I think I agree more with Colin B on how to judge these things, although of course, most people will always use the Most Grand Slams Won type criteria, as you have to, or you would never know where you were. To calculate or determine who is the greatest is different from feeling, "This person is so great," because that reaction is more of a total sense of things, and also makes allowances, where stats don't. My own example is my favorite, Jana Novotna, and if I wanted to show you how great she was, I would play a few of her best matches, (1996 Olympics vs. Seles, 1993 Wimbledon vs. Navratilova, several things from 1998 Wimbledon, etc.), where she is so totally on, so intelligent, so quick, anticipating everything, using all skills, etc., that you really know how great she was, because here it all is. Another way of judging, then, is not "Who won the most...," etc., but, "Who had the best slice backhand, serve, drop shot, who covered the court best" etc., and other things I believe Novotna was best at. Novotna had Graf crying on the Duchess's shoulder right up until the end of that '93 Wimbledon match, and didn't lose it for any reason having to do with talent. She panicked. How are wins and losses the determinant of greatness as a player, when someone like Novotna (and Mandlikova, etc.) lost exactly because they thought TOO much? It defeats the category--not that they had one great shot and used it, but that they had so many options, that they didn't know which way to turn. Everybody know this is true of certain players. This is actually what I relate to--the "Novotna type," where you think, "God, all this talent--why doesn't she do more with it, win more?" Something or other told you she was great, and it wasn't number of wins. Study the way Novotna did these things, as opposed to just about everyone else, and know her greatness--otherwise, you might as well just throw an elbow into the face of the catcher at home plate (just kidding). Other little telling details: she had a winning record on all surfaces, and a winning record against Venus Williams, even winning her last tournament, Hannover 1999, against her. If Venus Williams is one of the GM ideas of greatest ever, then what is Jana Novotna, who had no problem with her--and how many people can say that? The problem is, she then retired, so this effect was over. Also, it becomes impossible to calculate what might have been lost by fighting against resrictions that limited your ability to get a fair shot, because if you were truly restricted, we would never have heard of you at all. Also, with a case like Meghann Shaunessy and the U.S.T.A., and lack of support--what do you do with that knowledge once you have it; what do you "credit" her with having lost? Also, you can't remove the subjective concern from your opinion: if someone you don't like does something great, you can dismiss it from your mind a thousand ways, but if your favorite does it, it was more impressive because you were cheering them on in your mind anyway. The difference between eras: Is it harder to play the great, conditioned athletes of today, or is it harder to play with one of those horrible old wooden racquets? I had an example of that a couple of years ago, old and new equipment, but with golf: I was on a driving range with somebody, used old clubs, then a new one, and the result was immediate--it was more fun to use the new one, went further, straighter, etc., and I never play golf!
Of course, the usual stats, categories, etc. will always be used, and should be, but then Jana Novotna will not be there, which makes it a fake list as far as I'm concerned. When it comes right down to it, my ultimate criterion is: "Go Jana!"
Out, out, damned spot!
William Shakespeare (anticipating George Bush)