On the Joys and Sorrows of Serena’s Quest for 24


For die-hard Serena Williams fans, the desire to see her win her 24th Grand Slam is equally understandable and unrelenting. We want it so badly we can barely stand to watch, and some of us don’t watch out of fear that we’ve been jinxing her.

Despite having seen her win 23 before, we’re now totally enthralled with the prospect of just one more. It may seem unreasonable, but at this point, we’re past logic. No championship matters more than Serena getting 24.

If we were rational, we would be appeased by the fact that No. 24 is only a meaningless technicality. Serena is already the GOAT. And yet… she’s not the current record holder for individual Grand Slam titles. That claim belongs to Margaret Court and her 24.

Now, there is a stack of SCOTUS-worthy arguments as to why Court’s career is in no way comparable to our 21st century queen. For starters, the bulk of Court’s career occurred before the Open Era (when the Grand Slams were only open to amateurs), and almost half of her titles were earned at the Australian Open during the 60s and early 70s, when the tournament wasn’t nearly as prestigious and didn’t draw many of the world’s top players.

Nearly all tennis analysts, historians, and commentators agree that it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. And while no one is trying to diminish the still-very-impressive career of Margaret Court, her personal beliefs have increasingly tainted her historical record. A born-again Christian Minister, Court has been very vocal about her anti-LGBTQ views. If Serena caught her (asterisk-marked) record, there would be an extra layer of icing on that cake for progressive-minded fans.

One of the main reasons the quest for No. 24 has become an obsession for many isn’t that it would be number 24, but that it would actually be No. 1—Serena’s first Grand Slam title since becoming a mom.

After winning the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant, Serena gave birth to her now three-year-old daughter, Olympia, in September of that year. Her emergency cesarean, followed by a near-fatal pulmonary embolism, forced her into a long, slow recovery, one whose difficulties Serena has openly discussed.

Any athlete or sports fan who is also a parent knows that Serena’s quest to return to the highest pinnacle of her sport is a whole new endeavor, one that is a thousand times more challenging than anything she’s attempted before. And the insanely impressive thing is how close she has repeatedly come to reaching it.

Ten months (ten months!) after the harrowing birth of her daughter, Serena fought her way to the finals of Wimbledon in 2018 only to lose to Angelique Kerber. A few months later, she reached the finals of the US Open, losing that time to the then up-and-coming Naomi Osaka.

In 2019, she reached the finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open once again but didn’t come away with either title. In 2020, the cursed year that it was, Serena didn’t reach a Grand Slam finals match for the first time since 2006. (Granted, Wimbledon wasn’t held so the chances were fewer.) In the last two Grand Slam events Serena has lost in the semi-finals. The latest defeat came a couple weeks ago at the Australian Open, once again at the hands of the now established and dominant Osaka.

It’s easy to look at Serena’s finishes since 2017 and see a picture of a champion who came so incredibly close to that No. 24, but who’s chances get slimmer with each passing month as she approaches her 40th birthday (gasp). But what we’re really looking at is evidence of a mind-boggling accomplishment. Reaching four Grand Slam finals in the first two years after Olympia was born at the ages of 37 and 38 may be a more impressive achievement than any single title of her career.


Logically and rationally, we know she doesn’t need No. 24. Serena is already the GOAT, full stop.

Unfortunately, we are not fully logical and rational beings. (We’re sports fans, after all.) And so we still want to see her reach that pinnacle again. And at this point, we don’t even care how she gets it. We don’t care if the field is stacked in her favor, if her opponent drops out mid-match due to injury, if a stomach bug ravages the entire tournament and she is the only one left standing. She doesn’t need to earn it, because in our mind, she already has.

Now we just want the hardware to prove it. We want it wrapped up in a velvet box and tied with a silky ribbon. Throw in a token of appreciation handed to her on a silver platter, with a note that reads, “Here you go Serena. You deserve to have this. Thank you for all you are and all you have done.” Throw in a second velvet box with No. 25 in it, and maybe, just maybe, her devoted supporters will finally have some peace of mind.