Margaret Court chides Serena Williams over lack of ‘honour’ for previous eras

·3-min read
Margaret Court with Serena Williams at the 2016 Hopman Cup in Perth (Getty Images)
Margaret Court with Serena Williams at the 2016 Hopman Cup in Perth (Getty Images)

Australian Margaret Court believes she does not get as much credit as she deserves for her 24 grand slam singles titles from anyone in the tennis world these days, least of all Serena Williams.

Williams was feted in many quarters as the greatest tennis player of all time when she retired after her third-round loss at the US Open on Saturday, one title shy of the record Court set from 1960 to 1973.

“Serena, I’ve admired her as a player,” Court, 80, told the Daily Telegraph in a rare interview. “But I don’t think she has ever admired me.”

Court said she has become a persona non grata in the tennis world because of her Christian beliefs, which led her to oppose same-sex marriage when it was proposed in Australia. She has a long history of offensive comments, saying “it’s very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality” about 18-slam winner Martina Navratilova, and she once praised South Africa’s apartheid system.

The 80-year-old defended her achievements against suggestions they were not comparable to those of Williams because she played mostly in the amateur era.

“Serena has played seven years more than I did,” Court added. “I finished in my early 30s. People forget that I took two years out. I first retired ... when I was 25, thinking I would never return to tennis.

“I got married, had a baby, but then had one of my best years, winning 24 out of 25 tournaments.”

Court reminded her critics that she also had a superior record to Williams after they became mothers during their careers.

Court holds the all-time record for most singles grand slams (Getty)
Court holds the all-time record for most singles grand slams (Getty)

“I came back after two babies,” she said. “After having the first baby, I won three out of the four slams. And Serena hasn’t won a slam since [she had a baby].”

Court also hit out at suggestions that her 11 Australian Open singles titles had less value than Williams’ seven.

“I often hear Billie Jean (King) saying that people didn’t come down to Australia in my early years,” she said. “But Maria Bueno, the world No 1, came down. So did Christine Truman, Ann Haydon, Darlene Hard. Plus, Australia had some wonderful players. We had five girls in the top 10. Lesley Bowrey won two French Opens.”

Court said she thought the life of a top tennis player was actually harder in her day.

“I would love to have played in this era. I think it’s so much easier,” she said. “How I would love to have taken family or friends along with me. But I couldn’t. I had to go on my own or with the national team. People don’t see all that.

“We didn’t have psychologists or coaches with us. It’s a whole different world. That’s what disappoints me, that players today don’t honour the past of the game.”

Court said she was disappointed that Williams made little mention of Australian Ajla Tomljanovic after the final match of her career.

“I thought it was bad that Williams didn’t mention her opponent more when she spoke,” she says. “We were taught to honour our opponent. We respected one another.”

Court said she lost no sleep over the snubs from the tennis world but did find it sad.

“A lot of the press and television today, particularly in tennis, don’t want to mention my name,” she said. “The honour has not been there for what I did do. In my own nation, I have been given titles, but they would still rather not mention me.”