MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian tennis great Margaret Court said she was unsure whether Serena Williams can surpass her record tally of 24 Grand Slam titles in the wake of the American’s earliest exit in 14 years at the Australian Open on Friday.
Williams, who had come into the first Grand Slam since in Auckland claiming her first title since becoming a mother, suffered an error-strewn 6-4 6-7(2) 7-5 defeat by China’s Wang Qiang in the third round at Melbourne Park.
She has reached four Grand Slam finals since giving birth but failed to win any of those matches and at 38 her window to add to her 23 major titles may be closing.
Asked if she expects Williams to catch and pass her record, Court told the Herald Sun: “I don’t know. It’s interesting.
“She may equal it but she’s still got to pass it. It’s an ask.”
In the absence of Williams in the winners’ circle, the next generation of players - Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty and Bianca Andreescu - have won four of the last five Grand Slam titles.
“There’s a lot of young players coming through,” Court added. “Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka play well ... Ash Barty.
“It’s one thing to win one. The hard thing is to stay there. That’s what makes real champions.
“The players who have won more than one have stayed there and that’s what makes them champions.”
Court also revealed her list of the 10 greatest female players she had either seen or played against, ranking German Steffi Graf, who won 22 majors in her career, ahead of Williams at the top of the pile.
“They’re all great champions,” Court said of the list, which had Billie Jean King at number three and Martina Navratilova taking fourth spot. “But I always thought Steffi was the best. She was my favorite.
“She won the grand slam in 1988 (Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open) and I always loved watching her because of her athleticism and style.
“And then Serena, of course. Her record speaks for itself and her serve is incredible.”
Chris Evert, Maria Bueno, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Venus Williams, Monica Seles and Justine Henin also featured in Court’s list of all-time greats.
Tennis Australia will recognize the 50th anniversary of Court’s calendar Grand Slam during the Australian Open but stressed the organization disagrees with her personal views on same-sex marriage.
Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by David Holmes