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SerenafistsMslidersemiBy Richard Pagliaro
© Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA

(July 7, 2010) Serena Williams had a Hall of Fame cheerleader during her run to the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles this year — Billie Jean King.

When Williams wrapped up 6-3, 6-2, conquest of Vera Zvonareva to capture her 13th career Grand Slam title at Wimbledon on Saturday, she passed King for sixth place on the all-time list and thanked her former Fed Cup and Olympic coach for inspiring her.

"This one is very special," Williams said. "This is number 13 for me and it's just amazing to be among such great pople and to be sixth on the all-time list is great. (Billie Jean) told me to pass her and so that's really inspiring. Honestly, I just wanted to get to 13 — it's my lucky number."

King is convinced Serena will continue to climb the list and believes Williams has the ability to conclude her career as the Greatest Of All Time.

"I think it's great.  I think her next goal now should be to beat Chris and Martina's 18 singles (majors), then thereafter she can go on to Steffi Graf (22 majors)," King told the media in Tuesday's conference call to promote this season of World TeamTennis. "There's no reason Serena Williams shouldn't be the greatest woman player that's ever played."

King calls Navratilova the best singles, doubles and mixed doubles player and cites Graf as the greatest singles player, for now, but believes Serena, who will celebrate her 29th birthday on September 26th, can take the game to new levels.

"Every generation I think gets better usually," King said. "Up to this time the greatest singles, doubles and mixed player has been Martina Navratilova. I think the greatest singles player up to this time has been Graf.  There's no reason that Serena can't surpass some goals of people."

Successfully defending her Wimbledon crown to raise the Rosewater Dish for the fourth time, Williams' real rivals are the game's greatest champions, including King and Navratilova, who watched the final from the royal box. Williams' 13th major title moves her one ahead of King for sixth place on the all-time list behind Margaret Court (24), Graf (22), Helen Wills Moody (19) and Evert and Navratilova (18 apiece).

The growth of tennis as a global game makes sustained success even more difficult today, King said.

"Sports are a microcosm of society. It just shows how much more competition there is in the world," King said.  "When I was playing, we didn't have to compete against everybody in the world.  Now it's a truly global sport, so the competition's much greater, just like it is for our children in every other area, whether it be in science or technology or whatever you talk about. So we have to work that much harder.  We have to get kids who are eager.  We have to get good athletes in our sport if we're going to win globally."


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