Serena Williams: The Mentally Toughest Player of All Time?

A couple of years ago I wrote an article that proposed that Serena Williams might just be the mentally toughest player the game has ever seen…

By reasserting her dominance over the field in claiming her 7th Australian Open at age 35, I thought it worth revisiting this proposal…

After all, throughout her career she has:

Played her best in the most important matches…

Been clutch towards the end of sets…

Recovered and won many big matches from dire score lines…

And like we saw throughout this years Aussie Open she tends to steamroll when in front.

While arguments against Serena’s mental toughness greatness generally center on her superior physical ability competing against a class of opponents that have no claim to all-time greatness, let’s revisit an updated statistical look at Serena’s Grand Slam record when considering the arguments for.

1.) Playing Her Best In Big Matches

While Serena has shown a few more vulnerabilities in big matches later in her career, her stats suggest she is the best big match player of all-time.

Serena lives for the last weekend in slams…

And at 23-6 in grand slam finals, she has an incredible habit of saving her best for last, and one that stands up very nicely against the best of all time…

For example, Steffi Graf went 22-9 in Slam finals…Margaret Court: 24-5…

And among the men, Federer stands at 17-10…Rafa is at 14-6… And Novak is at 12-9

2.) Finishing the Job When In Front

While Serena has had a few uncharacteristic grand slam losses from winning positions in recent years, this is far from the norm throughout her career.

She has traditionally attacked victory like a shark smelling blood in the water when the chance to finish her opponent presents.

3.) Playing Clutch at Crunch Time

To explore Serena’s history in this regard I chose to look at her winning percentage in grand slam sets that went past 5-5 in comparison to some other all-time greats.

Serena has won approximately 70% of 7-5, 7-6, and advantage grand slam sets in comparison to approximately 60% for Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.

That’s quite an accomplished pair to make look like inferior pressure performers!

This also stands up well against the best men in the open era…

For example, Federer is the best at just over 70% on this stat, with Nadal around the 70% mark and Djokovic at 66%…

4.) Recovering from Big Trouble

Although she wasn’t required to call on her greatest mental toughness magic trick  during this year’s Aussie Open, Serena has displayed a history of consistently producing Houdini like escapes from dire match circumstances during her grand slam title runs.

The likes of which no other player comes anywhere near.

Consider this…

In 13 of her 23 grand slam title runs Serena has been 5 or fewer points from defeat at some point in the tournament, providing a considerable counter to the argument that she has been simply too good for her opponents across her career.

Additionally, 8 times opponents served for the match during her title runs only to be run down.

And she saved match points on 3 occasions.

So Is She the Greatest?

It’s long been argued that it’s simply not possible to compare different eras.

And comparing the mental toughness of men and women has it’s own challenges…

For instance, I would think that competing effectively under pressure holds slightly more weight for women because of the narrow margin for error in best of 3 set slam battles whereas for men the mental endurance of competing over 5 sets is more important.

And when looking at Grand Slam final records above, the challenge of having 3 of the greatest men of all times compete against each other so often in Slam finals means that collectively their finals records don’t seem as impressive…

So while we could argue all day about what even comprises mental toughness, let alone who is the mentally toughest player of all time, Serena must be considered the greatest escape artist in the history of the game.

And that she has followed those escapes by going on to win grand slams so many times is a combination without comparison.

With all this in mind, I think she is the mentally toughest player the game has ever seen…What do you think? Leave a comment below to let me know…

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