It is a question that even Serena Williams is not prepared to answer: who is the greatest female tennis player of all time?
Debate about who is the GOAT has been re-ignited following Williams’ victory in the Australian Open final, her 23rd major singles title.
That moves her in front of Steffi Graf to top of the pops when it comes to majors won in the open era, but Williams still sits second behind Margaret Court (24) on the all-time list.
The Australian Court’s total stretched across both the amateur and open periods in the 1960s and 1970s.
Court, Graf and Maureen Connolly are the only players to have completed a Grand Slam by winning all four majors in a calendar year.
But Williams and Martina Navratilova are among a group of 10 who have won the Australian, French and US Opens, and Wimbledon across their careers and both have held all four titles at the same time.
Navratilova could have perhaps added more Australian Open victories to her haul, had she treated the tournament as seriously as the other majors during a time when it was regarded as the ‘poor cousin’.
Williams acknowledged she is at least one of the greatest in history, following her 6-4, 6-4 triumph over sister Venus in Saturday night’s Australian Open final in Melbourne, however she stopped short of saying she stands alone.
“I definitely think so,” she said. “Between Martina (Navratilova), myself, Steffi Graf, hands down we are leading that conversation.”
Court’s record has received criticism, with observers pointing to the fact that the Australian Open did not always attract the highest calibre of player during her career.
The case for Court, however, received a degree of support form fellow Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley, although she was quick to point out how difficult it is to compare eras.
“Great player, wonderful champion and true professional in every way,” Goolagong Cawley said.
Our list below is not exhaustive, and we agree with Goolagong Cawley that it is near impossible to compare players from different eras when racquet technology, court surfaces and the growth of professionalism is factored into the debate.
But here are four contenders who have legitimate claims for the crown of greatest female singles of all time.
Serena Williams poses with the Australian Open trophy after her victory on Saturday evening. (AAP Image: Made Nagi)
Total majors: 23
Australian Open: 7 (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017)
French Open: 3 (2002, 2013, 2015)
Wimbledon: 7 (2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016)
US Open: 6 (1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014
Olympics: 1 gold (2012)
Weeks Ranked WTA Number One: 310
Case For GOAT: Williams now has the open-era record for singles majors won by a female player and held all four across the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
Steffi Graf playing at the 1999 Wimbledon tournament in her final year on the WTA tour (Reuters)
Total majors: 22
Australian Open: 4 (1988, 1989, 1990, 1994)
French Open: 6 (1987, 1988, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1999)
Wimbledon: 7 (1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996)
US Open: 5 (1988, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1996)
Grand Slam: 1 (1988)
Olympics: 1 (1988)
Weeks ranked WTA number one: 377
Case For GOAT: Won the ‘Golden Slam’ (all four majors and Olympic gold) in 1988 during a period when women’s tennis enjoyed great depth.
Total Majors: 18
Australian Open: 3 (1981, 1983, 1985)
French Open: 2 (1982, 1984)
Wimbledon: 9 (1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990)
US Open: 4 (1983, 1984, 1986, 1987)
Weeks ranked WTA number one: 332
Case For GOAT: Navratilova’s career crossed more than one richly talented generation, while like Williams she once held all four majors at the same time across 1983 and 1984.
Margaret Court (C), picuted with Victoria Azarenka (L) and Li Na, at the 2013 Australian Open (AAP Image: Mark Dadswell)
Total Majors: 24
Australian Open: 11 (1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973)
French Open: 5 (1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1973)
Wimbledon: 3 (1963, 1965, 1970)
US Open: 5 (1962, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1973)
Grand Slams: 1 (1970)
NB: Court was in the twilight of her career when the WTA rankings were introduced in 1975.
Case For GOAT: Court holds the all-time record for major title wins and claimed a Grand Slam during the open era in 1970.