Serena stands tallest

  • Michael Beattie
  • Getty Images

So, is Serena Williams the greatest tennis player in history?

Adding a seventh Australian Open crown to seven Wimbledon titles, six US Opens and three French Opens lifts her career Grand Slam tally to 23, seeing the American take sole ownership of that most coveted of titles: the most decorated Grand Slam champion in the Open era. Only Margaret Court, whose 24-title career bridged the amateur and Open eras, has more.

On Sunday, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal face off in the men’s final, Federer hoping to claim an 18th major – the all-time record on the men’s side – and Nadal his 15th, allowing him to boast of winning all four majors at least twice.

Williams has long since surpassed these milestones. If majors are the measure, the 35-year-old stands head and shoulders above of her contemporaries on both sides of the aisle. Does she believe her name belongs in the conversation with Roger, Rafa, Rod Laver and Co? "Between Martina [Navratilova], myself, Steffi Graf, hands down we are …"

She paused, weighing up the next word. "… leading that conversation."

Williams could not wipe the smile from her face, even a good few hours after collapsing to the Rod Laver Arena court in celebration before being met by a hug from her sister, Venus. They came into the match knowing that, no matter the outcome, the family name would be etched into one of the sport’s four crown jewels for a 30th time.“We are just so proud,” Serena said of their achievements, dating back to her first major title win at the US Open in 1999. “We feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to be the ones that can do it. Venus and I work so hard – still to this day we work side-by-side each other at practice. We motivate each other.

Serena Williams celebrates victory at Australian Open 2017
"Every time she won her match, I felt obligated to win – I've got to win, too. The motivation she gives me, it's really second to nothing. It's amazing."
Serena Williams

"Today, win or lose, I really felt like there was no way I could have lost today. If I had lost it wouldn't have been a loss, because I know everything that Venus has gone through. I know how hard she works. In particular before this tournament, she worked so hard. So I just felt like this was just a win-win situation for me."

It is a prospect almost unique in modern sport: a rivalry between siblings, the most decorated women’s tennis players still on tour. This, the 28th showdown of their professional careers but first in a major final since Wimbledon 2009, was a tense affair – as so many have been in the past. But in Serena’s eyes, the tension is now borne out of sisterhood rather than the striving that governed their rivalry in the past.

"No, it definitely didn't feel like that before, not at all," Williams admitted. "I just felt like today and any other time we played a Grand Slam final, it's different now. In the beginning it was a lot more emotionally involved. Now I just feel like I'm satisfied with where I am, although I always want to win. I also just feel, you know, a little bit more satiated."

So is 23 majors enough? Or does Serena have another target to reach for, another Everest to conquer? If she does, she’s not telling. "I never had a number,” Williams said. “That's the beauty of it. When I started this journey, I just wanted to win a Grand Slam. Then I just wanted to win. Every time I step on the court, I want to win. It's just really remarkable."