Tennis

Graf backs Williams to become greatest ever

German says 23-time Grand Slam winner can surpass Court's singles title record

Tennis legend Steffi Graf said yesterday that Serena Williams can "absolutely" break Margaret Court's Grand Slam singles title record if she returns to the sport.

Former world No. 1 Serena Williams, who gave birth earlier this year, has already overtaken Graf with 23 Grand Slam wins, but is yet to surpass Court, who boasts 24 Major titles.

"Absolutely, yes," Graf said, when asked if the record was within Williams' reach.

Court is renowned as the most successful player in Grand Slam history - the only player to win 10 or more titles of a single Slam - lifting the Australian Open a staggering 11 times between 1960 and 1973.

Graf, who also has 22 Grand Slam singles titles under her belt and is famed for having spent 377 weeks ranked world No. 1, was speaking in Zhuhai, China, where she is ambassador for the WTA Elite Trophy tournament.

"A lot of it is determined on her drive and if that's what she wants to do," she said of Williams.

Australian Open organisers said last month they were hopeful of a stunning return by Williams in January as they raised the winners' prize money to a bumper A$4 million (S$4.2m).

Williams won this year's Australian Open while pregnant, and she has spoken of her "outrageous" plans to play in Melbourne next year - just 4½ months after giving birth to her baby girl.

"It sounds from what I hear that she's looking to come back to tennis," Graf added.

"You know, everything that she has shown over her career just makes you believe that if she has that in her sights, then she will go after it and achieve it."

The US$2m Elite Trophy features 12 players ranked from around nine to 20.

In the final yesterday, German Julia Goerges tamed American CoCo Vandeweghe 7-5, 6-1 to claim the biggest title of her career.

Second seed Vandeweghe got an early break and breezed to a 5-2 lead in the opening set before the German staged a brilliant comeback.

The seventh seed, who won the Kremlin Cup in Moscow a fortnight ago, broke back while the American was serving for the opening set and went on to win it 7-5.

Vandeweghe won only one of the last 12 games in the match as the 29-year-old bombarded her with a barrage of winners while dropping just one point on serve in the second set.

Goerges was simply unstoppable in the second set and she completed the victory with a cross-court return winner on her second championship point. She screamed in delight after completing a stellar year in which she won two titles and reached five finals.

"I can't imagine a better ending to the season, two titles in two weeks... this is the biggest one," Goerges said after receiving the trophy from Graf. - REUTERS

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