Chris Evert, a legend of women’s tennis, is resigned to seeing Serena Williams matching and probably beating her record of 18 Grand Slam titles at some point, but is not quite as sure that the current world number one is really “that good.” “Is she that good or is the rest of the field maybe not that strong?” Evert told DPA in a recent interview.
Evert praised the rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and looked back upon a different sort of rivalry between Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, which she saw in her days as a player.
Williams was eliminated in the fourth round of this year’s Australian Open last month, when most people believed she would go on to win the tournament and match the 18 majors of Evert and Martina Navratilova. Evert does not kid herself: she knows Williams will most likely get there and beyond eventually.
“It’s so interesting, she’s been in and out of the game,” Evert said.
“She didn’t have a rival, and Martina and I for 18 years we were fighting. Between the both of us, 36 Grand Slams. With Serena you have to wonder, is she that good or is the rest of the field maybe not that strong?” Evert thinks the current WTA Tour has “more depth” and is “more global” than it was in her day.
“So maybe in that respect you have more competition, it might be more difficult now,” she said.
That might sound like a contradiction in her opinion about Williams, but it is not.
When she thinks about the greatest female tennis players in history, Evert chooses strong rivalries, clashes between players who really have a chance to win titles. In this context, she has few doubts as to the two greatest players ever: Navratilova and Steffi Graf, the winner of 22 Grand Slam titles.
“I think Martina and Steffi would be my first two choices, and I think Serena because of the new technology and the athleticism. I think she would be the better player physically. But when it comes to champions you have to say Steffi and Martina.” Among the men, Evert chooses a trio of Rod Laver, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, but she thinks it is impossible to establish the best player of all time.
“How can you do that, how? How do you measure that? Do you measure by consistency, by how many Grand Slams (they have), do you measure it by how many times they’ve been number one? I don’t know that.” When asked about Nadal and Federer, the two men who have marked the last decade in men’s tennis, Evert is quick to find words to describe them.
For her, the Swiss stands for “beauty,” while Nadal is “a warrior, a soldier.” In fact, she thinks Nadal will beat the record 17 Grand Slam titles Federer has won so far.
“He’s got at least three more good years to win one or two a year,” she says of Nadal.
“I would say Federer is more like an artist, and Nadal is a warrior.
Different styles, different temperaments, different personalities. That’s what makes a great rivalry.” However, that is not enough to build a healthy rivalry, according to Evert.
“If you have two good people you can have a good rivalry. Two people with good hearts, and I think that Roger and Rafa are good people,” she said.
“If you have a mean person it’s not going to be a good rivalry,” she noted.