If Serena Williams had retired with 21 Grand Slam titles, many would consider her the greatest female tennis player of all time. By winning 22, Williams slams the door on the argument.
Case closed. She's the greatest of all time.
Williams defeated Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3 on Saturday to capture her seventh Wimbledon title and 22nd Slam overall. She tied Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam titles in the Open era.
After the match, Williams told the crowd on Centre Court, per Wimbledon.org, how tough it's been trying to chase down No. 22.
"It's been incredibly difficult not to think about it," she said. "I had two tries this year and lost to two great opponents, one of them being Angelique. It makes the victory even sweeter knowing how hard I had to work."
Williams also moved within two titles of Margaret Court's all-time record of 24. Court amassed many of her triumphs at the Australian Open, essentially her home tournament, prior to the Open era.
So Graf's 22 stood as the benchmark for greatness. Even if every member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame called Williams the greatest ever, without 22 she remained statistically behind Graf. Williams needed this number to solidify and verify her greatness.
Not that she had to convince her peers. In 2015, when Williams pursued the calendar-year Grand Slam, tennis Hall of Famer John McEnroe already considered her the greatest of all time.
He said on BBC Radio 5 Live, "I think Serena is one of the all-time greatest athletes, period. Man or woman. She's the greatest female player I've ever seen. She's proven it to me over and over."
Prior to Wimbledon 2015, Christ Evert told Sean Gregory of Time magazine why she believed Williams is the greatest:
After watching her matches and watching her closely, these players get close, they're doing really well, and then she'll get to another level where she slaps winners and she starts acing people. It's not one level. All of a sudden, she's up two or three levels better than the field. It's not about the other women. It's about how good Serena is.
Winning 22 was more about settling bar-room debates, where stats rule.
Consider numbers besides 22. Williams' record in Grand Slam finals, 22-6, is second only to Court (11-1). Williams' 304 Slam match wins are second only to Martina Navratilova's 306. (Keep in mind that Navratilova played in 773 more singles matches than Williams.)
Williams is the oldest player to have held the No. 1 ranking. Some might argue Williams' longevity weakens her case, as Graf retired at age 30. However, Graf played 127 more matches than Williams.
Two years ago, the New Yorker's Ian Crouch wrote that Williams is more than the greatest tennis player of all time. Crouch declared her the greatest American athlete in a generation.
"Forget tennis for a moment, though: When I say the greatest athlete in a generation, I mean the greatest in any sport," Crouch wrote. "Sorry, LeBron. Sorry, Tiger. Sorry, Derek."
Williams' career spans from her teenage years—when Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport and Mary Pierce battled for Slam titles—to today's revolving door of challengers such as Kerber and Garbine Muguruza.
Hingis, Capriati and Davenport are Hall of Famers now. One of Williams' toughest foes, Justine Henin, will be inducted this year. Kim Clijsters is on her way. Williams has a winning record against every one of them.
The absence of these greats and Williams' subsequent dominance raises the argument of whether she benefited from a weak era.
When comparing players from overlapping eras, head-to-head competition is the best way to measure who is greater. Williams and Graf split their two meetings. The problem? Graf was on her way out, and Williams was still so young.
Though records against common opponents can be skewed by matchups, age and other circumstances, they do offer insight as to how Williams and Graf may have fared against each other.
Common Hall of Fame opponents include Capriati and Davenport. Graf enjoyed a 10-1 record against Capriati, while Williams was 10-7. Against Davenport, Graf was 8-6 and Williams 10-4. Against Pierce, Graf was 4-2 and Williams 5-1.
Hingis, who was 6-7 against Williams and 2-7 against Graf, makes the case for and against Williams' greatness. Hingis, 35, is a few months younger than Venus Williams and about 15 months older than Serena, and the five-time Grand Slam champion straddled the Graf and Williams sisters eras.
Hingis' best years were over before Graf retired. A teen phenom, Hingis won all five of her Slams by 1999. Graf won her last Slam at the 1999 French Open. She defeated Hingis.
These days, Hingis can't hang.
Last year, she played singles at the Fed Cup. It was her first official singles match in nearly eight years. She lost. When asked by WTA staff about the difference between singles today and yesteryear, Hingis responded, "The only problem is the physical part. That's what it always was, even when I was playing singles and doubles on the pro tour."
When you consider how much more money players make in singles versus doubles, you have to guess that if Hingis could compete on the tour today, she would.
Williams has simply outplayed and outlasted Hingis, Davenport, Henin, Clijsters, Pierce, Li Na and so many more.
She's dominated the power-hitters like Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. She figured out the crafty shot-makers like Hingis and Henin. Even as she approaches age 35, Williams continues to withstand the onslaught of players who are a decade or more younger.
After her triumph on Centre Court, tennis greats past and present tweeted congratulations. Many called her a legend or the G.O.A.T.
Some will make the case for Graf, or even Navratilova. But if Williams' legacy is judged by a jury of her peers, the case is closed. She is the greatest female tennis player of all time.