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Why you should watch women’s tennis

The time between Women’s Tennis Association Tour Finals and the Hopman Cup is very hard for James Clifford.

Serena Williams of the U.S. celebrates after defeating Russia's Zvonareva in their women's singles tennis match at the All England Lawn Tennis Club during the London 2012 Olympic Games

If you weren’t already planning on following women’s tennis in 2015, you really, really should.

In 2015, Serena Williams may match Steffi Graf as the most crowned Grand Slam Women’s champion in the Open Era.

As of the end of 2014, Serena has 18 major titles. Graf sits at 22. Such an accomplishment would make Serena the almost undisputed Greatest of All Time (GOAT) in women’s tennis. I don’t follow other sports (why bother), but even I know the title of GOAT is the first stat you look for, whether it be in soccer, hockey or men’s tennis.

Serena has it all on court. People who know nothing of tennis will tell you “she only wins on muscle, look at those biceps!”, or whatever other sexist and racist rubbish they want to cite to discount Serena’s achievements. But Serena is more than power; the technique on her serve is so flawless it’ll make you believe in fate. Her net approaches are horrifying and frequent, and her volleys are executed without a trace of fear or doubt. She can hustle as well as any defensive player, often coming back from impossible positions to win points opponents have already counted as theirs.

And you get to see these skills paraded before you in tense, prolonged rallies. This isn’t men’s tennis (which I have little time for) where aces end most points before they’ve really begun, and safe topspin shots are the bread and butter of rallies.  This is women’s tennis, where players mix up draining, intricate rallies with absurd, decisive risks. And when you see Serena win a game with an ace before walking the long way around the net to avoid interacting with her opponent (the only player known to do this), you know you’re watching something no other sport can offer.

In some hearts and minds, Serena is already the GOAT. She emerged into, what her father rightly called, the ‘lily-white’ world of tennis in 1998, came back from the murder of her sister, Yetunde, in 2003, and dominated at the 2012 Olympics after almost dying from a pulmonary embolism the year before. Serena has overcome more obstacles than any other top athlete the sport (maybe). And besides, Graf’s major count is inflated by the fact her main rival Monica Seles was stabbed on-court by a Graf fan while she was still a teenager. By that time Seles had already won 8 Grand Slams in only two and a half years. But that’s all speculation – Graf banked 22, so Serena needs 22.

Catching Graf in 2015 requires Serena to win all four majors in a calendar year; a feat even Our Lord Rena is yet to accomplish in her career. Such achievement is unlikely. Danger lurks around every corner: injury, rivals Victoria Azarenka and Simona Halep, her on and off, good and bad relationship with her coach and maybe boyfriend (maybe ex-boyfriend) Patrick Mouratoglou, shitty umpires, Alize Cornet (the world number 19 whom Serena inexplicably lost to 3 times this year), BFF Caroline Wozniacki who may tire of losing to her cooler friend, immense pressure and good old-fashioned underdogs frothing for a win over the Queen.

Even if Serena doesn’t win all four majors in 2015, it is still a crucial year for her legacy. Despite speculation to the contrary, Serena will not play forever. She is already 33, and most of her contemporaries have long since retired. She is the oldest number 1 ever, and in 2014 she showed signs that the race against mortality was getting to her, slumping to uncharacteristic nervy losses at the French Open and Wimbledon. If she wants to catch Graf, 2015 is make or break. She could finish the year within a forehand of the GOAT title, or she could be 34 and slamless, preparing for a life of not being able to listen to Taylor Swift’s hit ‘22’ without ruing what could have been.

So there are your plans for 2015: The Australian Open, The French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. Thank me when it’s over.

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