Why You’re Not Allowed to Say Roger Federer is a Better Tennis Player than Serena Williams

The most liked, most affable, and least offensive tennis player in the world finds himself at the center of a controversy. Swiss tennis icon Roger Federer recently graced the cover of GQ after the magazine named him the most stylish man of 2016. GQ sent out a tweet to promote the article and accompanying photo spread, in which they referred to Federer as “the greatest tennis player of all time.” Most tennis fans would consider this pretty inoffensive. Federer is, after all, the only tennis player whose game is so beautiful that watching him play has been likened to a religious experience. Not to mention he holds pretty much every tennis record there is to hold. There’s some debate about whether Federer’s longtime archrival Rafael Nadal is actually better, or if it’s possible to compare Federer to players from previous eras, but for the most part, nobody’s going to freak out if you award Federer the GOAT title.

Except, that is, for the politically correct.

After GQ sent out its innocuous tweet, Buzzfeed ran an article titled “GQ Magazine Is Getting Trolled For Calling Roger Federer ‘The Greatest Tennis Player Of All Time.’” It was subtitled, “Weird, they misspelled Serena Williams.” The purpose of the article was to show that a few people on Twitter were upset GQ named a cisgender white male the greatest tennis player of all time instead of Serena Williams, a black woman. I’d say this is the stupidest tennis controversy of all time, but earlier this year a sports announcer was fired under charges of racism for saying Serena’s sister Venus utilized “guerilla” tactics.

Anyway, this is supposedly just another example of how our society is white-male centric, and how the world overlooks the accomplishments of African Americans and women. Except if you’re trying to argue our society is racist and sexist, the Federer/Williams debate is a really bad example to use. At The Washington Free Beacon Sonny Bunch provided a logical argument for why Serena isn’t as good as Federer, namely that she lost 6-1 to the completely out of shape 203rd ranked male tennis player in the world. Serena herself doubts she could win a point off Andy Murray. Murray, for those who don’t watch tennis, is not nearly as good as Federer. Tennis commentators say Serena is incapable of beating a man ranked in the top 200—some don’t think she’d even rank in the top 1,000 if she were a man—and John McEnroe thinks he could still beat her even though he’s well into his fifties. In short, placed alongside men, Serena wouldn’t make any list of the greatest tennis players. If men and women competed together it’s unlikely Serena would have ever made it past the first round of a grand slam.

It’s not clear Serena can even claim to be the greatest female tennis player of all time. Steffi Graf won one fewer grand slam titles, but was ranked number one for about a full year longer and won the Golden Calendar Slam—all four majors and the Olympic gold medal in the same year—something Serena hasn’t done. Martina Navratilova was also ranked number one longer, and only has five fewer grand slam titles in singles, but oodles more in doubles and mixed doubles. Margaret Court has an absurd 91.74% win record at grand slams, won all four majors in the same year, and holds the all-time singles grand slam record—twenty-four to Serena’s twenty-three—even though she temporarily retired in the middle of her prime. She also won more doubles and mixed doubles grand slam titles than Serena, and, fun fact, reached the Wimbledon singles final in 1972 while she was pregnant. All of these women won more career titles than Serena and have just as much, if not more, of a claim to be considered the greatest female tennis player.

Despite all the truly incredible things Serena has accomplished she is not the greatest tennis player ever. And yet, because Serena’s story fits nicely into the narratives of sexism and racism—well, nicely if you push and wiggle it a bit—it has become the politically correct thing to say she is; even Serena herself believes the PC hype, saying that if she were a man she’d have been hailed as the GOAT long ago. It’s worth pointing out that no tennis analyst or commentator agrees with her. How could they? Sorry, Serena. The data show your claim to the crown has more holes than cheese from Federer’s homeland.

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11 responses to “Why You’re Not Allowed to Say Roger Federer is a Better Tennis Player than Serena Williams

    1. You’re right. Numbers don’t lie. Silly interpretations of numbers do, though.

      Serena’s greatness isn’t in question. But she’s not even in Federer’s league.

      1. No because she was born a woman and he a man. Give him estrogen and he wouldn’t come close.

        1. I could just as easily say, “Give her testosterone and she wouldn’t come close.”

          He’s more talented, more intelligent, more gracious in victory and defeat, a better ambassador for the game, and wins with power and subtlety, as opposed to brute force. If you wish to persist in your delusion that Serena’s better than Roger relative to their sexes, you’re of course free to do so. But don’t think you’re fooling anyone who knows anything about the game.

          She may have polished her act a bit over the last few years, but she’s the same woman who threatened to shove a ball down a linesman’s throat, has never truly admitted to being outplayed, and spent years as one of the single most sullen interviews after having lost in the history of tennis. Yes, she’s great. Yes, she’s the GOAT in women’s singles. But she’ll never be quite as beloved as she could have been, because she spent too much of her career with about a tenth the class her sister has. Deal with it.

        2. but do you even play one times at tennis? What nonsense is this… Williams would be whooped by the 300th ATP player… deal with it…

  1. Esther Vergeer and Margaret Court are the greatest women’s tennis players, not Serena Williams. Serena benefited from a weak era. Read the article “Margaret Court the greatest: Evonne Goolagong Cawley”

    The majority of the paying spectators are willing to pay more to watch men’s tennis because it is higher quality than women’s tennis. That is why tickets for the women’s final is much cheaper than for the men’s final at all the Grand Slams and big combined tournaments — otherwise fewer people would watch the women’s final. At the Miami Open, the men’s singles final tickets cost $85, $290 and $550 while the same seats for the women’s singles final costs $54, $150, $275. $275.

    The Women’s Tennis Association prohibits male players from competing on the WTA Tour (see the WTA rulebook)! Such blatant gender discrimination invalidates any comparison of men’s tennis with women’s tennis.

    What if Serena Williams was not terrified of playing the men under the same fair standard rules? Then the top 1,000 men would beat Serena. If they played to their full potential, Roger Federer and other top 10 male players would probably trash Serena 0-6, 0-6 in less than 45 minutes.

    In 2012, Rafael Nadal’s coach Toni Nadal diplomatically concluded that Serena’s shots would not hurt a top male player, and she lacks the fitness and mobility to compete against the men. Former ATP No. 3 David Ferrer and former WTA No. 51 Anabel Medina Garrigues both concurred. Read “Serena würde gegen jeden Top-300-Spieler verlieren”

    In 2012, the Tennis Channel experts ranked Roger Federer the greatest tennis player of all time, male and female, on its Greatest 100 list. Just two months ago, Tennis Channel’s historian/expert Steve Flink reiterated: “I believe Federer has reaffirmed that he must be regarded as the greatest player ever to lift a tennis racket.”

    Federer won the prestigious Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award a record four times ahead of athletes such as Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, Michael Schumacher, Michael Phelps, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Manny Pacquiao. Serena won the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year award three times despite a list of weaker athletes. The awards are voted on by a large jury of world sports legends.

  2. People are pissed about virtually everything. Let them play and see who wins. I’m betting on Roger, but who knows. Serena is awesome.

    Generally speaking. men are more athletic, stronger, faster, etc. It’s not an insult.

  3. Roger Federer is a better tennis player than Serena Williams. If you disagree, you are wrong … and you’re not too bright, either.

  4. “…if she were a man she’d have been hailed as the GOAT long ago.”

    I was thinking more along the lines of HORSE, but okay.

  5. This only came up when Serena won 23 slams to beat Graf’s total of 22 forgetting Court’s 24 of course. Before this nobody claimed Court or Graf or Navritolova were the greatest ever male or female. More pertinent if you want to compare, taking into account competition, available Federer has now won 4 more slams than his nearest rivals. Serena is still behind Court. Women greats tend to win more because of the lack of real competition and Federer has Nadal and Djokovic in the same generation basically who have won 15 and 12 slams themselves.

    Anyway if you want to consider achievement in “special” competition to be valid consideration for the greatest ever then wheelchair tennis player Esther Vergeer is the greatest ever.

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