Of All the GOATs in Sports, Serena Williams Might Be the Best of Them All

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Forget wabbit season, duck season or even strap season.

These days in professional sports, it’s GOAT season.

Stars from a wide range of competitive disciplines have aligned in recent years and raised their games to a point where they can be considered among the “Greatest of All Time.”

Certainly, some cases bear more scrutiny than others.

LeBron James has become worthy of comparison with Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods has a compelling argument next to Jack Nicklaus. And Tom Brady—thanks to both prolific numbers and remarkable longevity—has stepped alongside, and probably passed, any relevant NFL peer group.

Each has successfully leveled up from the GORN (“Greatest of Right Now”) status being bestowed as we speak upon the likes of Steph Curry, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Judge.

But there’s one athlete whose dominance exceeds them all, past or present.

Her name? Serena Williams.

Now just a few weeks shy of her 41st birthday, the Michigan-born supernova capped a remarkable career this week with an admittedly inglorious 21st appearance at the U.S. Open in New York, where she was eliminated in the third round by unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic.

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It was her sixth straight non-winning finish at USTA headquarters since her last title there in 2014.

But the reality that Williams, who turned pro five months after Tomljanovic, now 29, turned two, didn’t end with a nostalgic two-week run does nothing to diminish the notion she’s head and shoulders in front of the GOAT field.

Because none of her 21st-century contemporaries have separated themselves to her degree.

In fact, it’s not particularly close.

Though James has bettered Jordan in points, assists, rebounds and NBA Finals appearances, he’s not the all-time leader in any of those categories and still trails MJ when it comes to rings.

Woods, meanwhile, was a trophy-collecting phenom in his early years and seemed destined to smash the Golden Bear’s watermark of 18 majors, but an 11-year gap between Nos. 14 and 15 had already hampered his quest before a horrific car accident and advancing age made it a moot point.

And while Brady’s seven titles and continued high-level performance at age 45 have yielded inarguable status in football’s permanent hierarchy, the dissenting types suggest he’s been a more frequent beneficiary of elite defensive and offensive teammates than others who may stake all-time claims.

Williams, on the other hand, reached a class of her own all by herself.

While the 16 major doubles titles (14 women’s, two mixed) she’s earned are impressive enough in every context, it’s as a solo act where Venus’ younger sister far overshadows all who’ve competed against her and statistically outdistances any who came before her, regardless of era.

Jamie Squire

She began hoarding Grand Slam singles titles at the 1999 U.S. Open as a 17-year-old, and the 22 more she’s won since the new millennium’s arrival are more than three times the seven apiece compiled by both her older sister (from 2000 to 2008) and Belgian ace Justine Henin (from 2003 to 2007).

Fifteen of her wins have come after either of those two pursuers last hoisted a trophy, and only one other player—Maria Sharapova—has won as many as five majors since 2000, though Williams took 20 of their 22 head-to-head encounters, including eight of nine in Grand Slam events.

So, in the modern era of tennis, she’s a straight-sets champion.

And against generations once or twice removed, it’s only slightly less one-sided.

Though Williams’ 23 singles titles are one behind the historical number established by Margaret Court, more than half of the Aussie’s two-dozen wins came prior to 1968, when participation in majors was limited solely to amateur players. In the subsequent Open Era, she won 11 times through 1973.

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova followed Court and finished with 18 titles apiece through Navratilova’s last at the 1990 U.S. Open, though Williams had bagged all four Grand Slams by age 21—compared to Evert’s 27 and Navratilova’s 26—and never let a rival share the stage for too long a stretch, going a combined 22-10 against Venus, Henin and Sharapova at majors.

Truth told, only German star Steffi Graf warrants more than a cursory mention in the career debate, thanks to a glittering run in the 1990s, in which she won 14 of her 22 majors—surpassing the 10 and 12 that Williams won from 2000-09 and 2010-19, respectively—but the tiebreaker goes to the latter player because her stay among the elites lasted far longer and yielded more overall titles from end to end.

Where Graf’s empire was built on precision that was adaptable to all surfaces, Williams was the most powerful player in the game and accentuated that advantage on the hard courts and grass, winning 20 of her 23 majors at Wimbledon (seven), the Australian Open (seven) and the U.S. Open (six).

She won more total matches at those three events (298) than Graf (194), and her 69 victories at the French Open is within shouting distance of Graf’s 84. The German has won at Roland Garros six times to Williams’ three.

AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File

The two met just twice, splitting a pair of three-setters in 1999 when Graf was 29 and Williams 17, and they share top billing with the longest runs as the world’s top women’s player at 186 weeks apiece.

No less an authority than John McEnroe, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion during Graf’s heyday and longtime television analyst since Williams’ arrival, points the needle to Williams while labeling her both a global superstar and the “greatest player that ever lived.”

“You can look at the accomplishments, she has the Grand Slam victories,” he told “The way that she moves the needle when she plays, it’s like Tiger Woods and golf.

“When she plays, it’s a whole different story.”

Another veteran broadcaster, Jim Lampley, agrees.

Lampley, who was working the Summer Olympics for NBC when Williams won doubles gold medals in 2000 and 2008, told Bleacher Report that both her family’s evolution and the game’s evolution helped to yield her ultimate greatness.

“She was not at first the priority for the family. I think she benefited from that,” he said. “The modern athlete is a carnivorous and obsessive machine. Everything evolves because it must.

“Navratilova was unprecedented. Then Graf was unprecedented. Then Serena.”

Game. Set. Match. Legend.

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