Why Steffi Graf Still Beats Serena Williams as the Women’s Tennis GOAT

Serena Williams has played pro tennis for 20 years and is still an incredible competitor. Since winning her first Grand Slam in 1999, sh’s gone on to win 22 more. It might seem like a no-brainer to call Williams the women’s tennis GOAT, or greatest of all time, but one woman surpasses her.

While Williams’s career was just burgeoning, another great player, Steffi Graf, was headed for retirement. Although Graf retired in 1999, her legacy lives on. To this day, her ability on the court still qualifies her as the women’s tennis GOAT, or greatest of all time.

Steffi Graf’s Golden Slam

Tennis star Steffi Graf
Tennis star Steffi Graf | Arne Dedert/picture alliance via Getty Images

Graf entered the professional tennis arena at the young age of 13 in 1982. Her first few years were successful, and in 1987 she won her first Grand Slam (a win in one of the four major tennis tournaments including the U.S. Open, Australian Open, Wimbledon, or the French Open) by clenching the French Open. Over her career, she won 22 Grand Slam titles, at least four of each tournament. 

The same year Graf won her first major in France, she won the other three Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal. Winning all five titles was called the Golden Slam. At 19 years of age, Graf was the first to accomplish this feat and the only player to do it in the same calendar year.

All-around best player

Graf achieved her Golden Slam in part because of her ability to excel on all surfaces. The U.S. Open and Australian Open play on hard surfaces. The French Open plays on clay, and Wimbledon always occurs on grass courts. Each surface has a different speed and ball trajectory.

Usually, players prefer a particular surface, but Graf excelled on them all. Another legendary tennis player, Evert, said, “Steffi Graf is the best all-around player. Martina won more on fast courts, and I won more on slow courts, but Steffi came along and won more titles on both surfaces.”

Luckily, Graf’s Golden Slam, albeit impressive, was just one of the many accomplishments she achieved. Her impressive forehand shot nicknamed the “Fraulein Forehand” helped her be the No. 1 ranked tennis player for 377 weeks total, more than any player man or woman. Out of 377, 186 of the weeks were consecutive. 

Serena Williams vs. Steffi Graf

Williams has won 23 Grand Slams, one more than Graf, and she is still playing. Despite breaking Graf’s record, Williams does not consider herself the GOAT. She once said,” I started playing tennis not to be the greatest but just because I had a racquet and a dream. Now people are saying that I could be, but for me, I’m just not there yet. I feel like people like Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf, they just, right now, are just, to me, the ultimate icons in history and the historics of women’s tennis. I just am still that girl with the racquet and a dream, and I’m just playing for that.”

Is there truth to Williams’s claims that she is not the best? She’s achieved tons of accolades and even tied Graf’s record for consecutive weeks in the No. 1 spot. However, cumulatively Williams has had only 319 weeks at number one while Graf had 377. Graf also was known for her poise. She was quick, disciplined, consistent, and emotionless.

Williams, in contrast, is one of the most fined women in tennis.  She is known for losing her cool and periods of inconsistency. Although Williams is one of the top women’s players of all time, she is not the best. Graf’s all-around tennis game and achievements cement her as the reigning women’s tennis GOAT.