Tennis Hall of Famer Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario won four singles Grand Slam championships. That’s the same number of times she beat the great Serena Williams — in just seven matches. So when Sanchez-Vicario talks about Serena and Grand Slams, she knows both subjects well. Sanchez-Vicario was talking about Williams’ dominance on CNN’s Open Court show when the inevitable question came up: how would Williams do in another era? Say, the era where Steffi Graf won her 22 Grand Slams, the only number larger than Williams’ clutch of 21? Does a lack of good competition inflate Williams’ accomplishment?
Sanchez-Vicario recognizes Williams’ greatness and was careful not to take anything from her outsize accomplishment. Yet she did point out that in Graf’s (and her) time the “winner at every tournament had to beat three or four of the top players to win… [and] now that isn’t happening.” The statement isn’t true, of course — it can’t be. Williams or whoever wins now has to beat the best competition out there to advance. What Sanchez-Vicario means is that today’s competition — the “top players” she references — just aren’t as good as they were then. That may be. But another version is that they were all — Seles, Sabatini, Davenport, Hingis, et al — capable of beating each other and winning only because there was no dominant player like Williams. None of the players of that era had near the service game/speed that Williams possesses, for example — and the serve remains the most important shot in tennis. It’s an ace in any era and it’s Williams answer to any critic.