"She's clearly the greatest tennis player of all time."
Eurosport expert Mats Wilander had plenty to say in praise of Serena Williams after her quarter-final win over Simona Halep - noting Alexis Ohanian's t-shirt declaiming his wife as the greatest athlete as all time, no asterisk, no qualifying phrases relating to her femaleness.
Wilander acknowledged that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are often all bracketed together in a debate on the greatest tennis player of all time - but suggested that Serena's achievements eclipse them all.
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"Is she the greatest athlete of all time?" asked Wilander rhetorically. "It's hard to argue against it in many ways."
Alexis Ohanian, Patrick Mouratoglou and the rest of Serena Williams's camp
Image credit: Getty Images
But he made an interesting point when he said that Grand Slam number 24 is necessary simply to overwrite the achievements of the current record-holder, whose career after tennis has been characterised by a lot of prejudice and unpleasantness.
"She needs to win the 24th, so we can bury that Margaret Court issue," Wilander told Barbara Schett and Tim Henman in The Cube.
It was a diplomatic way to describe some of the things Court has been happy to say publicly, primarily her condemnation of the sexuality of fellow female tennis stars and LGBT rights more broadly.
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Wilander's is a fascinating observation that is all too often overlooked. Greatness is not simply a numbers game. Nobody in the last decade has seriously suggested that Court is the greatest because she has the biggest tally of Slam wins. 13 of Court's Slam titles came before the Open Era, and it also has to be noted that prior to the 1980s it was unusual for players to compete in all four Slams every year, simply because the travel was too expensive and arduous. Indeed, the Australian Championships, later the Australian Open, was where Court won 11 of her Slams - on home turf, and where many other top players simply opted to stay away in favour of tournaments closer to home.
In the past two decades, Serena has been a factor in the latter stages of a Slam every year except 2006. She has beaten a dozen top-ranked players to win her 23 Slams. And she has come back from life-threatening illness - plus of course pregnancy and childbirth - to return to the tennis elite, changing up her game and presenting more challenges than ever to her younger opponents.
"I think what Serena did today is that she showed us all that she does move better," explained Wilander. "She's fitter than she's been in the last three or four years. She got Halep to miss when the big points were on in that second set, Halep was up a break and then Halep started missing. And why do you do that? Because Serena is moving better.
‘Serena may be the GOAT but she still needs to step up’ – Wilander on Williams
"Serena, I still think she can serve better. If she served a little bit better I would put her as one of the favourites but I still feel like she needs to step it up a little bit to have a chance against Naomi Osaka, or potentially Ash Barty in the final. But a step in the right direction at 39 years old. That's unbelievable."
Williams herself isn't thinking beyond the next match.
"First of all, I'm in the semi-final," she told reporters who were pressing her to look ahead to her potential opponents. "That's pretty awesome. So that's exciting.
"And then it doesn't matter who I'm playing really in the semi-final. It's a semi-final of a Grand Slam. No one gets there by chance, so I have got to be ready."
The fact that she's still excited about her 40th Grand Slam semi-final speaks volumes for Williams' attitude and longevity. And the fact that her husband is proudly declaring her the greatest in history suggests that she already knows she's the best ever, regardless of whether or not she picks up number 24. She just needs the rest of the world to realise it too.
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