Stefanie Graf feels that Serena Williams can ‘absolutely’ break Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, the WTA legend said at the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai on Sunday.
Serving as tournament ambassador in Zhuhai, Graf spoke on numerous topics, one of which was the 23-time Grand Slam champion, who broke the German’s Open Era record for Grand Slam singles titles with a victory at the Australian Open in January before announcing her pregnancy.
“I think a lot of it is determined on her drive and if that is what she wants to do. It sounds from what I hear that she is looking to come back to tennis and 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,” she said.
Graf also spoke candidly on former rival Martina Hingis, who announced her final retirement from WTA tennis last week at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
The two faced off a total of nine times, with Graf winning seven of the matches – including the Roland Garros final in 1999 for her 22nd major title.
“I’ve been absolutely amazed just watching her, from when she retired from singles. We actually played a couple of exhibitions and you know she played still so incredible. So seeing her go back to just playing doubles and mixed was fun,” Graf said.
“I missed her playing singles, I would have loved to have seen her play a little longer because of her really crafty style and her incredible hands but it was nice to see her still be on the tour in doubles and mixed and achieve a lot of milestones in that. Again, she’s somebody who could have played even longer with the talent she has. It’s pretty incredible.”
From offering her opinion on two of the game’s greats, Graf also spoke on Sunday about two of the players on the rise in 2017, who were both in the Zhuhai field this week: compatriot Julia Goerges, and Ashleigh Barty.
“I still love going and experiencing places. I took the opportunity to come to China a little early and went to Beijing and got the chance to experience the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, something that has been really high on my list of places to visit. It’s a pleasure to be back and see this tournament grow.”
Goerges has enjoyed a resurgent 2017 season by making five finals – including in Zhuhai – and supplanting Angeligue Kerber as German No.1.
“I’ve been following her career for quite a bit and she’s had a tremendous year,” Graf said. “She’s been going on, I think it’s eight or nine matches in a row now after winning Moscow; she’s been in numerous finals this year.
“You can see her with a new confidence back going for her shots and physically she’s having a strong year and being more prepared. As a fellow German, I’m hoping that she’s going to do well today.”
Graf and husband Andre Agassi met Barty when the then-teenaged Australian attended a clinic in Las Vegas several years ago, and has been impressed with her stunning return to the WTA in 2017.
Added Graf: “I did see her at the very beginning of her career. You know she came and, I think, surprised all the players with her style early on in her career. I don’t completely know exactly how she came back to playing cricket and then back to tennis, but it is a pretty incredible story.
“Seeing her play so well, especially this year from where she’s started to where she’s ending, it’s a pretty incredible speed of how she’s finding herself back into the tennis tour. The Australians always have an interesting style of tennis and she’s one of them. She’s got great hands and a lot of potential and it’s great to see her back in the sport of tennis.”
The WTA legend is in her seecond year as tournament ambassador for the WTA Elite Trophy, and has been a fixture at the event this week, taking in the action at the Hengqin Tennis Center and even playing tennis on top of the Zhuhai Center skyscraper with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
“I was always looking for an opportunity to come to China and when I was asked a few years back to come to Zhuhai I took the opportunity very happily,” she said.
“This tournament has been going three years and you can see from the players that are attending the event the importance of it. It’s really established itself as an important stop of the year and you can also see a lot of other tournaments…in the area here.
“Hopefully, that is something that will encourage new people and young kids to take up the sport and make this sport grow in popularity.”