AT LAST WEEK’S US Open, Novak Djokovic defeated Daniil Medvedev to claim his 24th grand slam title. A feat that extended his record in men’s singles and tied him with Margaret Court for the most grand slams from a man or woman. The Serbian’s latest win has seemingly put to bed any discourse on who tennis’ GOAT is, solidifying his status as the best to ever do it—or so you might think.
That was before two-time grand slam winner Simona Halep received a four-year ban following two separate breaches of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme. The 31-year-old has maintained her innocence and will challenge the ban. “I am continuing to train and am committed to clearing my name from these allegations,” she said. As it stands, Halep will be out of action until after she turns 35, meaning the ban could spell the end of her career, and tarnish her legacy beyond recognition.
Now, you might be wondering how Simona Halep factors into the GOAT argument. Considering she’s only amassed a comparatively meagre two grand slam titles throughout her career, surely she doesn’t come close to Djokovic, right? Well, it’s not the grand slams Halep won that have changed the equation, it’s who she prevented from winning.
Sitting one grand slam short of Djokovic and Court on the all-time leaderboard is the queen of the court Serena Williams, who, for many years, attempted to close the gap between herself and Court, but came up empty on multiple occasions, almost always in an agonisingly close fashion. One such instance was when Williams and Halep met in the final of the 2019 Wimbledon championships, with Halep emerging victorious.
Since retiring in 2022, Williams has been overtaken by Djokovic on the grand slam leaderboard and the Serbian will likely add to his tally, so comparisons to the Djoker might become a moot point. But for now, Halep’s ban means that you could certainly make the retrospective argument that Williams’ illustrious career should have ended with one more trophy on her mantelpiece, and that she should be tied with Djokovic and Court.
Why do Serena Williams and Simona Halep have beef?
When you’re at the pinnacle of your sport for more than two decades, you’re bound to encounter some heated rivalries with opponents keen on knocking you off your pedestal. Such is the case with Serena Williams. There’s no love lost between Williams and Simona Halep, and while Williams dominates their head-to-head record 10-2, Halep came out on top at the feud’s biggest moment, the 2019 Wimbledon final.
Not one to miss an opportunity to sledge a bitter rival, Williams shared a message on X (formerly Twitter) after news of Halep’s ban broke, “8 is a better number”. Of course, Williams didn’t specify precisely what she meant. She could have simply been expressing her appreciation for everything of the octadic variety. But given the timing of the post, and that Halep prevented Williams from claiming her eighth Wimbledon title, the implication is fairly clear.
Serena Williams already has 23 grand slam titles, why is one more so important?
Margaret Court’s tally of 24 grand slam titles once seemed insurmountable, but Serena Williams began chasing the Australian down when she won her first grand slam at the age of 17 in 1999. Slowly but surely, Williams added more titles to her name. Eventually, Court’s record no longer looked out of reach.
Williams’ most recent grand slam victory came in 2017 at the Australian Open. At the time, she was 35 years old and only one grand slam away from equalling Court’s record. It seemed inevitable that she would pass Court at tennis’ zenith, but shortly after her Australian Open victory, Williams announced that she was pregnant and began a year-long hiatus from tennis.
Not long after the birth of her first child, Williams returned to chase down Court’s record, but could never make it past the final hurdle. Williams made four grand slam finals over the next two years, but lost all of them, including her near-miss against Halep in 2019. Even though she’s already accomplished more than most could ever dream of, it’s clear that Williams wanted to finish her career with more grand slams than any other athlete, but it wasn’t to be.
Is Serena Williams back in the GOAT debate?
To be clear, Williams never left the conversation on the greatest female tennis players, and she’ll stay in it regardless of whether she ties Court’s record or not. At the height of the big three’s rivalry, Williams’ name was often thrown into consideration for the title of overall greatest tennis player, as she had more grand slam titles than Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer at the time. Djokovic has since passed her and ended those comparisons, but if Halep is forced to forfeit her grand slam titles and Williams is awarded another grand slam, the argument could be reignited. However, it’s unlikely that Halep will be punished so harshly.
Williams may feel cheated, but there’s no evidence to suggest that Halep was doping as early as 2019, when the paired faced off in the Wimbledon final. Halep was first suspended from competition in October of 2022 after testing positive to a banned substance at the US Open. Even if Halep is forced to forfeit some of her past victories, her Wimbledon title probably won’t be one of them.
Williams never got to finish with the most grand slams. She came oh-so-close on a number of occasions, but ultimately couldn’t get over the line. As it stands, Halep’s ban won’t change that, but Williams will always be one of the greatest and most influential athletes of our time.