BV: The Graf Era vs. The Serena Era, Pt.3
Once more, with feeling, in a fight to the death... well, not really.
Still, I feel like I have to stoke the fires one final time for this Era vs. Era debate.
But, really, if you made it through Parts 1 and 2, then what will it hurt to complete the task, hmmm?
Blue = Todd
Orange = Galileo
Galileo West: And of course Hingis, too, was a strong number one (in the Graf era).
Todd Spiker: I think Hingis' rise was somewhat akin to what happened with Wozniacki and Jankovic, aside from her actually winning slams. She hit her peak in the relatively small period of time (1997-99) in which Graf was oft-injured and in decline, and she eventually took over the #1 spot from the German. Still, Graf was 7-2 against her, including winning her last slam in Paris in the match that included Hingis' on-court tantrum and her mother showing up on court. Once the power players of Serena's era fully arrived, Hingis' time as a slam threat was over.
GW: I ran into Hingis at Wimbledon this summer. She and Mirza had just dropped a game to Date/Schiavone in the doubles. And I said to her afterwards, "Hey Hingis, can I get a selfie?" And she gave me a funny look and said, "It's Martina." And I was thinking, does that mean yes or no? And then she beckoned and we got the selfie. And I tried to justify it by saying, "But there's also Navratilova." After the selfie she said to me, "It's always Martina. Next time you call me Martina."
TS: I'm so glad she's back, and as a major force in doubles, too. It's really given that part of the sport a spotlight that it's often denied.
GW: Martina is ninth all time in WTA finals. She is eighth all time in titles won. She is fifth all time with weeks at number one. She was year end number one three times. Serena has only done it four times. Five slam titles and 12 finals. Six consecutive finals in Australia. Ten doubles slams across THREE decades. Two tour finals victories in both disciplines. Oh, and three mixed titles. An 80 per cent win mark in singles and more wins than either of the two Belgians. From the 1997 Australian Open to the 2002 edition she was a top four seed every single time. She was the top seed in every slam in that period apart from three times. Honestly the fact that you would even mention those other two in the same vein as Hingis is ridiculous. It's actually quite insulting. She had one bad losing record and that was against Graf. And the reason was she played Graf relatively few times during the Swiss lady's zenith.
TS: As far as singles, I'd still go with Henin. Hingis and Clijsters are roughly equivalent, as both were singles and doubles #1. But Hingis got the very most out of her early singles career, while Clijsters did not. KC 2.0 was different and changed the perception of her overall career, but she still could have been so much more. As far as singles, which is what this era comparison is about (if we factored in doubles, of course, things would be different), I'd nestle her right between the two and feel no shame whatsoever in doing so largely because Hingis was never able to solve the physical/power disadvantage she faced against the bigger players during what should have the peak years (age-wise) of her career, while Henin rose to #1 in that very era in spite of her diminutive size and retired (the first time) as the definitive top player in the sport.
And let's not forget the Hordettes. Serena faced down the whole of the Russian revolution, dominating most and outlasting nearly all of them, as well. Three won slams in the Williams era, two reached #1,and two more reached slam finals. Sharapova won a Career Slam, something none of Graf's generational foes or #1's was ever able to accomplish. Graf never faced such a large contingent of players from one nation during her era, not to mention the rise of the eastern European nations and a player such as Li. The closest Graf might have come to a large group of players from one nation may have been those from the last pre-Williams generation of U.S. women, but the likes of Garrison, Mary Joe Fernandez, an aging Pam Shriver, an immature-but-lethal Jennifer Capriati and a young Davenport.
GW: The Russian revolution? A handful of slams and a lot of wasted talent. I believe Venus won one less slam title than all the Russians combined have.
TS: Hmmm, let's see... from 2002-10, Russians won 110 titles and reached 117 additional finals on tour, with sixteen players becoming first-time tour champions during the stretch. Russia won four Fed Cups from 2004-08, and will play in a seventh final in twelve years later this season. From 2004-12, led (alone or tied) the tour in finalists for nine straight seasons, and in seven of those seasons led in champions, as well. More different players from Russia have claimed slams since 2004 than from any other nation, and the nation has placed at least one player in the semifinals of 36 of the past 45 slams (including nine different women in major final fours from 2003-15) and in the Round of 16 at 59 of 60. You want to talk about depth, there's your depth... and it's only one nation (of many) that had virtually no impact on tour during the Graf era. There is no depth-providing comparison that even comes close in the Graf era.
GW: Yeah, Graf never faced such a large contingent, but what's your point? They were all equally useless against Serena apart from Dementieva and Kuznetsova. Both those players make Stosur look like Bjorn Borg mentally. They should have beaten her so many times but they always, always blew it. Without fail they would find the most spectacular way to blow it. If they had so much depth why did they have no impact on Serena except occasionally on her worst surfaces?
TS: Well, again, we're talking about the depth of the field (a subject which you touched on about the quality of players ranked in #35-100+ range), Serena was still better than all of them, as Graf was largely better than all her opponents (save one, briefly). The Hordettes have been a strange lot, rising high on numerous occasions but sometimes falling flat when they get there. Even with the slams and other accomplishments, that's their one drawback. But just because of sheer numbers, they had a tremendous impact on the sport.
GW: Out of curiosity which slam did they not have a player in the last sixteen? Was it Wimbledon one year?
TS: Yes, just recently -- 2013 Wimbledon. They had a streak of fifty-one straight before that. They're back on an eight-slam run going into this Open.
GW: Sharapova played Errani to win the Career Slam. In singles, Errani is a joke. The other week on her best surface she struggled. And yet your era allowed Errani to make a semi-final and a final. Your era allowed Errani to crack the top five. It's disgraceful how a woman with no serve and forehand with a mediocre backhand and a ridiculous grunt managed to have any kind of career in this day and age of more powerful rackets and better technologies.
TS: Totally disagree. Is she a GREAT player? Of course not. But she's hardly a "joke." That's really insulting to a player who's reached a slam final, been doubles #1, achieved a doubles Career Slam and led multiple Fed Cup-winning teams. And, actually, in an age of powerful rackets that an admittedly less-gifted player (compared to the very top stars) like Errani can carve out the career she has says a great deal about her fighting spirit and ability to get the very most out what she has. I'd say it's something to be admired, not denigrated... even if you could never be confident enough to, say, put any amount of money on her to win a match against the best players of her generation. And do I need to even bring up that Graf defeated Natasha Zvereva (love and love), Mary Joe Fernandez (twice), an underachieving Sabatini and a choking Novotna ('93 Wimb.) to win six of her slams? Players can't pick their opponents in slams finals, they can only knock off whoever is put in front of them.
GW: That's true. The eras are actually kind of similar the deeper you dig. But in this era players can make careers while being poor on certain surfaces or even on several surfaces. Look at Stosur. A very good player who under-achieved but could not handle singles in two slam events. The fact she did well at both in doubles makes it worse.
TS: Although, Seles wasn't considered a very good player on grass. It was her Achilles' heel, and one that she never really got to fully solve. Like Nadal, it was originally thought she couldn't win on it, but she reached the final the year before her stabbing. Rafa figured things out at Wimbledon, and I think Seles would have, as well.
Also, Graf had to contend with a young Capriati (she went 9-1 before the U.S. star's off-court troubles), while Serena got the veteran, more focused version. THAT Capriati won three slams and reached #1 in her mid-twenties, and was actually a legit threat to Serena. She defeated Williams five times in three-set matches, more than any other player, had a 4-3 record against her in slams and a tight 7-10 overall head-to-head.
GW: Do you remember that U.S. Open in 2004 where the line calls were some of the worst there have ever been? It was in the semi, the Serena/Capriati one? Watching that now is just -- well, it makes one grateful for Hawkeye. Also, in that semi Serena attempted an ambitious outfit. But it has been remembered, so maybe the gamble paid off.
TS: Ha! Yeah, we need someone to try to be outrageous again in that arena. Too many players wear the same things.
GW: I personally would love to see Nadal in a vest again. I genuinely think he looked rather good in them. I'd also love to see them make Azarenka do the jock look again. It really works. Short shorts and a vest etc. Stick with that works. I mean come on. How can you improve on this?
TS: Davenport, as noted, is one of the few players who spanned both eras, winning her first slam the year before Graf's last in Paris in '99, defeating Graf in her final slam at Wimbledon that season, the winning her other major in 2000, the season after Serena's first. Although, Davenport was a arguably a title contender longer in Williams' era than Graf's, reaching two finals in '05 and, truthfully, being a better player in the second half of her career after being forced to pay more attention to her fitness in order to compete with the Sisters. In many ways, she was the Roddick (he won one early, then Federer/Nadal shut the door) of the WTA, arriving in her prime just as the Williamses rose, and being shut out of at least three more slams because of that fact.
GW: Lindsay was, like Hingis, number one in singles and doubles. She won three slams out of seven but only one in Serena's era. She won 55 titles out of 93 finals. 93 finals. She also won a Gold medal. And let me tell you anybody who wins a Gold medal has that for life. It can never be taken away from you, that you won a Gold medal. It's just a superb achievement. No, I think she was vastly better than Roddick. She was just unlucky. And she was a handful of points from being a five-time slam winner. I wish I was a handful of points from being a five-time slam winner. And her career record was 753-194. So I don't think you can attack Lindsay Davenport except to say perhaps she underachieved a tad. But only a tad. She won her first title in 1993 and her last in 2008. That was the year you predicted her to beat Pova in the AO. The same year Pova dropped about 25 games on her way to the title. I thought at first she belonged in the Graf era, but I think we can share her like we would share a fine wine or a box of Milk Duds.
GW: And now I play my surprising ace in the hole. And she hails from an unexpected place. She hails from South America. She hails from Argentina. Sabatini was world number three. That feels and seems wrong to me. The amount of pretty average world number threes the WTA has had today pale to insignificance compared to the mighty Gabriela Sabatini or, rather, Gaby. Myskina, Radwanska and Zvonareva were all number two. Vera held it for ages. And being blunt, Sabatini was a far better player than all of them. Gaby's place in the era was so strong that she made 18 slam semis, three finals, won the tour finals twice and reached another two finals, got a Silver medal at the Olympics and made 55 singles finals, winning 27. Never mind that this was an era that allowed Errani to get to number five, a woman who can't even serve properly, the fact that Gaby has had a better career than three of your number ones is actually quite amazing. A player with that ability, those numbers and that game was only ever world number three. Will Azarenka ever make 18 slam semi-finals? Will Kvitova? Combined will they match Gaby's total? Yes, Gaby could crumble and she had weaknesses but she was a fantastic player and a consistent slam threat. And she only ever achieved world number three. Radwanska was world number two. How is it that Gaby made so many great slam runs and was only ever as high as number three. I don't think, after the Williams and Sharapova retire, we'll see another 18 time slam semi-finalist perhaps ever.
TS: We might not. Serena has twenty-eight slam semis (only ten more), and she's had a far longer career than Sabatini did. I'll give you Sabatini as a big "get" for your side. Her numbers always sort of take you aback when you really look at them. Well, SOME of the numbers. Problem is, and it points to the "problem" with Sabatini's legacy -- she was just 3-15 in those slam semifinals. That's Maria-vs.-Serena type of stuff, and it points to the trouble the Argentine had handling the pressure once her talent got her that deep into a slam. She was supposed to be THE big rival for Graf, going head-to-head against her for their entire careers. But the rivalry never really materialized because Sabatini didn't live up to her end of the deal. Overall, Graf led their history 29-11, winning the first thirteen match-ups, and the last seven. In between, Sabatini managed to have one great window, winning seven of nine between 1990-92 after defeating Graf to win her one slam singles crown at the U.S. Open. No doubt, Sabatini had a GREAT career, but it's almost criminal (tennis-wise) to have just one slam win with that many major semifinals. If she hadn't won that one Open -- whew! -- she might have gone down as the most underachieving player ever. She's like Clijsters in some ways, though the Belgian staged a comeback and managed to give her overall career accomplishment a much-needed boost. Sabatini played in her final slam at 26.
GW: It's not just the big guns and Sabatini. It's the players like Novotna, Martinez and the Maleevas. All these are household names. And these household names won more slams than Wozniacki and Jankovic maybe ever will. If you’re being brutal, Majoli may win more singles slams than Wozniacki. And that is strange.
TS: But the three Maleevas only reached two slams semis as a whole (both by Manuela in NYC). Novotna, while maybe my all-time favorite player, was an habitual choker. Martinez put up a lot of numbers and (a little shockingly) won Wimbledon, of all slams vs. an aging Navratilova. I'm not sure who her equivalent would be in Serena's era. Maybe Amelie Mauresmo, who at the very least cancels out one (maybe 1.5) of the players in that group you just mentioned... with Petra Kvitova (another multiple Williams era slam winner, though she's never been #1) probably edging the group ahead of the Graf era group of "not quite top tier" major players (though the Pastry is close to bumping up a notch since she reached #1).
Again, though, Wozniacki and Jankovic are minor cases that don't speak to the field as a whole over a decade-plus stretch. That said, both reached slam finals in their careers, even if they never eventually win one. They have been very good players, even if they're not major winners and/or Hall of Famers (though I think Caro, based on the numbers she'll accumulate by the time she's finished, has a chance).
GW: Yes, I'm focusing on those number ones who didn't win slams because Serena's era is filled with that. Clijsters was world number one before she won a slam. But I give her and Safina a pass. That is true. I almost see Sabatini as a very good Gasquet type, but a Gasquet type who did well. See, I think the big players of my era outstrip the big players of yours, but perhaps your middling players maybe just outdo mine. But I think it depends, too, on what you define as strong. I think having a group of superb all timers is better than having three or four all timers and a lot of good solid middling players. For the record, I don't think either Wozniacki or Jankovic are very good. I just don't. Remember that 3 and 1 loss to Pova in the 2008 AO for Jankovic. Remember that 2 and 4 Woz loss to Serena in NY before Stosur routed Williams. I think they were good solid players, but I don’t think they were ever actual slam threats. Jankovic is at least entertaining and capable of troubling the Williamses. Well, she did it once. But that was more them choking then her really doing anything. The thing I always thought Ivanovic had that Janko and Woz didn't so much was a Plan B. She didn't always trust it but it was there. She had a back-up plan. And, no, Woz hitting moonballs does not count as a Plan B.
TS: Caro and JJ are like glittery objects that a cat would bat its paw at, aren't they? Oh, well. So be it. But, still... depth, depth, depth. And not Leila Meshki depth, either. (Smirk.)
By the way, just to throw out a "not-so-minor" fact, other than Caro and JJ, Safina is the only other #1 from Serena's era who didn't win a slam. And I don't really think the entire decade can be hanged because two players (for a total of a little over a year and a half combined during a fifteen-year stretch) rose to #1 during what is admittedly a slightly "softer" stretch... and, honestly, one not all that different from the one following Seles' stabbing when Graf won four consecutive slams, six of the next nine she played in before Seles' return, and then the NEXT four she played in during Seles 2.0, which featured a Monica that was in no way comparable to the 1.0 version.
Speaking of which, while Seles might be a feather in the cap of Graf's era, I actually think her career definitively tips the scales... in favor of Serena's.
GW: Now that is interesting. I would be curious to hear why that is. Also, I have a question for you. What happens first in your opinion: Woz wins a slam or Kvitova gets the top ranking?
TS: Kvitova gets to #1, probably, because Serena has to step away sometime, right? Petra's recent diagnosis of mono might finally be the first step the right direction of getting her health issues in order some day, and that can only help her chances.
GW: I hope she recovers. Connors is helping Bouchard. That's a good call. It'll certainly go better than when he helped Sharapova.
TS: Even though he's not officially Bouchard's coach, since he lasted just one match as Sharapova's, I'd think they'd be a better match. Their tennis personalities would surely seem to match up better than his and Maria's did.
All right, now I'm going to fire my biggest gun in the argument, I think. Well, either that or I just like pulling out this topic because it never really loses its relevance... as the current debate only further proves.
Taking selected portions of the "What If?" I wrote a long time ago about the whole Graf/Seles dynamic, here's my case on that:
"(Seles') double-sided, two-handed game led the charge of power tennis in the early 1990s. The power, combined with a remarkable ability to create angled shots on the court and an eerie immunity to feeling the pressure of big-point situations, helped Seles end Graf's 186-week stay at #1 in 1991.
Before the Hamburg incident in which Gunther Parche (a German lathe operator and Graf fan intent on returning her to #1) reached over from the stands and stabbed her in the back during a changeover, Seles had won 32 of the 62 tournaments she'd entered (an amazing 52%!), was the youngest to win 30 titles in a career (1992), sported a record of 253-29, had made the finals of her eight previous grand slams played (winning seven), and won five of the last six slam titles (advancing to the finals of all six).
Seles had begun to break and demoralize Graf, too, a fact somewhat lost to history. Her ability to fearlessly raise her game in pressure moments only further confounded a formerly-dominant Graf who'd finally found an opponent she couldn't routinely blow off the court with her magnificent forehand. While she was still finding herself on grass courts at the time, Seles sported a 4-2 record against Graf in the last six pre-Hamburg matches between the two on hard or clay courts, and her best moments came on the biggest stages. She won a tight 7-6/6-4 final at RG in 1990, a 10-8 3rd set in the '92 RG final and had won in three in the '93 AO final just three months before the fateful trip to Germany.
As it turned out, Parche got his wish as Graf soon returned to #1 while Seles, nursing mental and psychological scars long after the stab wound had healed, didn't play for two years and three months.
She returned to the tour in August '95, made the US Open final less than a month later and won a final slam (her 9th) the following January in Melbourne. After that initial adrenaline-fueled spurt, though, she advanced to just two more slam finals ('96 US & '98 RG). After the 4-2 pre-Hamburg mark, she went 1-4 in her remaining matches against Graf. After winning 32 titles in 62 events over five years, she won 21 of 113 events from 1995-03... still a great number, but far off the torrid pace the teenage Seles had set. She remained a Top 10 player through 2002, but never was again a true challenger for #1.
Seles never showed the ability or commitment to get back in top shape after the layoff, but maybe more striking than the lack of conditioning was the intrusion of the big match shakiness that had been foreign to Seles' fearless game during her original incarnation.
The #1 weapon that dethroned Graf wasn't in evidence during Seles II, whether it be the result of the prolonged absence from match play, a natural aging process or the lingering psychological effects of Hamburg (as well as her father Karolj's long illness before his death in 1998) that never allowed her the same single-minded focus that once powered her dominance of the game. Though she made cameo appearances at times, the nervy (old) Seles was never rediscovered. She was gone forever, lost to time and the lunatic actions of a German lathe operator."
GW: I'm happy to sit here and let you run with it. But to be honest if I'd been stabbed in a venue where I was meant to feel safe I would be damaged, too. She never played in Germany again. Not even when the tour championships were held there many years later.
TS: Exactly, and I think that exact development, in many ways, robbed the "Graf era" of the "precious" that would make it impossible for me to argue against.
Back to the "What If?"...
"Graf's Hall-of-Fame credentials have never been in question, but her overwhelming dominance of the tour in the post-stabbing period prevented her from seeing the need to become an ever greater all-around player than she already was. Other than Seles, the only other player (the expected Graf-Sabatini rivalry never materialized) who truly pushed Graf was a late-in-career (well, in singles, at least) Navratilova in the late 1980s. Graf had legs that could run forever and good touch at the net, but never felt the need to further develop her game much beyond the baseline setup that proved so successful.
Graf would have still won her fair share of slam titles even with Seles in the picture. But win 22 titles? Never. More likely, it would have been somewhere around 15. Seles' slam victory parades wouldn't have continued their 5-of-6 slams frequency, but they wouldn't have slowed enough to allow Graf the free reign she enjoyed much of the time. If nothing else, the two would have developed a long-running rivalry akin to Navratilova-Evert and Sampras-Agassi.
So, in truth, the tennis fans were robbed of quite a bit, as well. There's nothing better than a great athlete being tested by a true equal and forced to raise their game to an even higher level. Graf could, and likely would, have done so. But we never got to see it."
GW: Well, I agree with you, but I think Seles was more susceptible to Vicario and Sabatini than Graf was. I think sometimes Seles could just have really bad losses. But, yes if she had not been injured it would have been different.
TS: And that's the centerpiece of my point. Graf won half or her 22 slam titles after the attack -- including three of her Wimbledon crowns -- and even followed up her Grand/Golden Slam by pulling off a "Steffi Slam" (though nobody called it that back then) by winning four consecutive non-calendar year majors in 1993-94.
If only Seles had been able to run through her career without that major history-altering interruption, I think the entire Graf era -- or maybe "Seles era" -- could be viewed differently. Graf would have had her career-long nemesis. To either never find a way past (ala Hingis vs. the power players, or Evert vs. Navratilova in the second half of their careers), raise her game in order to overcome the threat, simply outlast (as Serena has done with her major era players) or maybe both (as Federer will likely do with Nadal, as Rafa managed to surpass him at the zenith of his career but has now seen fortunes go the other way of late).
GW: I think the most impressive feat achieved ever in tennis was achieved by Graf. The Golden Slam. And it was done with Navratilova, Evert, Sabatini and Vicario all relevant. Plus, Mandlikova and others. That still blows me away. I think what you predicted has come true. Federer has outlasted Nadal. I think Federer has also outlasted the best of Murray. I think the major difference between the eras is that Serena never had a Seles. Not really.
TS: And I think Graf never had a Seles, either. After that day in 1993, mid-way into the "Graf era." Sad.
GW: Serena never lost a match unless she lost it herself. Seles beat Graf, but I think Serena loses. The other players don't win, Serena loses.
TS: I think that's usually the case now, but when the likes of the other big-time winners of the era (especially Henin at her height, Capriati 2.0 and, in alternating moments, Venus, '04 Sharapova, Clijsters 2.0 and one-shot runs like Stosur's at the U.S. in '11) were at the top of their game that wasn't always the case.
GW: Yeah, Serena is something like 10-2 versus Clijsters. Those actual victories are one offs. Add a couple more. Sveta beating her in Paris in 2009. She beat Serena. Stosur in Paris, too. Stosur may be the closest thing Serena has to a physical rival these days. Perhaps more so than Azarenka. I think the Seles stabbing is the thing that gives the next era it's argument sadly. Because, as we've both said, it is that which has literally altered the whole gosh-darn modern history of tennis.
TS: Anyway, the way I see it, Venus' presence in Serena's era, along with the two-headed Belgian monster of Henin/Clijsters, the Career Slam-winning Sharapova, Capriati 2.0, the era-sharing careers of Davenport and Pierce, the short-term greatness put out by the likes of Mauresmo, Stosur and Kvitova to win nearly half a dozen combined slams, the overall tour depth provided by the rise of Russians, eastern European tennis and Li Na and the long-overdue Asian push are enough to smooth out any lingering pins that can used to puncture a period that included a few non slam-winning #1's (one of which, Wozniacki, is actually good player whose game would have especially translated well in past eras, and who is still young enough to have an even more successful back-half of her career).
As Henin recently noted, "When I was playing, I had the feeling that if you were the last 16, really everyone could win the tournament. It was a great generation. Venus and Serena pushed a lot of players to raise their level. I mean they put the game to another level, and it was fantastic to be part of it because we had to push ourselves all the time to get better. And there was Kim Clijsters, there was a time of Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati. There was Martina Hingis. There was the Williams sisters, all the Russian girls coming on the tour. There was Amélie Mauresmo, Maria Sharapova coming. That was a fantastic time."
As you noted, a lesser Seles hung around into the Williams era as a QF threat at the slams, providing a veteran presence at the start, ala Evert in the Graf era. So, in a way, Monica helps my argument on both fronts. She provided nice depth here, while Hamburg prevented her from having the lasting impact in the Graf era that might have flipped this comparison over on its head.
Navratilova's continuing relevance during Graf's early stretch was a boon to that era, as that she was as much of a threat in her early to mid-thirties (as it does with Serena) says a great about the greatness of Martina. She really did establish the training template for late-career success that so many players follow today. But Martina, I think, lends more credence to the Graf's era's superiority more than the likes of Sanchez, Martinez and Hingis do. As stated, I think, on the whole, the top and second tier players -- as a group -- of Serena's era match or surpass them, even if some individual accomplishments (namely, Hingis' teen surge) from the players from the Graf years are particularly sparkling.
No one was more superior vs. the field than Seles, and I continue to maintain that the absence of the the "real" Seles in the second half of the Graf era prevented the sort of competition that would have lifted the entire period as everyone -- Graf included -- tried to keep pace. That's what had to -- and did -- happen in Serena's era once the Williams Sisters seized control in the early 2000's. Having multiple "overwhelming" targets at the top of the game is the rising tide that lifts all boats. Blame Gunther Parche for never being able to see that.
Of course, I'm a bit partial to the current era because I've been chronicling it nearly from the start. Maybe I'm a little too close to it because of that and my thoughts might change a little down the road with some distance. Still, I believe the Williams era doesn't get enough credit, while the Graf era gets a little too much. At the very least, on a day when I'm a little tired/knackered, I'd concede that they could be close to being in a "standoff." But this started with your "foregone conclusion" placing of the Graf era ahead, so I maintain that I still don't agree with that particular assumption/assessment being true.
GW: My feeling is that this era is not much much weaker than the last, but it is weaker. I think the rankings reflected the players better and I think there were more genuine slam threats. Not one off one slam wonders, but consistent slam threats. I think the fact only one of the top six greatest female players actually falls into your era also helps my case. I think the fact that Seles dominated Graf in certain places and the fact that Sabatini never reached number two despite having the kind of career that might possibly propel her to world number one in this era. And I think we should revisit this in ten years time. Perhaps briefly. I think the last era has been placed on a pedestal. And I think, perhaps, that is unfair. But it was a golden era in many respects. And this debate is a little like who's had a better NFL history, the Cowboys or Steelers? Depending on who you are you'll have different opinions. Except there is no trump card here, not really. And there is in that argument.
TS: In the end, I think what we do agree on is that Graf and Williams were the class of the eras named for them (Navratilova shared her won dominant era with Evert from 1978-86/87 where the same could be said of her). It'd been wonderful if Graf and Williams had been able to butt heads in their primes during the same stretch of time, as has happened in the men's game, at least, during the past 10-12 years. It would at least provide some more definitive arguments to grasp. But, then again, even in that area, head-to-heads and accomplishments within the same era doesn't really solve anything, either. But that's an argument for another day... like whenever Djokovic wins his next slam.
GW: Yes I agree on that. I think both eras have been good, but there's no doubt who the dominant force in each one was.
TS: Actually, a large part of me thinks one can make an easier case for Graf being a better player than Serena than for the German's era of players being better than that of Williams. But that's just me. I'd still bring up the Seles 1.0/2.0 argument there, but it's impossible to overlook what Steffi did ultimately against the players she faced, and would have done against many of those she didn't.
GW: The key thing to remember is that eras come and go. Evonne and Court passed the baton on to Evert and Navratilova who handed it to Graf and Seles who handed it to the Williams sisters. And nothing lasts forever, not even cold November rain.
TS: The next "era" has yet to begin, but we're finally seeing the first signs of the sort of players who'll lead the tour once Williams no longer does. It isn't likely one player will take the majority of the titles (though, I guess there's STILL a chance for a full-fledged Good Petra emerging), but the competition could be exciting.
GW: I think Bencic is the one to watch. I also hope Graf takes a coaching role at some point. But there most likely won't be a player who moves like Goolagong did. I don't think there'll be a volleyer like Martina, or a slice quite as good as Steffi's. And there may never be a serve as good as Serena's. But if there was, wouldn't that be great?
TS: Someone always eventually rises from the pack, seizes control and changes the way things are, and will forever be. There will soon be another.
Whoever she is, she's probably out their smacking shots all over the court right now as we speak. Somewhere. And maybe in a place where no one will ever expect her to be.
Just like was the case with a girl from Bruhl, Germany, a nation that hadn't produced a female slam champion in nearly sixty years before she won twenty-two all by herself; or another who came straight out of Compton, walking arm and arm with her big sister, ready to take on the world whether it was ready for them or not. One day, that currently anonymous girl will be a legend.
And an era will be named for HER, too.
All for now.