Wimbledon: Tennis legends hail Serena Williams
Legends Steffi Graf, Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova doff their hat to 22-time Grand Slam champion Williams
London: Steffi Graf has paid tribute to Serena Williams after the American won Wimbledon to equal her record of 22 Grand Slam titles.
USA's Serena Williams chases the ball as she attempts a return to Germany's Angelique Kerber during the Wimbledon singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London on Saturday. Pic/AFP
Williams beat Germany's Angelique Kerber 7-5 6-3 on Centre Court to move level with Graf on the open era list, which takes into account victories since the professional era at the majors began in 1968.
Australian Margaret Court's career spanned both the amateur and open eras, and she landed 24 Grand Slams, setting the benchmark by which every other great champion is judged.
Tied at 22-all
The victory also means Williams ties with Graf, who retired in 1999, on seven Wimbledon triumphs, two behind Martina Navratilova's all-time best of nine.
"What an incredible performance by Serena at Wimbledon!" Graf wrote on Facebook. "Such a gift to all sport fans, who get to continue to watch her add to an already amazing career #22!!!
"Also, well done to Angelique making Germany so proud with her talent and fighting spirit!"
Billie Jean King, who won six Wimbledon singles titles from 1966 to 1975, has urged Williams to pass Court's 24 major victories and prove she is the greatest women's player of all time.
"Didn't Stefanie Graf win seven? And she also holds 22 so she's right in line with Stefanie," King said on BBC One. "Margaret's got 24. So if she can keep her motivation and stay healthy maybe she'll be our greatest ever.
Billy Jean King
"I think she should be, I think she is, but she still has to prove it. I think she should go on to win more."
King felt Williams "looked depressed" earlier in the year, as her form fell marginally below her highest standards.
Happier in London
Before Wimbledon she had lost in the finals of the Australian Open and French Open, to Kerber and Garbine Muguruza respectively.
"She's definitely happier coming into Wimbledon, I could tell before the tournament," said King. "You could just tell she was better."
King said Williams possessed "the most beautiful serve ever" and added: "I always talk about how the head, the heart and the guts have to be together to make greatness and that's what Serena has.
"You can find lots of terrific physical athletes — you can find tons — but if they don't have it emotionally and mentally they're not going to make it. She hates losing and I love that fact: that's what makes her so great."
Praise for Williams spread across social media, with Navratilova writing on Twitter: "Congratulations to Serena for an amazing display today and tying history. 22 & counting!!! Great job Angelique as well:)."
Three-time US Open champion Kim Clijsters added: "Congratulations to the best ever! Serena Williams ! Amazing achievement."
And a close friend of Williams, Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki, echoed the acclaim, writing: "Congratulations @serenawilliams for making history today!! #22! Incredible achievement! #wimbledon."
Trump tweets too
US presidential candidate Donald Trump wrote: "Way to go @serenawilliams — you're a true champion. Proud of you!"
Beyonce was at Wimbledon but her former Destiny's Child band-mate Kelly Rowland was keeping a close eye on the match, adding: "Congrats to @serenawilliams for her 22nd Grand Slam title and 7th win at #Wimbledon! Making history one game at a time!"