Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Grand Slam record should not define Serena Williams’ legacy

Posted on 21 February 2021 by Sam Jacot

On Thursday afternoon in Melbourne, Serena Williams trudged off the Rod Laver Arena after her devastating semi-final defeat to world number three Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open.

A 6-3, 6-4 beating means Williams remains on 23 Grand Slam singles titles, with her last coming in 2017. Despite reaching four finals since then, an elusive 24th Major, which would equal Margaret Court’s record, continues to elude the American.

However, at 39-years-old and with the time ticking on her career she may not accomplish this dream. Ultimately though, she will always be a far greater legend out of the two both due to the legacy Williams has created and the despicable views of bigot Court.

What Williams has achieved off the court since the start of her professional career in 1995 puts her in the same category as Muhammed Ali and Oprah Winfrey, whereas Court finds herself alongside Katie Hopkins and Israel Folau.

From working as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF – helping to establish schools to provide an education for vulnerable children in Africa – to her achievements in the fashion and business, Williams has used her position to drive change and promote equality.

Alongside this, she has inspired thousands of young girls worldwide to play tennis and the evidence is on display today with 17 American women (not including Williams, who is ranked 11) inside the world’s top 100. It is more than any other nation by a distance and when these players, such as Maddison Keys, have been asked over the years the reasons why they came to love the sport, Williams and her sister Venus are almost always credited.

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While Williams has driven change in all aspects of society, Court, however, has not. She has tried to put the handbrake on equality and progress.

The Australian, who won her last Grand Slam title in 1975, has spoken out against Australia legalising same-sex marriage and has claimed that transgender children are the work of the ‘devil’.

Court has also slated Australia’s Safe Schools anti-bullying programme, believing that a ‘gay lobby’ was trying to get into the minds of children through this. This is an athlete in the spotlight who has used her position of power to try and drag the world back into the 19th century, the polar opposite of what Williams has done.

Yet despite this, the second largest stadium at the Australian Open continues to be named the ‘Margaret Court Arena’ and last month Court was awarded the Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC), the highest category of honour awarded as part of the Australia Day honours.

Consequently, calls for the stadium to be re-named the Evonne Goolagong arena, after the Indigenous Australian who won seven grand slam singles titles between 1971 – 1980, have been made by Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe and rightly so, but they have been rebuffed so far.

It is nothing short of a disgrace that someone with such backward views can be continued to be promoted and honoured in this way. What message is this giving to society?

While people will argue that the name should remain on the stadium due to Court’s achievements in the sport, it does not promote tennis in a good light. It can give the message that tennis almost supports her views.

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Grand Slam victories do not give you the right to conjure hatred and create division. People will suggest that I am part of the ‘cancel culture brigade’ which is quite frankly absurd. All I am doing is rightly praising an inspirational sporting mum and African American icon. A woman who has continued the work Althea Gibson started in the 1950s to overcome the legacy of racism in the sport. Court on the other hand is a religious bigot.

Even when it comes to their achievements in the game, Williams’ are more impressive due to the competitive era she has won in. As people, Williams and Court are chalk and cheese, and Williams is the person you have to side with if you have any morals.

It is for this reason that Williams will always be regarded as the greatest the sport has seen, even if she is unable to equal Court’s record.