You need your head examined, lady


As I may have stated a few times before, I am not a fan of women's tennis. Specifically, I have a distinct antipathy towards one Serena Williams and her style of play. So I cannot exactly claim to be unhappy that Ms. Williams got dumped on her (probably altogether too ample) arse after she lost the women's semifinal to Ms. GenericSlavicBlonde-ova yesterday.

But then the feminist writers over at ESPNW, the ESPN sub-site devoted specifically to women's sports (*snores*), decided to write something so abominably stupid in response that I simply had to sit up and take notice:
For Williams, who turns 35 on Sept. 26, the defeat nonetheless continued a troubling trend. By any measure -- the statistics, the anecdotal evidence, the way she has dominated tennis for two decades now -- Williams is the greatest player in tennis history, bar none. There's no need to confine the praise to only the women's side of the sport. 
Including last month's Rio Olympics, where Williams was sent crashing out in the third round by Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, what has been astonishing isn't just who Williams has lost to in the biggest moments the past year -- it's how she has been losing. Even when her body hasn't betrayed her, as it did in the past month, nerves seem to haunt her. 
Her confidence seems more brittle than you'd expect, given all that she has done. Errors come in bunches. Opponents are rushing in to capitalize. 
Williams has now lost four of her past five major tournaments to players that she had a combined career record of 18-2 against before she lost to them.
The problematic sentences are highlighted up above. The only reasonable conclusion that I can come to after reading them is that the author of this article, a Ms. Johnette Howard, is in dire need of psychiatric help- not least because she basically flatly contradicts herself just three paragraphs later.

Serena Williams, the greatest tennis player of all time, regardless of sex? DAFUQ?!?

Let us be precise about definitions here. The greatest tennis player of all time has got to be someone whose dominance over the game is, or was, so complete and total, so peerless, that no other player could possibly compare.

By definition, such a player must be able to do things that nobody else can do.

That means that such a person must have more titles than anyone else; must be able to pull off shots and techniques that nobody else can match; must have established records that will probably never be broken; and has fundamentally transformed the game for generations to come.

Such a player would be a truly formidable thing to behold. And when judged against these criteria, the list of such people is extremely short.

I have played tennis (not very well, I'll admit) for most of my life. I have been watching it "since I were a wee lad sitting on me Da's knee", so to speak. For my money, there are only five people who could conceivably be considered "the greatest". In ascending order, they are:
  • Margaret Court;
  • Steffi Graf
  • Pete Sampras
  • Rod Laver
  • Roger Federer

Serena Williams is nowhere even close to this list.

Let's do a quick comparison of Ms. Williams's top 5 career statistics against those of the true GOAT, Roger "Genius at Work" Federer. For the purposes of a fair comparison, I'm only going to look at singles statistics- I don't watch or care about doubles, and neither does anyone else who really enjoys tennis. It's a solo sport, and competitors should be judged based on their individual achievements.

  • 22 Grand Slam singles titles - tied with Steffi Graf for women's all time
  • 186 consecutive weeks as World #1 - tied with Steffi Graf for women's all time
  • 309 Grand Slam singles matches won - all-time leader, men's and women's
  • 79% win rate in singles tournament finals
  • $80.9M in career earnings

And now, Mr. Federer:
  • 17 Grand Slam singles titles - all-time leader, men's
  • 237 consecutive weeks as World #1 - all-time leader, men's and women's
  • 302 weeks as World #1 - all-time leader, men's and women's
  • All-time leader for consecutive Grand Slam appearances in multiple categories
  • $98.8M career earnings- 2nd all-time

So let's analyse the above- ladies first, of course, it's only polite.

No matter how you look at Ms. Williams's career, that is an amazing set of career statistics. I may not like Ms. Williams's style of play, personality, or lack of grace and style and sportsmanship, but there can be no denying that she is quite simply the best female tennis player of her generation.

However, once you adjust for a few things, you realise that, compared with her male peers, she just doesn't stack up.

Let's take her 22 Grand Slam titles for starters. Yeah, that's 5 more than Roger Federer currently has. But look at Mr. Federer's competition. He has had to fight and win against the likes of: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan-Martin del Potro, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Tim Henman, and countless others. He has faced the biggest servers, the best baseliners, the hardest hitters, the most athletic runners, in the world. Repeatedly.

Hell, he even played Pete Sampras- and beat him- back in 2002 at Wimbledon.

He has faced quite simply the finest generation of tennis players in human history.

Now compare his competition with Serena's. She is a tremendously powerful and strong woman, to be sure- so much stronger than her competitors that it's actually kind of ridiculous. She has been known to walk onto the court and simply blow her fellow women off it with flurries of powerful (by women's standards) first serves and crushing groundstrokes.

Simply put, there really isn't anyone whose power and sheer physicality can compare with hers.

Let's put it even more bluntly still: she's a big fat fish in a small pond full of small fat fish. As Richard Krajicek once said, "75 percent of the top 100 women are fat pigs"- including, as it happens, Ms. Williams, who is nowhere near as fit as you would expect the top athlete in the world to be.

Roger Federer, by comparison, is a big thin fish in an ocean full of sharks. And he has done an astonishing job of winning against them. Even now, as his powers decline and fade, he is still ranked in the top 10, in spite of injuries and slowing foot speed and reduced physical strength.

His most physically imposing rival, Rafael Nadal, is 5 years younger than he is, and his decline is far greater than Mr. Federer's. His toughest rival today, Novak Djokovic, has maybe another year or so of total dominance of the game before he, too, fades away.

That is simply what happens in men's tennis. It is an extremely physical game these days, and men play longer matches with far more wear and tear on their bodies than women do. Most top male tennis players are lucky if their careers last ten years; the majority of elite men's tennis players are basically done by the time they turn 28.

Roger Federer is 35 and still winning. Against the toughest, fittest, most disciplined competitors in the world. His shotplay is dazzling, his technique is mesmerising, and he has quite literally invented shots out of thin air. Hell, his SABR technique is named after him.

And then we come to the question of what would happen if Serena Williams were ever to play Roger Federer.

Unless you're snorting weapons-grade crack, you know the answer to that one. She would be DESTROYED.

Roberta Vinci proved in last year's US Open semifinal that the easiest way to knock Serena Williams off her timing and power is simply to hit deep to her backhand. Ms. Vinci is somebody that just about no one had ever heard of before she got the 2015 finals.

That trick does not work with Roger Federer. He's had power baseliners hitting to his backhand- once considered his weakest shot, back before his phenomenal 2006 season- for 15 years, and he has used that fact to craft it into one of the deadliest and most elegantly refined weapons in the game.

By comparison, it took the strongest, most powerful, fittest men in the world to beat Federer- these days, not just in his prime.

So no, Ms. Howard, Serena Williams is not the greatest tennis player in history, regardless of sex. She is simply the finest women's tennis player of her generation, in an era when her competition is simply nowhere close to her level. Arguing otherwise means ignoring the sheer weight of the evidence, and of the facts in front of one's own eyes.

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