Serena vs. Steffi Revisited

Right after Sam Stosur won the 2011 US Open, I wrote one of my more revisited pieces on how Stosur used a Graf game plan to win that match.  Between that match and 31 January 2015, Serena has added 3 US Open titles, 1 Wimbledon, 1 Roland Garros, 2 Gold Medals, and most recently 1 Australian Open title to her career numbers.  This topic deserves a new look.

My GOAT Criteria May Need a New Category

I have been looking at 3 separate but related questions when doing my GOAT calculations.  First, I look at who has played tennis at the highest level.  I think Serena at her best is playing tennis better than any woman has.  Second, I look at how consistently dominant a player was/is.  Steffi Graf’s run from US Open 1986 to US Open 1996 produced 21 Grand Slam titles.  Steffi rarely failed to reach at least the semifinal round of every slam for a decade.  I think Steffi Graf had the longest sustained period of excellence.  Third, I look at who accomplished the most.  This question deserves its own section.  I think I might need to add a fourth category for longevity.  Serena made a few waves in Miami and at Roland Garros in 1998.  At the US Open 1999, Serena won the first of her 19 Grand Slam titles.  She just won her 19th in 2015.  That span of being a contender at slams is ridiculous.  Graf won her first slam in 1987 and final slam in 1999.  That is a big span between majors as well.

Most Accomplished?

Steffi has 4 Australian Open titles  < Serena has 6 Australian Open titles

Steffi has 6 Roland Garros titles > Serena has 2 Rolland Garros titles

Steffi has 7 Wimbledon titles > Serena has 5 Wimbledon titles

Steffi has 5 US Open titles < Serena has 6 US Open titles

Steffi has 1 Gold, 1 Silver & 1 demonstration Gold in Singles > Serena has 1 Gold in Singles

Steffi has 1 Bronze in Doubles < Serena has 3 Gold Medals in Doubles

Steffi Graf spent a record 377 Weeks at #1 > Serena is adding to her 224 Weeks at #1

Steffi won 1 Grand Slam Doubles Titles < Serena holds 12 Grand Slam Doubles titles & 2 Grand Slam Mixed Doubles Titles

Steffi won 5 Season Ending Titles = Serena has won 5 Season Ending Titles

Steffi won 107 Tournament Titles > Serena has won 65 Tournament Titles to this Point

This could go either way depending on how one values doubles.  Serena’s biggest edge is that she is still playing.  Serena can certainly add to the areas where she leads Graf and cut into the areas where Graf leads her.  If Serena wins another WTA season ending event, another Slam, or another Olympic medal, her position relative to Graf improves.  Her total weeks at #1 should continue to mount throughout 2015 as well.


Just listing their accomplishments made me feel silly in trying to parse things out between them.  It is not as if Steffi’s mere 5 US Open titles is a bad result.  Serena winning 2 Roland Garros titles is a big deficit as compared to Steffi, but it is also a great result.  I will stick with my idea that Steffi had a more consistent stretch and that Serena is playing tennis at the best level ever.  My guess is the accomplishments question will eventually swing enough in Serena’s favor, if it has not already, that Serena Williams is regarded as the consensus GOAT.  Serena is a moving target though, and it is probably best just to see what else she wins and enjoy.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. jane says:

    i feel like steffi had tougher competition than serena ever has. she had “rivalries”. has serena had any meaningful ones?

    1. Dan Martin says:

      I think Steffi had more mentally tough opponents in the semis and finals, but there were a lot of meatballs on both the ATP and WTA in pre-quarterfinal round matches back in the day. So I think that sort of balances out. It is harder to get to the final 4 today, but easier to finish a tournament than in the past. I think had Henin not burned out – that rivalry might have been a great one.

  2. jane says:

    i’d pick steffi any day of the week. more rounded game imo.

    1. Dan Martin says:

      I think Steffi with these strings would have a better topspin backhand and maybe use it 35% of the time instead of 5% of the time making her slice more effective. Steffi would likely serve bigger w/ today’s racquets as well. Steffi had olympic sprinting speed in 1988 – Serena is a powerful athlete it would be a cool matchup if they had the same equipment, training , and sports medicine.

      1. jane says:

        yes definitely; wouldn’t time travel be awesome? 🙂

  3. aimadjuster says:

    Personally would put Martina above both of them. Huge rivalries with Billie Jean, Chris Evert and Steffi. Completely re wrote book for womens sport and won huge number of titles in all areas of the game, singles, doubles and mixed over a career spanning in excess of twenty years.

    1. Dan Martin says:

      If Doubles & Mixed are factored in Martina is a huge beneficiary

      1. Curts says:

        Something tells me that Serena will play a little more doubles (particularly mixed) once she’s more satisfied with her singles achievements. I think that 2 next to her mixed doubles is what bothers her most about her resume (aside from maybe only 2 french singles titles). Also look for her and Venus to get off of 13 titles before they retire. With Venus playing better and better, it sets them up for easier doubles wins like in the past.

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