slam singles titles).

Serena’s 6-4 6-4 victory over Venus on Saturday sees her finally surpass the record of Steffi Graf’s 22 grand slam singles titles – a record Graf has held on to for almost 18 years, after winning her last grand slam victory in 1999 at the French Open. (A tip of the hat, however, to Australian Margaret Court, who in fact has 24 majors titles, with her first in 1960 at the Australian Open, and her last at the US Open in 1973 – technically not a grand slam record since some of her titles were won before the “Open era”.)

Between them, Serena Williams, Graf and Court have some impressive stats. Serena also holds the joint record of 186 consecutive weeks as the top ranking women’s player with Graf. The latter also holds the record for total weeks at No 1, with a staggering 377 weeks at the top spot AND a calendar grand slam under her belt, having won each of the four grand slams in 1988.

“In what other space in the world could we diminish someone’s achievements on the basis that they were demonstrably and quite undeniably the best in their field?”

And yet despite this, the argument seems to continue to be whether Serena is the greatest tennis player of all time versus 18-time grand slam singles title holder, Roger Federer, who also won at the Australian Open this weekend. Despite Serena’s FIVE extra grand slam victories, Federer has 89 career singles titles overall compared to Serena’s 72, though Graf has 107.

Graf has a bronze, silver and gold Olympic medal compared to Federer’s gold and silver, and Serena has four golds (three of which were won with big sis Venus in the doubles event). Despite these stats (there are many, many more), since 2000 the BBC Sports Personality of the Year competition has handed the Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award to a tennis player six times – three of those titles were to Federer – and yet Serena has not won the prize once.

The main reason Serena has been overlooked as GOAT (greatest of all time, as opposed to the bleating kind) it seems, is because of the competition she has faced. While Federer has had to contend with the likes of Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic (both recipients of the SPOTY award – shit, even Goran Ivanišević has held the title) and our very own Sir Andy Murray, Serena completely and utterly dominates her field, with no one else even nearly capable of holding a torch to her successes.

It is true that the women’s competition is notorious for top seeds dropping like flies. But in what other space in the world could we diminish someone’s achievements on the basis that they were demonstrably and quite undeniably the best in their field?

Competition is something of a dirty word when it’s used in the context of women, for example the oft-cited adage that women would be running the world if we weren’t busy running each other down, or the notion that we spend all our time scrapping over men.

venus and serena williams
Despite the competition between Venus and Serena – competition that you rather suspect must be complicated at times by the fact that they are sisters – for me, the Williams sisters are a powerful reminder of arguably the best thing that women have in this world: friendship and support.

There could not be more warmth between the two, with Venus stating earlier in the Australian Open she had been “born with the most awesome doubles partner” and Serena joking that her fiancé Alexis Ohanian would be torn during the final, having been “rooting for Venus” the entire way through the tournament.

And Serena told the audience in Melbourne after her victory against Venus: “She [Venus] is an amazing person. There’s no way I would be at 23 [grand slam titles] without her – there’s no way I’d be at one without her.

“There’s no way I’d have anything without her – she’s my inspiration, she’s the only reason I’m standing here today and she’s the only reason that the Williams sisters exist.”

The Williams sisters prove many things to us all. And to me, it’s that we would be running the world, if only we could take more credit for our talents and triumphs.


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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen