I've always admired Chris' objective eye about her own success relative to her accomplishments....I don't think Jimmy Evert's influence over his daughter can ever be underestimated and her refusal to toot her own horn.
The problem with Chris is that she doesn't seem to appreciate her own mental gifts and see that they are of equal merit with any sort of physical gifts a great champion might have.
If you read Chris' quotes throughout her career there is never a point where she doesn't seem to give deferential to the game's of Goolagong, King and then later Navratilova.
I think Chris has played no small part in the perception that she is a few steps behind Graf, Navratilova and Court as an All Time Great.
these are all great points, pammy - but i can tell you chris is, more than the other three players you mention at the 'top', entirely not invested in competing for the throne 30 years after the fact. She feels like her accomplishments do speak for themselves, people will think what they want no matter what she says, and she wins a certain battle by NOT clawing for the final remains on the table. AS ALWAYS, her take is 'I let my tennis do the talking' ... and by NOT being vested in proving her value in the past, she makes a pretty good statement about moving on to the now. If you quiz all 4 of these ladies on feats in their career, chris is by far the most likely to mis-remember the details.
I'll share something steve flink said to me on this topic: "Being in the moment is what made chris so incredible. Not the past or the future, but the moment. She just does not live in the past."
i can also promise you however that she DOES know she can be considered the best under certain lenses. But the male-based sports establishment is what is so daunting in this and its THEY who value the athleticism over the mental. She's not going to say, "The mental is really what it all comes down to" and then have these guys say, "sure, that suits her story, because maybe then she'd be number 1"...she wouldnt give them the pleasure. It is just too much of an uphill battle, and would only be worth entering into if she gave a flying fig. And she doesnt. Legacy is secured. Period. so she plays the grace card everytime.
like you said, she'll say how great goolagong & king's games are---and yes, she really does admire them, ESPECIALLY because they are different from her...and in some ways, even foreign. But only the way a singer admires a guitarist or a guitarist admires a singer: she wouldnt trade the way she did things for the way they did, and she certainly knows she was the better player among those 2. Thats WHY she is so willing to share that light at the top.
with that said, I wish she hadnt remarked about "maybe being in the top 20" nowadays...I go from good authority that she doesnt believe it. but i guess she just wishes everyone would stop being so invested in it, and let things be what they are. This 'who is #1' debate-- in addition to being impossible to answer or calculate-- misses the point and values the wrong aspects of what mattered: the mental/emotional impression of the players impact and artistry, over the physical result of numbers and stats. And in that, its actually here that chris' stance is truest to her ideals as she played them out on the tennis court.