New York, January 10: Serena Williams' reputation will be in no way tarnished by her controversial umpire spat at the US Open, according to fellow American great Chris Evert.
The 37-year-old has not played a competitive match since the final at Flushing Meadows, where she was involved in an ugly row with Carlos Ramos, called the umpire a "liar" and a "thief" after she was penalised with a game penalty following code violations for on-court coaching, racket abuse and verbal abuse.
It was an incident that overshadowed Naomi Osaka's maiden grand slam triumph and split opinion among fans and pundits alike.
Williams will be back in major action at the Australian Open, where she has another chance to tie Margaret Court's overall record of 24 grand slams.
And Evert, an 18-time slam winner who will be part of ESPN's coverage of the tournament, believes that ultimately Williams' hefty list of accomplishments will outweigh the few contentious moments in her glittering career.
"I don't think tarnished is the word," she told reporters via a conference call.
"I think that her record, the way she was raised and the journey, the path, the route she took to be number one, the family, the whole story is so overwhelming.
"The fact that she could break the record for overall grand slams, that will overshadow everything at the end of the day.
"I think that there will be a side note that Serena has a lot of passion and has at times lost her cool on the court, I don't for one minute think it will tarnish her whole reputation or her record."
Williams reached the finals at Wimbledon and in New York on what was her comeback year on the WTA Tour in 2018 following the birth of her first child.
And Evert says the prospect of a fully fit Williams could strike fear into her rivals.
"I think she's fresh that's one thing, but everyone else is fresh too," said Evert.
"She has had time off, she can really get away from tennis, before maybe not as much. Now she's married, has a child, has a rich life, and can get away from it.
"Champions are greedy in the sense they want to keep racking up the grand slams. She's in position where can break records in the tennis world.
"I noticed she seems fitter, which is a scary thought. The women have to think she was 60-70 per cent last year reaching when two finals."
Former US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe, brother of the legendary John and who will also be part of ESPN's Australian Open coverage, echoed Evert's sentiments.
"I would say this is yet another chapter in the incredible story of Serena Williams, a lot of positives, a few negatives, no doubt that was a negative," he said.
"But also there's no doubt last year, when you look at bigger picture, she came back from having a child, really nowhere near one hundred per cent fit, and she still managed to make the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open, which was incredible.
"She seems to have put it past her which is great for her."