Continuing with our series on the greatest tennis players of all time, here’s No. 11 on our list.
No. 11 – Margaret Court
24 singles Grand Slam titles, 62 combined Major trophies (singles, doubles and mixed doubles), 192 overall singles titles, a calendar Grand Slam and a career singles winning percentage of 91.74% (1,177 wins to 106 losses). This might sound like the combined record of a couple (or maybe 3 or 4) all-time great players; to put it into perspective, Monica Seles, Venus Williams and Justine Henin, the three women who have featured in this series so far, won a combined 23 singles Slam titles and 139 overall singles titles, and none of them have even a career Grand Slam, let alone a calendar one. So forgive my language, but when I first learned that all of these records belonged to one person, I couldn’t stop myself from exclaiming, “Are you f&^%*&@$ kidding me?” Margaret Court, the sometimes-revered, sometimes lambasted Aussie champ for the ages, can have that kind of impact on you.
Court, who before her marriage went by the name Margaret Smith, won just about everything that there is to win in tennis. She won all the four Majors in singles, once even doing that in the same year (1970), but she also won all the four Majors in doubles, AND all the four Majors in mixed doubles, thus completing a career ‘boxed set’. And sure, two other players may have achieved that feat (Martina Navratilova and Doris Hart), but get this – Court was the only player to have completed the career boxed set twice over - she won each of the 12 Grand Slams at least two times. And wait, it gets even more surreal. A year after winning the Calendar Grand Slam in 1970, Court reached the Wimbledon final while she was pregnant with her first child. Yes, she lost that match to Evonne Goolagong Cawley, but if you know anything about how the human body reacts to pregnancy, you’d know just how incredibly tough even reaching the final must have been for Court. And all of this – the Calendar Slam, the second ‘boxed set’, the tremendous Wimbledon final of 1971 – came after Court took a two-year break from the game between 1966 and 1968. ‘Ridiculous’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.
That Court is the most successful tennis player of all time – male or female – can scarcely be debated. Her list of career accomplishments makes Roger Federer and Steffi Graf look like kids in nappies. Why, then, does she come in at a relatively low position in this series? For one thing, most of Court’s records (except for the Calendar Slam, which is as legitimate as legitimate can be) came before the Open Era, at a time when professional players were barred from entering the Majors. Moreover, out of her 24 singles Slams, 11 came at the Australian Open, which had, ahem, second class status before it was shifted from its year-end slot in December to its current January slot. Court won everything, but very often she didn’t have to face off against the best possible competition to win.
Still, stats don’t lie, as the cliché goes, and Court deserves a place in any all-time list of tennis greats based on her seemingly insurmountable records alone. She may not have had to face the best competition for most of her career, but she still did better than any of the players whom she did have to face. Much, much better. Her movement on the court had to be seen to be believed – like most of her Aussie contemporaries on the men’s side, Court took athleticism and court smarts to a whole new level. She ended as many as 7 years of her career ranked No. 1 in the world, and in her heyday, among her peers, there was simply no one who could challenge her with anything resembling consistency.
As tempting as it may be (isn’t ‘progressive’ the name of the game these days?), I’m not going to take any points off from Court for her over-zealous and loudly-proclaimed Christian views. Court’s tennis had nothing to do with her religion or her insistence on publicly disparaging everything that she deemed un-Christian, and any attempt to diminish her contribution to the game because of her seemingly bigoted opinions would be as laughably misplaced as the voices calling for the renaming of Margaret Court Arena because of her recent tirade against homosexuality. Court was a tennis player first, and a religious zealot later.
It’s funny how some people might rank Court as the greatest player of all time, while some others might not even consider her worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as tennis’s elite. Perhaps no other player in tennis has as polarizing a following as does the sharp-tongued Australian. So it makes perfect sense, in a lot of ways, to rank Court somewhere in the middle of this list. Court built a career resumé that came dangerously close to supernatural levels, but she lacked those intangible qualities necessary to be universally recognized as a an all-time champion. But hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – us mortals wouldn’t be complaining one bit if we had the kind of problems that Margaret Court does.
And now, take a look at this video tribute on Court, which, in 4 short minutes, pretty much sums up everything about Court’s personality and career.
Here are the other players who have made it so far:
No. 20 – Venus Williams; No. 19 – Justine Henin; No. 18 – Ken Rosewall; No. 17 – Andre Agassi; No. 16 – Pancho Gonzales; No. 15 – Monica Seles; No. 14 – John McEnroe; No. 13 – Ivan Lendl; No. 12 – Jimmy Connors
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: