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Serena’s not a good clay courter, she’s just a good player period.

She beat great claycourters by being a better player than them.
That might apply to 2002 Serena. But obviously not to 2013 onwards Serena, who was a very good clay courter. All serious commentators agree.
 

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Ah, when it comes to clay courts Serena doesn't make the top 10. Think of Evert (the queen of clay), Seles (she would have even more wins had she not been stabbed), Goolagong, Ruzici, Sanchez-Vicario, Sabatini, Graf, Navratilova, Pierce, Capriati, and there are even more from the 80s and 70s that with today's equipment and strings, would beat Serena easily. I know I am setting myself up for a lot of backlash but people have to be realistic. Think of how many early round losses Serena has had at Roland Garros as well as other clay events.
Obviously Serena comfortably makes the top 10 open era. That you can't come up with 10 better than her at her your own asking does not help your argument.

You list someone like Navratilova, whose game was tailored for and thrived on fast courts to a much greater degree than Serena, but who also excelled on clay because she was just that good. That's just pure bias against Serena. You also omit Margaret Court and Henin. Very odd and incomplete list.

But lets actually test what you say: "think of how many early round losses Serena has at RG" - ok.
She's played it 13 times, won it thrice and made the final four times. So she's making the final almost one third of the times she plays it. Overall winning percentage of 83%.

She's lost before the fourth round five times. The same number of time she's lost before r16 at Wimbledon. By your jaundiced logic, Serena isn't one of the best grass court players either.

At the Italian Open, historically the second most prestigious clay court tournament and what most people consider to be the closest in terms of surface to RG, she has an 85% winning percentage. Even better than her record at the FO. From what you say you,would think she's losing 1r and 2r left and right and fluking a couple of titles. In fact, she's one of the most successful players at Rome of ALL TIME and has won more matches there than any other female player. ALL the great clay courters in history have played at Rome since it was first held in 1930. Serena has won more clay court matches there than any of them.

Let's compare that with someone who makes your list, Capriati. At RG she has a winning percentage of 80%. Ok, so she's in Serena's league so far. She made the final once in ten tries. Two first round losses - she lost in the first round 20% of the time she played RG. Overall, a pretty consistent performer at RG though, that must be said. When she wasn't losing early (which she did a statistically significant amount of the time), she went deep.

But there's her other clay court titles. She won 3 other clay court titles in her entire career. Yet according to you she is greater than someone who has won as many clay court titles as Capriati has total career titles?!

So, it's actually you that needs to be realistic. Your assertions don't stack up to reality. You didn't develop your points but left them as throwaway comments because you knew you wouldn't be able to back them up.

There might be some sort of debate about whether she makes the top 10 all time, but that would be a really complex debate. It would be interesting to have, as the thread starter intended, but it is difficult to do that when posters like you come in with artificial and slightly ridiculous opinions on the topic.
 

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These players are all-around surface players. Actually Pova became a clay specialist during the 2nd part of her career and sucked on grass/hard courts. Plus many fast-court specialists have won RG in the '70s and '80s : BJK, Mandlikova, Navratilova etc.
The RG surface has remained the same over the years.

No, all five of those recent RG winners who i cited are aggressive flat hitters who would be expected to struggle on clay, and who in fact HAVE struggled on it throughout their careers. Unless you have been playing on the RG clay yourself, i doubt that you are in a position to state that its speed hasn't been modified over the years.
 

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Discussion Starter #24
No, all five of those recent RG winners who i cited are aggressive flat hitters who would be expected to struggle on clay, and who in fact HAVE struggled on it throughout their careers. Unless you have been playing on the RG clay yourself, i doubt that you are in a position to state that its speed hasn't been modified over the years.
But you're not really using real evidence either. Because Myskina won in 2004—the only time she's ever made it past the QF of a slam—even though her game is better suited for faster surfaces—just look at her indoor stats. In 2002, the finals featured Serena and Venus, two players whose games weren't particularly suited to clay either. That was the one and only time Venus made it past the QF of the French. If the courts were playing faster these days, you would think her stats would look better than six 1R or 2R exits in the last eight years. The idea that players who favor faster courts are recently making themselves a factor on clay is just not true. It's been happening. I don't necessarily think that this is indicative of a tangible change in the surface.
 

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I always wondered when why and with which players the perception focus chsnged from "clay favors retrievers as they have more time to get to the balls" to "clay favors big hitters as they have more time to set up their strokes". Imo somewhere in this melange lies the answer whether Serena (and others) is a good clay court player.
 

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I know I am setting myself up for a lot of backlash but people have to be realistic. Think of how many early round losses Serena has had at Roland Garros as well as other clay events.
That's just it, though, Serena really doesn't have many early round losses at clay events. Let's look at her 35 clay-court losses, spanning 1998 to 2019.

2010-2019 (the late years)

Kenin, French Open 2019.
Muguruza, French Open Final 2016
Kvitova, Madrid 2015.
Muguruza, French Open 2014.
Cepelova, Charleston 2014.
Razzano, French Open 2012

2004-2010 (the 'bad' years)

Stosur, French Open 2010
Petrova, Madrid 2010
Jankovic, Rome 2010
Kuznetsova, French Open 2009
Schiavone, Madrid 2009 (via retirement)
Schnyder, Rome 2009
Koukalova, Marbella 2009
Srebotnik, French Open 2008
Safina, Berlin 2008
Henin, French Open 2007
Schnyder, Rome 2007
Chan, Charleston 2007 (via retirement)
Schiavone, Rome 2005 (completed the match, but pulled out of the French Open afterwards)
Farina Elia, Amelia Island 2005 (via retirement)
Capriati, French Open 2004
Capriati, Rome 2004
Petrova, Amelia Island 2004

1998-2003 (the early years)

Henin, French Open 2003
Mauresmo, Rome 2003
Henin, Charleston 2003
Henin, Berlin 2002
Schnyder, Charleston 2002
Capriati, French Open 2001
Suarez, Amelia Island 2000 (via retirement, wouldn't play again until Wimbledon)
MJ Fernandez, French Open 1999
Sanchez Vicario, Berlin 1999 (via retirement)
Hingis, Rome 1999
Sanchez Vicario, French Open 1998
Venus Williams, Rome 1998

Some notes on those losses:
  • Serena Williams has NEVER lost on clay to a player who never reached the top 50.
  • Serena Williams has only two losses to a player who never reached the top 20, one of which was via retirement.
  • Serena Williams has only six losses to a player who never reached the top 10, two which were via retirement.
  • I find only two truly inexplicable clay losses: Koukalova, Marbella 2009, and Cepelova, Charleston 2014.
  • I find only two other genuinely surprising, but not inexplicable clay losses: Razzano, French Open 2012, and Srebotnik, French Open 2008.
    • In the Razzano case, Serena had withdrawn from Rome before her SF match just prior.
    • Srebotnik was a doubles #1 who had already played her tough on clay that season.
  • She's lost 15 clay matches to players who never won a singles major, broken down as follows:
    • Three via retirement (Suarez, AI 2000, Farina Elia AI 2005, and Chan, Charleston 2007)
    • The two truly inexplicable losses (Koukalova, Marbella 2009, and Cepelova, Charleston 2014)
    • The two surprise-but-not-inexplicable losses (Srebotnik, RG 2008, and Razzano, RG 2012)
    • One to Mary Joe Fernandez when she was 17 and yet to win a major.
    • Three to Patty Schnyder, a lefty with huge topspin, match-up related.
    • Two to Nadia Petrova, mercurial talent, one at Serena's 2nd tournament back from surgery (and first on clay) in 2004.
    • One each to Jankovic and Safina, slamless world #1 players who were at their best on clay.
Essentially, to beat Serena Williams on clay, you had to be a top player (i.e. Grand Slam champion or contender), catch her on a very off day (Cepelova, Koukalova), hope she was slightly injured (a handful of players, including Razzano), or be someone who poses extremely unique challenges on the surface (Schnyder: left handed, huge tospin. Srebotnik: elite doubles player, able to take away lots of playing patterns). That's very much comparable to the players she's won the same number of French Open titles.

I'd put Serena's results a notch behind Seles, who was basically unbeatable on the surface in the first part of her career (only losses before 1996 were to Sabatini twice in Rome, and Graf once in Hamburg and once at the French Open) but then had occasional mystery losses in the second half of her career (losses to Barbara Schwarz, Stephanie Foretz would be comparable to Cepelova/Koukalova), or when she was slightly injured (loss to Rossana de los Rios would be comparable to Serena's against Razzano), as well as losses to good players (Lisa Raymond, Elena Likhovtseva, Silvia Farina Elia would fall in the Srebotnik or Schnyder camp), as well as losses to very good players (Irina Spirlea, Sandrine Testud would fall in the Petrova or Schnyder camp), and of course the occasional losses to truly great players, like to Hingis and Graf and ASV. I think their records are comparable, and given there's not enough for me to definitively move Seles below Serena, I'm giving Seles the edge because at her best on clay, Seles was better against a better field than Serena at her best on clay.

I'd put Serena's results a notch above ASV, who played pretty much non-stop on the surface (has the 2nd most career wins on the surface) but also has more (she's not even top 10 in win %) bizarre losses and worse records against her contemporaneous rivals (i.e. Graf and Seles) than Serena against hers (Henin and Sharapova, I suppose?).

Starting just AFTER she first won her first French Open, and ending BEFORE she won her last, here's a list of players she lost to on clay and the level of ranking they never achieved:

Top 50
Petra Langrova (I had to look this name up, I've literally never seen it before)
Andrea Glass

Top 20
Mercedes Paz
Elena Makarova

Top 10
Helen Kelesi
Sabine Hack
Elena Likhovtseva

Those are players she lost to on clay when she was nominally at her peak. If you extend the range through 2001, you get a few more players who never reached the top 20 (Gala Leon Garcia, Sylvia Plischke, Marlene Weingaertner), and if you go through the end of her career, it drops even more (Janette Husarova, Marta Marrero, Myriam Casanova). If you start before her 1989 French Open title, it opens up a bunch more players, but it's unfair to judge her at age 14-15-16 even though she was a French Open QFist at age 15 (we never talk about ASV as a prodigy, but damn, she was!)

Whew. That took an hour and 15 minutes. I'm opening a beer.
 

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I always wondered when why and with which players the perception focus chsnged from "clay favors retrievers as they have more time to get to the balls" to "clay favors big hitters as they have more time to set up their strokes". Imo somewhere in this melange lies the answer whether Serena (and others) is a good clay court player.
I also think the biggest question is: when did it become possible to hit consistent return of serve winners on clay? I think Seles was the first to do so with any regularity, although Graf could belt a few here and there.

Looking at winners from the past 20 years, only three of them were not exceptional returners of serve (Barty, Kuznetsova, Schiavone). That's the biggest change, IMO: power players now have the ability to hit through the court, and can do so for winners when returning serve in a way they couldn't in the olden days.
 

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Serena’s not a good clay courter, she’s just a good player period.

She beat great claycourters by being a better player than them.
This is perhaps one of the craziest things I have ever read on this forum. Being a good clay courter means winning matches and titles on clay.

Serena won 3 RG titles, 4 Rome titles, and 2 Madrid titles. She is an all time great clay court player.
 

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I also think the biggest question is: when did it become possible to hit consistent return of serve winners on clay? I think Seles was the first to do so with any regularity, although Graf could belt a few here and there.

Looking at winners from the past 20 years, only three of them were not exceptional returners of serve (Barty, Kuznetsova, Schiavone). That's the biggest change, IMO: power players now have the ability to hit through the court, and can do so for winners when returning serve in a way they couldn't in the olden days.
So it's the boring answer advanced raquet technology etc.? #yawn :-D haha And stronger players.

Maybe thety just put less clay on the ground so it doean't absorb as much power as before..
 

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I think Sharapova slots in as a toss-up with Navratilova, who mostly won on green clay and never took a European clay title aside from her pair of French Open crowns, in the #7 or #8 spot.
 

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So it's the boring answer advanced raquet technology etc.? #yawn :-D haha And stronger players.
Hahaha, yep! Boring old racquet tech...

I guess I'd say, until Kuerten and the Luxilon strings become the norm, it took an exceptional talent like Seles (left handed, two hands off both wings) to hit with the necessary angles (both cross-court and inside-out) AND power to do that kind of return-of-serve dominance, but now even un-exceptional talents (no offense, Ostapenko) can blast return-of-serve winners on a day when their hand-eye is clued in and they are swinging freely.
 

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What in the world?? This is clear example of using GS count as the be all( which ironically you said shouldn't be so, in other threads). There's zero way that it's a "toss up" between Sanchez, Seles and Serena. It's also ironic that you are using RG titles as the barometer yet aren't in taking into account OVERALL RG success.....

Arantxa won 19 clay court titles, made SIX Roland Garros Finals
Martina won 20 clay court titles, made the Finals or better 5 out of 6 years at Roland Garros
Monica won Roland Garros 3 times (with 4 finals) in 11 attempts......
Serena won 13 clay titles and made 4 Roland Garros Finals( in 17 attempts).

Arantxa was 72-13 at RG; Martina 51-11; Monica 54-8....Serena 65-13. She has the fewest overall clay court titles of all 4, the third lowest % at RG, lowest overall win %, the fewest RG Finals. Her and Martina could be a toss up, but she's definitely behind the other two.
who did they play though? asv was mostly a product of the bookends of seles' career. won before seles' rise on the tour and during the post stabbing time period. remember she was 1 of the biggest critics of seles getting a protected ranking because it erased her opportunistic ranking.
martina played in a two person field basically. if evert wasn't clay goat then martina would've dominated.
seles was robbed of a bunch of titles and should be ranked higher.
serena has dealt with alot in france- henin cheated her and she had a rough 3 or 4 years due to injuries and the loss of her sister
 

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In 2002, the finals featured Serena and Venus, two players whose games weren't particularly suited to clay either. That was the one and only time Venus made it past the QF of the French. If the courts were playing faster these days, you would think her stats would look better than six 1R or 2R exits in the last eight years.
It's not reasonable to compare Venus Williams of the early '00s to Venus Williams of the '010s. Different player. You can't draw any conclusions based on that. The '02 FO final was just a reflection of how much better the Williams sisters were than everybody else at that time, so in that case the playing surface didn't make a difference. As for Myskina, she kind of fluked it... that FO belonged to Dementieva, sadly she no-showed for the final.
 

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Serena had her moments overall in her career (it's very good) but it's a rather patchy resume relative to her achievements elsewhere. Not sure about top 5 but top 10 one has a good argument for.
 

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The player whose career is perhaps craziest on clay is Henin.

Four French titles, we know, and three in a row from 2005-2007, but she won 'just' 5 Tier I titles on clay: Charleston twice, Berlin three times.

But then look at other details: 2002 French Open (a year before she won her first slam, but she was a top 5 player) she lost in the first round to Aniko Kapros, who peaked at #44, and in 2004, as defending champion, she lost in the second round to Tathiana Garbin, who peaked at #22.

In 2002, 2003, and 2004, her other clay losses were all to title contenders (Venus at Amelia Island, Dokic in Hamburg, Serena in Rome, Dementieva at Amelia Island, Mauresmo at Amelia Island).

She went undefeated on clay in 2005, and then in 2006 had clay losses to Petrova and Schnyder (players who crop up in Serena's list of clay losses), in 2007 a loss to Kuznetsova, and in 2008 a loss to Safina. In her 2010 comeback year, she had losses to Kanepi, Rezai, and Stosur.

It's too short a career to extrapolate really broad trends, and when she was really in the swing of things (2005-2008) she was only losing to title contenders and top clay threats. But there are some head-scratchers in that list.

I'm inclined to slot Monica Seles ahead of her on the list of clay greatness.
 

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No, all five of those recent RG winners who i cited are aggressive flat hitters who would be expected to struggle on clay, and who in fact HAVE struggled on it throughout their careers. Unless you have been playing on the RG clay yourself, i doubt that you are in a position to state that its speed hasn't been modified over the years.
But you're not really using real evidence either. Because Myskina won in 2004—the only time she's ever made it past the QF of a slam—even though her game is better suited for faster surfaces—just look at her indoor stats. In 2002, the finals featured Serena and Venus, two players whose games weren't particularly suited to clay either. That was the one and only time Venus made it past the QF of the French. If the courts were playing faster these days, you would think her stats would look better than six 1R or 2R exits in the last eight years. The idea that players who favor faster courts are recently making themselves a factor on clay is just not true. It's been happening. I don't necessarily think that this is indicative of a tangible change in the surface.
No, he's not using any evidence at all. Just random assertions based on what he happens to think about the people who have won recently.

I remember some commentators, Sue Barker in fact, saying c. 2006 (corresponding to the Myskina win time period funnily enough) that the RG clay was faster that it used to be in the 70's. But that sounded more like speculation and I've not seen any actual evidence, certainly nothing whatsoever to say it's been sped up in the past 10 years.
 

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Serena had her moments overall in her career (it's very good) but it's a rather patchy resume relative to her achievements elsewhere. Not sure about top 5 but top 10 one has a good argument for.
Yeah, but that's because she's indisputably top 3 all time on grass and hard courts.

It's like saying Chris Evert's grass resume is patchy compared to clay and hardcourts: she still won 5 slams on grass, made 10 more grass court grand slam finals, and won 13 other titles on the surface.

edit: updated per @PamShriver 's correction.
 

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I'd rank Serena pretty high up there-say around #7 to #10

All-Time Top 10

1-2 Chris Evert (cc)
1-2 Suzanne Lenglen (cc)

3-4 Steffi Graf (cc)
3-4 Monica Seles (cc)

5 Justine Henin (cc)

7-10 Margaret Court
7-10 Hilde Sperling (cc)
7-10 Serena Williams
7-10 Helen Wills

(cc)=natural clay courter

Court, Williams and Wills were all cases where clay was not a natural surface.
 

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Yeah, but that's because she's indisputably top 3 all time on grass and hard courts.

It's like saying Chris Evert's grass resume is patchy compared to clay and hardcourts: she still won 4 slams on grass, made 11 more grass court grand slam finals, and won 13 other titles on the surface.
Not to be picky, but Chrissie won 5 GS titles on Grass (3 Wimbledon and both her Aussie titles were on Grass). Also wanted to add that Court was very good on cllay, beat Evert there in 1973 and won 5 Rolland Garros titles. I would have her about top 5 all time on the dirt.
 

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I'd rank Serena pretty high up there-say around #7 to #10

All-Time Top 10

1-2 Chris Evert (cc)
1-2 Suzanne Lenglen (cc)

3-4 Steffi Graf (cc)
3-4 Monica Seles (cc)

5 Justine Henin (cc)

7-10 Margaret Court
7-10 Hilde Sperling (cc)
7-10 Serena Williams
7-10 Helen Wills

(cc)=natural clay courter

Court, Williams and Wills were all cases where clay was not a natural surface.
Thanks, very useful list. Obviously Court was an aggressive player but I wasn't sure if she would be considered a natural clay courter or not, for the time.

I wouldn't have known to place Hilde Sperling or to place Court above Henin, but I've never seen the former two play on clay. I was looking for a recording of the 1973 RG Final for years but eventually came to conclude there isn't one.
 
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