The desire to use the superlative is seemingly irresistible in most sports. The discussions on ‘the best ever’ player/team/coach can not only be passionately and seemingly endlessly discussed in stadiums and pubs alike but also by pundits, commentators and journalists. There are very few examples of consensus; while for one person, Lionel Messi might be the greatest footballer who ever played the game, there will always be another arguing Cristiano Ronaldo’s corner. Others would chirp in, claiming modern-day players have an unfair advantage; equipment and playing conditions are better, more time and money is invested in training, there are more games played – the list goes on.
When it comes to Tennis, the situation is no different. Already before one begins to form an opinion, there must be a distinction made between the Open and pre-Open era. For the chart below, we’re looking at players active in the Open era – i.e. since 1968. Cutting through the subjective and qualitative, when it comes to the numbers there are really only two players that can be considered for the honour of this particular superlative. Going into this year’s US Open, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams are tied level on possibly the most important numerical indicators of greatness. With 22 Grand Slam singles titles to their names and a total of 186 consecutive weeks each as world number one, Serena now stands on the brink.
If she wins next Saturday at Flushing Meadows, Williams will have two more very big reasons to stake a claim as ‘the greatest ever’. Well, greatest singles player. In the Open era…
This chart compares Serena Williams and Steffi Graf on Grand Slams won and weeks as world number one.
You will find more statistics at Statista