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What was the most competitive era of women's tennis?

  • 1987-1989: Graf (8 GS), Navratilova (2 GS), Sanchez-Vicario/Mandlikova (1 GS)

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Discussion Starter #1
After reading many discussions on Serena's entitlement to the GOAT "status" (especially after Saturday's victory), I continually come across as an opposing argument that SW is profiting off a very weak field for quite a few years already (apart from Venus and maybe Sharapova, there's no great champion out there that comes even scarcely close to her). While most of us would agree to that claim (the fact that she just won her 23rd GS title without even losing a set or being troubled at all is, I think, great indication of that), when you come to think about it, most GOAT candidates had slight competition at their primes too: Graf mostly faced ASV and Sabatini (neither of them are even comparable to Venus or Maria), Evert-Navratilova only had to face each other most of the time (at most they could be beaten by Mandlikova), Court had easy peasy AO draws... and I guess those are the only real candidates to be GOAT.

So basically, what I wanted to ask is: is there a particular era in which the level of competition was so high in the tour that slam victories could be considered adding more value than normal to their legacy? Or is it just out of nostalgia that we perpetually engage in longing for a forgotten past, and hoping some new generation comes to make women's tennis great again?

I include a poll with periods broken down according to what I feel marked the end and beginning of an era (which is obviously subjective), so please feel free to adapt that a little bit.
 

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Honestly the real monkey wrench in the cog, was the Seles stabbing. Had that not happened, the story of the "eras" here would look a lot different.
 

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1998-2007 :worship:

GS

S. Williams X9
V. Williams X7
Henin X7
Sharapova X3
Davenport X3
Capriati X3
Hingis X 2
Mauresmo X2
Graf X1
Sanchez V. X1
Clijsters X1
Pierce X1
Novotna X1
Kuznetsova X1
Ivanovic X1
Myskina X1
 

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The pre-open era was probably more competitive than GM's willingness to check the past.
 

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70s was probably the Golden Age of women's tennis. Court, King, Evert, Navratilova, Goolagong all won slams in this decade. Court won the Grand Slam in this decade.

90s was also another Golden Age, at least before Monica's stabbing. Seles, Graf, Sabatini, Sanchez, Navratilova, Pierce, Capriati, Fernandez.

00s before Henin's retirement was like the Gilded Age, looked good on the surface but the Weak Era was just waiting to reveal itself before the retirement of the Belgians. Like Nadia Petrova said she would've won a slam if she played in the last few years instead of peaking in 2004-06 and her peak coinciding with Henin's.
 

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and I guess those are the only real candidates to be GOAT.
Do you not know tennis history? One can really only judge from results against peers in the most important events of an era. You also must throw in Connolly, Wills and Lenglen as GOAT candidates. In fact I'm hard pressed to really think of anyone even close to as great as Helen Wills. Serena is more the Jimmy Connors type... longevity at a pretty high level of tennis. I feel the Grafs, Navratilova's, Courts, Wills, etc.. played at level 10 for ten years. Williams is more a level 8 for 18 years. Amazingly high level for that period of time. You had Hingis, Davenport, Henin, Clijsters, Mauresmo, Venus, Sharapova, all doing well in the Serena era by playing at level 9 for short bursts. That didn't happen to the other all-time greats. But those players got injured, got old, started families and Serena just keeps going along at level 8. Recently I haven't seen many players with any amount of strong will to win more than a slam or two before they fold mentally like a deck of cards. And Serena's body simply keeps on going and going and going. You want to win a slam or two? No problem says Serena... I'll simply wait till you come back to earth where you'll crumble and I'll start winning again. The long distance runner vs the sprinter. Serena might win 8 more majors and set even more records. But head to head against the other goat candidates I find her best to be a bit spotty.
 

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Prior to the 80s, slam wins do not show how competitive or uncompetitive it actually was. The 74-80 statistics tell little of the actual story. Evert didn't play the French from 76-78 due to team tennis commitments and only played the Australian open once before 1981 (winning it in 1974) and these were the years she was at her peak, so it's very hard to say how competitive the French open and Australian opens were in that period and what dominance there actually was. (Martina didn't play the French from 76-80 and the Australian only once before 1980) Evert only played 11 of the 16 slams between 74 and 77 and didn't lose to Goolagong/Cawley between 75 and 78 and I can't believe Sue Barker, Mima Jausovec and Virginia Ruzici the champions of 76-78 would have troubled her at Roland Garros either.


Players now can enter every slam barring injury. In the mid-late 70s there were 3 occasions when only 2 top 20 players entered Roland Garros or the Australian open. So really I don't think you can consider pre 1980 in this.
 

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2000-2003

I miss 2012, that was the last really strong year. PEAK Serena for the second half, Maria, Vika, Petra, Aga at her best :tears:
 

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Otherwise I will agree that the era from 1997 to 2007 was the most competitive, with the biggest bunch of players with GOAT potential facing each other. To me, Hingis, Davenport, Capriati, The Williams sisters, Henin, Clijsters, Pierce, Mauresmo, late Graf and Seles and Sanchez, early Sharapova, that's the best bunch of champions in the span of a decade or so. It's easy to imagine that if only three or four of them had competed in the same span, they would have won more slams.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
The pre-open era was probably more competitive than GM's willingness to check the past.
Do you not know tennis history? One can really only judge from results against peers in the most important events of an era. You also must throw in Connolly, Wills and Lenglen as GOAT candidates. In fact I'm hard pressed to really think of anyone even close to as great as Helen Wills. Serena is more the Jimmy Connors type... longevity at a pretty high level of tennis. I feel the Grafs, Navratilova's, Courts, Wills, etc.. played at level 10 for ten years. Williams is more a level 8 for 18 years. Amazingly high level for that period of time. You had Hingis, Davenport, Henin, Clijsters, Mauresmo, Venus, Sharapova, all doing well in the Serena era by playing at level 9 for short bursts. That didn't happen to the other all-time greats. But those players got injured, got old, started families and Serena just keeps going along at level 8. Recently I haven't seen many players with any amount of strong will to win more than a slam or two before they fold mentally like a deck of cards. And Serena's body simply keeps on going and going and going. You want to win a slam or two? No problem says Serena... I'll simply wait till you come back to earth where you'll crumble and I'll start winning again. The long distance runner vs the sprinter. Serena might win 8 more majors and set even more records. But head to head against the other goat candidates I find her best to be a bit spotty.
I understand that before the Open Era there was still strong competition at the top of the amateur game, with many candidates for GOAT around as you guys mentioned. Thing is, as it's already hard enough to compare across generations of players that we've all watched and followed, I figured it would be even harder to discuss eras we only know from the record books and anecdotes.

Anyway, I included the option "Other" just in case somebody wanted to make a case for a different era I didn't include or which lies between two periods I mentioned, so feel free to vote for that and discuss it here in the comments :grin2:
 

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We're in the most competitive era of tennis now. The players ranked #20 and lower were exactly zero threat to top five players even in the 90's. When Hingis was #1, the opening week of slams was an exhibition for the top five players. Even seeds 9-16 posed little threat. It's not that the tour is weaker now, so there are fewer multi-slam winners. The tour is stronger now, so top five players get picked off routinely. I was very much opposed to the slams going to 32 seeds, but I've come around on that. #25 isn't interchangeable with #50 anymore.
 

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The players ranked #20 and lower were exactly zero threat to top five players even in the 90's.
Let's take Gabriela Sabatini as an example. Losses to players ranked #20 and lower during the five years she finished in the top 5:

1990: Porwick (#63), McNeil (#54), Cecchini (#32), Rehe (#45)

1991: Huber (#22), Date (#112)

1992: Coetzer (#61), Meshki (#23)

1993: Davenport (#73), Halard (#42), Werdel (#45), Frazier (#53)

So, that's 12 losses to players ranked #20 and lower, or an average of 3 a year.
 
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