When, not if, Serena Williams becomes world No 1 (if it’s not today it will happen before long), the American will become the oldest woman to hold the top ranking and top the rankings for a 124th week. Only five women – Steffi Graf (377), Martina Navratilova (332), Chris Evert (260), Martina Hingis (209) and Monica Seles (178) – have been there longer.
That Serena lags around 50 weeks behind Seles is not because she has not been as good or as dominant as the Yugoslav-born American was. At various stages in her career, Serena has been head and shoulders above the rest; when she played her best, she won. The same mantra still applies but the only difference between the 31-year-old and the five all-time greats above her is that for a variety of reasons, she has been unable to play a full schedule throughout her career, thus restricting her weeks at the top have been restricted.
Some of that is of her own making. Williams has always picked and chosen her events, playing only as much as she felt necessary. Some of it has been down to circumstances – her motivation waned, not surprisingly, after the shocking death of her sister, Yetunde Price in September 2003 – and on other occasions, notably in 2010 and into 2011, when injury took her away from the Tour.
None of it has affected her ability to win grand slams, however, with 15 to her name and surely a few more to come yet. In 2012, she won two more grand slam titles and the Olympics. It will be the first time she has topped the rankings since October, 2010, not far off 11 years since he first became No 1. Her longevity has perhaps been helped by her occasional absences from the Tour but her motivation now seems stronger than ever.
Just a few years ago, when Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina were No 1 despite having never won a grand slam title, there were plenty of people willing to right off the women’s rankings as a statistical anomaly; everyone knew Williams was still the best player. The same thing occurred when Caroline Wozniacki topped the rankings.
No one is suggesting that Maria Sharapova, current No 1 Victoria Azarenka or former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova are not world-class players. Of course they are. It’s just that when Williams sits on top of the pile, it all seems right.