Laureus World Sports Academy Member and tennis legend Martina Navratilova believes Serena Williams could overtake Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 Grand Slam singles victories.
Serena is nominated for a record-equalling fourth Laureus World Sports Award and in an exclusive interview on Laureus.com, Martina said: “Serena's very motivated, she's healthy and the competition hasn't been able to catch up to her. It's a tall mountain to climb, but if she hits 20, it's within reach. If she stays healthy, it's possible.”
When she won the US Open in September, Serena joined Martina and Chris Evert on 18 Grand Slam victories. She then won the Australian Open earlier this year to take her to 19, just three behind Graf.
Martina said: “By her standards it was actually not as great a year as she's had before because she's had such a high standard. But she still managed to be No. 1 at the end of the year and most of all winning the US Open, where she passed Chris and myself. Maybe not as good a year as other years, but marching towards history, that's a pretty big deal.”
Asked how she would have performed at her peak against Serena, she said: “I would love the opportunity to play Serena. She's got a big power game, huge serve, but she doesn't like to play people that are very fast, and I was pretty quick in my day. I think it would be a pretty great match. Different surfaces, people have different strengths and weaknesses but I think that would be a great match up.”
Serena Williams has been nominated for the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award and will discover at the Laureus World Sports Awards Ceremony in Shanghai on April 15 if she has beaten fellow tennis star Li Na, New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams, skiers Marit Bjørgen and Tina Maze and distance runner Genzebe Dibaba.
Martina also paid tribute to the achievements of Li Na, the first Chinese woman to win a Grand Slam.“Once she won the French Open, the pressure that was on her as the first Asian player, male or female, to get that far was really hard to imagine. Maybe only Andy Murray can relate to that with what he went through at Wimbledon. So my hat is off to Li Na for winning the first Grand Slam and then to win again at the Australian Open a year ago, an amazing achievement,” said Martina.
“She’s opened a pretty big door in China and in Asia. There are already a lot more Chinese players out there and they will be making their mark, and with all of the academies and places that are starting out around China. I think first of all we'll see more woman players, but I think we'll see more men players coming out of China thanks to Li Na.”
Martina also pays tribute to Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, who has been nominated again for the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award. “He had a better year two years ago, but I think it's more difficult to repeat and stay No.1, and Novak managed. Even though he didn't play his best tennis at Wimbledon in the final, he still managed to win it against Roger Federer. Just his work ethic, diligence, his preparation, his willingness to keep working on his game and keep getting better is amazing. He deserves that he finished No.1.”
She feels that Djokovic’s link-up with Laureus World Sports Academy Member Boris Becker is paying dividends. Martina said: “A person that's not there every day can see things clearer because it jumps out at you more. And of course with Boris's experience as a Grand Slam winner, you can't put a price tag on that. At that high level, there are such small particular margins between winning and losing.”
Martina is now the coach of Agnieszka Radwanska and says that she is finding it very different to playing. “There is a lot more to it than just hitting a tennis ball and telling you how to hit it better. Everybody is working on all aspects of their game, strengths and weaknesses, physical, mental, emotional, it's all connected. So hopefully a coach will be able to help with all of that.”
She is now one of a growing number of female coaches in tennis, along with Amelie Mauresmo, who coaches Andy Murray, and Gala León, the coach of the Spanish Davis Cup team. Why does she think it has taken so long for women coaches to arrive on the scene?
“Well, you have to ask the guys that hire the people they hire. I always find it interesting that it was OK in all the sports for men to be coaching women, for men to be the umpires of women's matches, but not vice versa, I never understood that. There's no doubt that Amelie's coaching Andy will perhaps open the doors for other women, not just our sport but other sports.
“One day there will be women coaches coaching football, they will be managers of football teams, there will be coaches in the NBA or even the NFL because a lot of guys that are coaching never played the sport. I think it will happen more and more and one day it won't be a big deal.”