Serena Williams’ final attempt to match her place among the tennis greats was blocked, and Margaret Court just witnessed it on a calm Saturday in Perth, 19,000 miles away from the clamor and bombast at Flushing Meadows.
When asked about being shunned because of her ideas, Margaret Court said, “I admired Serena, but I don’t think she admired me.”
The woman with 24 grand slam singles victories to Venus Williams’ 23 in the US Open’s Arthur Ashe Stadium is on the other end of a long-distance call as “best of all time” messages flash on the computerized tickers. It is a record that currently appears poised to last at least another generation. However, the realization triggers a complex flurry of feelings.
Serena has always been a player that Court has idolized. But I doubt she has ever thought highly of me.
Given that Court hardly ever agrees to lengthy interviews, this is the most uncommon of audiences with him. She smiles ruefully, “I don’t do this much anymore.” I attended Wimbledon this year, but nobody even said hello. I found that to be interesting, so I said.
Herein lies the harsh truth: Her sport would rather turn its back on the person who has achieved more significant victories than any other player in history, male or female. Williams’ departure in New York was accompanied by a constant sugar rush, but her fellow all-time great is airbrushed out of the scene and treated like an inconvenient relic.
Except that Court, 80, is still very active. She is preparing the Sunday sermons she will deliver at Perth’s Victory Life Centre, where she has been the pastor since 1995, as we talk. She is more than capable of analyzing what is occuring to her during a tennis match.
It’s quite disappointing, she says, that so much of today’s media avoids mentioning her by name. “I still hold so many records, so they only do it when they absolutely have to. I was supposed to visit Wimbledon in 2020 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my calendar grand slam. However, COVID struck, and thus the honor was never given.
I was not invited to the US Open or the French Open. I expected to receive the same recognition as Rod Laver, who had won the Slam, but that didn’t happen. It didn’t keep me up at night. I have titles in my own country, but they still choose not to mention me.
These initiatives to downplay Court’s accomplishments are a direct reaction to her Pentecostal Christian faith. She voiced her opposition to same-sex marriage in Australia in 2012, and in 2017 she said she would boycott Qantas due to the airline’s advocacy of the issue. Martina Navratilova said of the fierce and ongoing criticism, “Her myopic outlook is absolutely worrisome.”
The court makes no concessions in defending her fundamental beliefs or her freedom to express them. When asked if it bothers her that Williams doesn’t show even passing regard for her work, she responds, “I think a lot of it is because I’m a pastor and I speak up for my convictions.
Bullying has affected me severely. But we ought to have the freedom to express our beliefs. I don’t have anything against anyone. I respect everyone and offer my services to everyone. I still adore the game. Today, when I teach young people about discipline, commitment, and attention, I often use tennis as an example. You gain so much from sports in your life.
Is maintaining her views in the face of antagonism getting harder? The court provides a clear response. She claims, “When I was No. 1 in the world, I became a Christian.” “This is what the Bible teaches and what I believe. Reality can be so lovely in your life, but people miss it. I’m 80 years old today and have been fortunate to grow up in a beautiful family and church.
Every week, we distribute 100 tonnes of food to the neighborhood. My favorite. I thought playing tennis was a blessing from God, and I still adore what I do today.
Given how widely Court has been shunned both domestically and internationally, even charitable activity can be challenging. She recently had a state lottery grant denied because of her “biblical convictions.”
Even when I’m assisting the underprivileged, some businesses won’t donate to my church because of my name, she claims.
In response to her “constant attacks” on their community, LGBTQ lobbyists are vehemently demanding that Melbourne Park’s Margaret Court Arena be renamed.
According to Court, “well, they got all they wanted in marriage and everything else.” Therefore, I question, “Why are you still taking it out on people if they don’t share your values when you should be so happy you have that? ” What I don’t comprehend is that.
Younger tennis fans who have grown up with Williams’ supremacy may view Court as being in sepia because of her style. But even after 50 years, her corpus of work continues to astound. She won 1180 out of 1287 matches during her amateur and professional careers, garnering the nickname “the Aussie Amazon” for her extreme athleticism, which she attributed in large part to her running drills on sand hills.
When the singles, doubles, and mixed titles are combined at the majors, her record destroys Williams’s, 64-39. She says, “I don’t think anyone will ever touch The 64.”
She also accumulated that enormous sum in a relatively brief period of time. Serena has played for seven more years than Court did, according to Court. “I completed it in my early 30s. People overlook the two years I spent away. Like Ash Barty, I took my first retirement at the age of 25, believing I would never play tennis again. After getting married and having a child, I went on to have one of my greatest years, winning 24 out of 25 competitions.
The criteria used to evaluate Court and Williams can differ greatly from one another. Motherhood is a good illustration. Since giving birth to her daughter Olympia in 2017, Williams’ performances have garnered a lot of admiration. Except that Court has already successfully navigated the path from motherhood to a major final.
I returned after two babies, and she cries. “I won three of the four slams after having the first child. Serena hasn’t achieved a Slam victory since.
The court is careful to emphasize how much she values Williams as a champion. She seemed to have little patience for the American’s sportsmanship or lack thereof. Williams allegedly threatened to “f—-ing take the ball and stuff it down your throat” to a New York lineswoman in 2009, and in 2011 she alleged that umpire Eva Asderaki was “unattractive inside.”
Court, who was watching the curtain call from Australia, was dissatisfied that the retiring superstar did not give the winner, Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, more credit.
She says, “I felt it was unfortunate that Williams didn’t mention her opponent more when she talked. “We were instructed to set an example for the younger generation through our behavior. We were taught to respect the other side. You grew from your setbacks. We held one another with reverence.
Additionally, there is some revisionism at play. Williams initially made it clear that he wanted to surpass Court’s singles record.
If I said I didn’t want it, I’d be lying, she said. “Of course I do.”
Before her final tournament, she altered course and declared, “I’ve already broken the record.” This is at best a moot point. Of course, Court won the majority of her championships prior to the open era’s advent in 1968, when pros were permitted to compete alongside amateurs. However, this boundary is not recognized in the record book.
Williams has been unqualifiedly hailed as “the greatest” by Billie Jean King, who joined the chorus of celebrities who criticized Court for her stance on homosexuality. One reason is that she doesn’t care for the Australian Open, which Court won in the 1960s and dismissed as “minor league” at the time. It is a description that the court vehemently rejects.
I have 11 Australian Open victories. Billie Jean frequently claims that while I was growing up, people didn’t travel to Australia. But world No. 1 Maria Bueno lost ground. Christine Truman, Ann Haydon, and Darlene Hard all agreed. Additionally, Australia had some fantastic athletes.
Williams’ claim that her time at the top was significantly more difficult than hers is also not taken seriously by the court.
I think it’s so much easier now, so I would have loved to have played,” she says. “How I wish I had brought my family or friends along. But I was unable to, and I had to travel alone or with the national team. Nobody notices all of that. We had to play every week as amateurs because we lacked funds. They can now fly away whenever they want and return whenever they want.
“We planned a 10-month trip. I originally retired in 1965 because I used to get homesick for my native country. Even if you might be hanging out with an oddball, it’s not like your family is present. We were not accompanied by psychologists or coaches. It’s a completely distinct planet. The fact that modern players don’t respect the history of the game is what disappoints me.
Regardless of how one feels about Margaret Court, it is sad to imagine her going back to Wimbledon, where she achieved some of her greatest successes, and feeling rejected.
People might be concerned that I’ll teach the gospel or something, she says. I adore simply helping young folks, though. I have assisted individuals in overcoming despair and mending damaged lives. There are lots of athletes who require assistance. But in sports, it seems as though people are afraid of Christians. How tragic.
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