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Discussion Starter #41
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.
Two of her five RG losses happened due to sickness. She had the flu in 2002 (really, she was probably equal to Serena and Capriati as favorite for the French that year) and then mono in 2004 when she was attempting to defend the title. Still, before that first retirement, she won half of the French Opens she contested. She had a very short career, but it's an incredibly fruitful one. You can consider Monica's longevity more impressive, sure. But considering Justine's career was really just about two-thirds of Monica's in terms length, I can only choose Monica if her stats were comparably greater, and they're not.

Monica won 14 clay titles, Justine won 13. Monica's winning percentage at the French is over 1% less than Justine's. And let's not forget. There's that one extra slam. I understand there are lots of circumstances to consider here but here's where we're at.

And if we want to count Justine's effectiveness, from 2003 to 2007 (her peak years), she contested 16 clay tournaments, she won 10. She reached at least the SF of ALL except the 2004 French Open.

As far as I'm concerned, Justine is the best cc player of all time.
 

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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.
I can't weigh in on the early slams, it's just too tough for me to know enough, and find Court very hard to place as well even with 5 French Open titles in a period when it was competitive. But I definitely am more and more of the opinion that Seles is clearly above Henin in terms of greatness on the surface.

I'd still put her behind Graf because of Graf's Tier I clay dominance even during Seles peak on clay (in Berlin from 1985-1996 her only losses were to Evert in 1985, and Seles in 1990, she won Rome the only time she played it in 1987, she won Hilton Head in 1986, 1987, 1989, and 1993, and didn't play it any of the years in between).

Seles H2H lead on clay was 3-2, and it was clearly the surface they were closest on. Seles was hardly beaten on clay in the first part of her career, but she also didn't play as much on the surface as Graf. From 1989-93, her only losses were two to Graf and two to Sabatini, but she "only" won 10 titles on the surface.

In comparison, Graf won 9 titles in that time span (start of 1989, ending before Hamburg 1993), but had 3 losses to Seles, 3 losses to Sabatini, 2 to Sanchez Vicario, and 1 to Capriati.
 

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And if we want to count Justine's effectiveness, from 2003 to 2007 (her peak years), she contested 16 clay tournaments, she won 10. She reached at least the SF of ALL except the 2004 French Open.
I see your point, but then let's take Monica Seles peak years: from 1989 through 1993, she contested 14 clay tournaments and won 10, and reached at least the FINAL of all them except the 1989 French Open, where she lost in SF to Steffi Graf. Her only losses were two to Sabatini (in Rome, basically a home tournament for Sabatini), the French Open loss to Graf when Seles was 15 years old, and a final loss to Graf in Hamburg (a home tournament for Graf).

Yes, Seles is 'lacking' one French Open on her resume compared to Henin, but I don't think you can overlook what happened to her given her record prior to the stabbing.

Edit: and I don't think the players Henin lost to in 2003-2007 compare to the players Seles lost to during her peak. Graf and Sabatini simply have to be considered greater opposition than Dementieva (2003), Mauresmo (2004), Schnyder and Petrova (2006), and Kuznetsova (2007).
 

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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.
That's right, it is my opinion. I find it interesting that you can bash me as being "slightly ridiculous" or I make "throwaway comments". Or, may I ask, that you feel Serena and only Serena has to be on every list and is the GOAT?Think of the change in technology with racquets and strings. There were numerous players from the late 70s and early 80s who I feel are better clay court players then Serena. However, I didn't mention them because I was setting myself up for attack by posters who only look at 1996 till today. There is no way in the world that Serena would have routinely beat Chris Evert or Monica Seles on clay, no way, no how. Remember, there is a more consistent, sustainable tour today then there was in the 70s and early 80s (Prior to the pandemic). There are tournaments every week, sometimes two, even three. It allows more players to play more matches, thus increasing a players chance to up their win percentages. I really think there is more to your comments then just statistics or the players you mentioned.
 

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...Remember, there is a more consistent, sustainable tour today then there was in the 70s and early 80s (Prior to the pandemic). There are tournaments every week, sometimes two, even three. It allows more players to play more matches, thus increasing a players chance to up their win percentages. I really think there is more to your comments then just statistics or the players you mentioned.
:unsure:
 

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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.
Enjoy your beer, you deserve it. You made your point in a respectful manner, it is a shame not everyone responded to me in that fashion. I wish the one poster who really came after me and ripped me apart because I placed Capriati ahead of Serena could see the list of losses Williams suffered to players that I am sure that poster had never heard of. I am old enough to remember players like Kelesi and Hack. I look back on U-Tube and Kelesi's match against Seles was incredible. However, I appreciate and respect your opinion and I see your point when it comes to considering a players age and experience. Have a good one.....
 

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Well her resume is really solid: three French titles, four Romes, two Madrids, and two Charlestons (from the Tier I era).

Greatness-wise, I'd say a toss-up between Serena, Sanchez, and Seles for the #4 spot, behind Evert, Graf, and Henin (in that order).

After that, I'd go Navratilova, then Sharapova, and then in the top 10 it's a slug-fest between one-time French champions with pretty good clay pedigree (Goolagong, Halep, Pierce, Majoli, maybe Muguruza) and no-time French champions with excellent clay pedigree (Hingis, Sabatini, Martinez, etc.).

The handful of players with neither clay pedigree nor good French records outside their lone slam (Ostapenko, Barty, Myskina) I don't think belong anywhere

I struggle to place Court. I've seen a lot of her on grass but not a lot on clay, and I also just don't know what she won outside her (admittedly impressive) French Open titles.

Her level though is another question, and it's tough to tell because her competition especially in the later years (2010-now) isn't comparable to earlier clay competition. There aren't female clay specialists at the top level of the tour anymore. In fact, there aren't really female clay specialists at any level of the tour.

The gutting of the women's clay season is one of the under-told stories in tennis. In 1995, there were three Tier I events and four Tier II events on the surface, and while three of them were on green clay, all of them were outdoors and they still had clay court champions. Now, there are 2 PM/P5 events (and one is Madrid, which plays differently) and two Premier events (one is Stuttgart, which plays differently). It's much harder to get to the top 10 as a clay specialist anymore unless you actually outright win Madrid or Rome and go deep at all the other clay events, and so clay specialists have disappeared.

Even at the lower levels, you used to be able to play 10ish weeks of Tier III/IV (what now would be international-level) clay court events a year, and now that's down to 5 or 6. The last player to emerge from the lower clay circuit to reach a level of achievement on the higher clay circuit was Errani, and even then it doesn't follow the same path as earlier Tier III to Tier I acheivers, like Majoli.

So in short, I think she's definitely Top 10, and arguably Top 5, on achievement alone, but to place her level is much harder because clay isn't what it used to be.
She was the most successful clay court player of her generation. You're welcome.
 

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She was the most successful clay court player of her generation. You're welcome.
Sure, but then the question is to what extent clay court tennis existed in the 1960s and early 1970s, and to what extent did Court play on clay. In 1973, she won 'just' one clay tournament (the French Open) in a full season, in 1971 she didn't win a single clay tournament. She won the Italian Open a handful of times, but she lost in one final and it's unclear how many more times she played it.

Several of her French Open titles were won during years without her chief rivals Billie Jean King ('62, '64, '73 when BJK was the defending champion), or Maria Bueno ('62, '69, '70).

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Margaret Court's excellence is undeniable, but so too is the fact that Australians in the early days of the sport consistently played more of the majors than other tennis power-houses. It was necessary to leave Australia to play at the highest level, and so it was much more convenient to play all three non-home majors in the three-month span than it was for other players to compete at all four majors. Europe and North America had nearly year-long competitive tennis tours, and so leaving 'home' to play wasn't as necessary. Lots of Europeans would also play the US Open, and lots of Americans would also play Wimbledon.

And so it gets back to the eternal question about Margaret Court: at what point do we consider slams the be-all, end-all of achievement, and at what point for which slams?
 

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Discussion Starter #50
Yes, Seles is 'lacking' one French Open on her resume compared to Henin, but I don't think you can overlook what happened to her given her record prior to the stabbing.

Edit: and I don't think the players Henin lost to in 2003-2007 compare to the players Seles lost to during her peak. Graf and Sabatini simply have to be considered greater opposition than Dementieva (2003), Mauresmo (2004), Schnyder and Petrova (2006), and Kuznetsova (2007).
It's not about overlooking it, but if all we have to go by is how they played and what their results were, I feel perfectly fine siding with Justine over Monica. A career that spanned nearly a third shorter producing almost the same of total titles won plus one more slam, for me, it's no contest. Is it totally feasible given her incredible talent and mastery of clay that Monica would have surpassed these achievements? Of course. She probably could have been challenging Chrissie's numbers. But what if Justine didn't feel totally burnt out in 2008 and didn't retire? Could someone who was on a 35-set streak at the French Open have achieved more? I know it's not anywhere near the same as what happened to Monica, but for many fans, that's a legitimate what-if situation as well.

I'm not particularly keen on comparing who lost to who. The players you listed that Justine lost, too, aren't nobodies on clay just because they're not Steffi or Gabby, both of whom Justine never played. And let's just for the record not that Nadia was beating Monica on clay, too.
 

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It's not about overlooking it, but if all we have to go by is how they played and what their results were, I feel perfectly fine siding with Justine over Monica. A career that spanned nearly a third shorter producing almost the same of total titles won plus one more slam, for me, it's no contest.
Which is fair enough, except Monica in her first three-and-a-half years produced results that Henin took an entire career to rival.

But what if Justine didn't feel totally burnt out in 2008 and didn't retire? Could someone who was on a 35-set streak at the French Open have achieved more? I know it's not anywhere near the same as what happened to Monica, but for many fans, that's a legitimate what-if situation as well.
You simply can't compare Henin quitting, something she's uniquely expert at among players in this discussion, with Monica Seles getting stabbed, and I radically don't think that's a legitimate what-if situation.

I also I have more questions about Henin's first 'hiatus' from the tour, but it's likely those will never be answered.
 

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Discussion Starter #52
Which is fair enough, except Monica in her first three-and-a-half years produced results that Henin took an entire career to rival.

You simply can't compare Henin quitting, something she's uniquely expert at among players in this discussion, with Monica Seles getting stabbed, and I radically don't think that's a legitimate what-if situation.

I also I have more questions about Henin's first 'hiatus' from the tour, but it's likely those will never be answered.
If you're going to fall down the rabbit hole of what-ifs, everything should be fair game; that's the whole point of a what-if. This is not meant to undermine Monica's awful stabbing, but the point remains, if you want to talk about what-could-have-beens to try and beef up someone else's achievements, why adopt a totally dismissive attitude for someone else? Yes, she did quit when she didn't want to play tennis anymore. (That's the official story so that's what I'm entertaining.) Does that mean that we can't create possible scenarios for would have happened if things were different? If you can suggest that Monica would achieved more, why can't I do the same for Justine? As far as the French Open were concerned, she quit at a time when was much more dominant (going 35 sets on the trot) than Monica was.
 

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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.
You really should look at the reply from
You really should look at the reply from WilliamsOharian and you might see how to respond to a post without being rude and insulting.
 

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Well her resume is really solid: three French titles, four Romes, two Madrids, and two Charlestons (from the Tier I era).

Greatness-wise, I'd say a toss-up between Serena, Sanchez, and Seles for the #4 spot, behind Evert, Graf, and Henin (in that order).

After that, I'd go Navratilova, then Sharapova, and then in the top 10 it's a slug-fest between one-time French champions with pretty good clay pedigree (Goolagong, Halep, Pierce, Majoli, maybe Muguruza) and no-time French champions with excellent clay pedigree (Hingis, Sabatini, Martinez, etc.).

The handful of players with neither clay pedigree nor good French records outside their lone slam (Ostapenko, Barty, Myskina) I don't think belong anywhere
㊙ Fransexa ㊙
 

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㊙ Fransexa ㊙
Above Myskina, yes, and both Ostapenko and Barty for now, but her clay record is pretty much two big RG results and a handful of low-Tier titles. She never so much as made a semifinal above the Tier II level on clay outside of those two RG runs, and Rome (her home event) is the only Tier I clay event she even made the QFs.

In comparison, Muguruza has only one clay title (or final!), that being her French Open win, but her results in Rome and non-winning French Open runs are already superior to Schiavone's long, long career. Until that 2010 title, Schiavone was basically a MM specialist in the AMG/Nagyova/Smashnova mold rather than a top player.
 

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If you're going to fall down the rabbit hole of what-ifs, everything should be fair game; that's the whole point of a what-if. This is not meant to undermine Monica's awful stabbing, but the point remains, if you want to talk about what-could-have-beens to try and beef up someone else's achievements, why adopt a totally dismissive attitude for someone else? Yes, she did quit when she didn't want to play tennis anymore. (That's the official story so that's what I'm entertaining.) Does that mean that we can't create possible scenarios for would have happened if things were different? If you can suggest that Monica would achieved more, why can't I do the same for Justine? As far as the French Open were concerned, she quit at a time when was much more dominant (going 35 sets on the trot) than Monica was.
Fair enough, and we'll have to be content to agree to disagree.

But I'll reiterate, it took Henin a lot longer to achieve the level of dominance Seles had nearly from the onset. The 4 losses total on clay for Seles in her entire pre-stabbing career >>> 35 consecutive sets at one tournament.

And Seles had her dominance taken from her violently, not by giving up, as Henin excelled at.
 

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Serena had a 1-3 record v Henin on Clay but 2 of those 3 losses were very close 3 set marches, 75 and 76 in the third, their overall win % on clay also very similar, 83.17% for Serena and 84,89% for Henin. Don't think 4 matches either way is a large enough sample size to judge.
 
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