Serena Williams’ achievements in tennis were hailed this past weekend by a robust chorus of admirers from Michelle Obama to Tiger Woods and LeBron James, but one name which perhaps won’t be added to the list is Australian tennis icon Margaret Court, who has delivered a put-down of the newly-retired American star.
Court remains perhaps the most enduring success story in female tennis, winning an unparalleled 24 Grand Slam singles titles in her career in the 1960s and 70s, but has more recently become a pariah in some circles due to her vocal stance in opposition to same-sex marriage and her support of gay conversion therapy, among other things.
Williams’ retirement following her elimination from the US Open by Ajla Tomljanovic ensures that Court’s 24 Grand Slam wins will remain at the summit of female tennis, with Williams unable to add to her tally of 23 since her final major win at the Australian Open in 2017 – in spite of her reaching four more finals in the following five years.
And speaking of Williams following her retirement, the often-outspoken Court claimed that she never felt she received the respect from Williams that she felt she deserved.
“Serena, I’ve admired her as a player, but I don’t think she has ever admired me,” said Court in an interview published in UK newspaper The Telegraph.
“Serena has played seven years more than I did,” she added, noting that Williams had more opportunities to capture tournament crowds throughout her career.
“I finished in my early 30s. People forget that I took two years out. I first retired, like Ash Barty, when I was 25, thinking I would never return to tennis. I got married, had a baby, but then had one of my best years, winning 24 out of 25 tournaments.”
Williams, though, has previously spoken of the sometimes-calamitous route she was forced to take throughout her own career.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record,” Williams said of Court’s tally prior to the US Open.
“Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a Grand Slam final, then yes, I am thinking about that record. Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help.
“The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus grand slams. I had my chances after coming back from giving birth. I went from a C-section to a second pulmonary embolism to a grand slam final. I played while breastfeeding. I played through post-partum depression.”
Nonetheless, Court’s words also hint towards a perceived lack of respect from Williams not just towards her, but towards her peers.
“I thought it was bad that Williams didn’t mention her opponent [Tomljanovic] more when she spoke,” she says. “We were taught to be role models for the young, in how we behaved. We were taught to honor our opponent. You learned from your losses. We respected one another.”
Court also took aim the sport as a whole for a lack of reverence towards her achievements after she says she was marginalized while attending Wimbledon.
“Nobody even spoke to me,” she said of her time in London.
“It’s very sad, because a lot of the press and television today, particularly in tennis, don’t want to mention my name,” Court said.
“It’s only when they have to, because I still hold so many records. In 2020, I was meant to be coming to Wimbledon for the 50th anniversary of my calendar Grand Slam.
“But then Covid hit, so the honor never happened. The French Open didn’t invite me, the US Open didn’t invite me. Rod Laver had won the slam and I was going to be honored in the same way, but no.
“I didn’t lose any sleep over it. But the honor has not been there for what I did do. In my own nation, I have been given titles, but they would still rather not mention me.”
But despite her own self-appraisal of her status within the sport, others claimed that there are a variety of reasons why Court cannot be considered the greatest of all time.
Writer Soraya McDonald fumed on Twitter that: “Serena isn’t considered the GOAT because she’s not a raving homophobe. She’s considered the GOAT because her game is objectively far more athletic and competitive than anyone Margaret Court ever faced, much less beat. Anyone with sense can see they are not remotely comparable.”
Another, Charlotte Clymer, added: “Friendly reminder that Margaret Court supported Apartheid in South Africa. That, alone, should be more than enough for you fools to cut her off from the tennis world completely.”
Margaret Court should be celebrated as a tennis great, not shamefully sidelined because of her transgender and gay marriage views