Margaret Court has questioned Serena Williams’ legacy after the American’s apparent retirement from tennis following her defeat at this year’s US Open.
Court holds the record for grand slam singles titles with 24, one ahead of Williams. But it is Williams who is usually described as the greatest player of all time.
The Australian played mostly in the amateur era, but she believes life on tour is easier now.
“I would love to have played in this era. I think it’s so much easier,” Court told the Daily Telegraph in an article published on Monday. “How I would love to have taken family or friends along with me. But I couldn’t. I had to go on my own or with the national team. People don’t see all that.
“We didn’t have psychologists or coaches with us. It’s a whole different world. That’s what disappoints me – that players today don’t honour the past of the game.”
Williams has not issued a definitive statement on her retirement, saying instead that she is “evolving” away from the game, in part because she wants to become a mother again. The 40-year-old was pregnant with her daughter, Olympia, when she won her last grand slam title at the Australian Open in 2017. Court said her titles had been won in a shorter period than Williams and while she became a mother of two.
“Serena has played seven years more than I did,” Court said. “I finished in my early 30s. People forget that I took two years out. I first retired … 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.”
The 80-year-old added: “I came back after two babies. After having the first baby, I won three out of the four slams … Serena hasn’t won a slam since [she gave birth].”
Court won her majors between 1960 and 1973, when fewer players made the journey to the Australian Open (there were just two non-Australians in the draw when she won her first home grand slam) . But she denied that made her 11 Australian Open titles (Williams has seven) less valuable.
“I often hear Billie Jean [King] saying that people didn’t come down to Australia in my early years,” Court said. “But Maria Bueno, the world No 1, came down. So did Christine Truman, Ann Haydon, Darlene Hard. Plus, Australia had some wonderful players. We had five girls in the top 10. Lesley Bowrey won two French Opens.”
Court has been a vocal critic of same sex marriage, which she believes has led to her being forgotten when the greats of tennis are talked about.
“A lot of the press and television today, particularly in tennis, don’t want to mention my name,” she said. “The honour 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.”
Despite her criticisms of Williams, Court said she had enjoyed watching her play.
“Serena, I’ve admired her as a player,” she said. “But I don’t think she has ever admired me.”