Eurosport's Trailblazers: 10 Moments that defined Serena Williams’s legendary tennis career
The 23-times Grand Slam singles champion remains on the brink of a record-equalling triumph ahead of the 2021 Australian Open. It will take just one more fortnight of magic, the kind she has produced over and over again in an illustrious career that has taken tennis – and indeed sport - to a new level.
Serena Williams celebrating winning the 2017 Australian Open
How can you possibly condense a legendary sporting career like the one belonging to Serena Williams, which is still far from over, into a list of defining moments? Well, we’ve picked out 10 for a start, which serve to demonstrate how remarkable her career has been so far.
1 - First main draw appearance at a Grand Slam
Serena made her maiden main draw appearance at a Grand Slam back in 1998 at the Australian Open, aged just 16. She made her mark, defeating sixth seed Irina Spirlea of Romania in the opening round, before losing to her sister Venus in the second; their first professional head-to-head. The sisters have since gone on to play each other on another 30 occasions – including in nine Grand Slam finals – as they have taken their matches from the courts of Compton growing up to the biggest stages in world tennis.
Williams clinched her first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open in 1999, fittingly, in the country where her tennis journey began, being coached by her father Richard, along with her sister Venus. She defeated her compatriot and the defending champion, Lindsay Davenport, in the semi-finals, before she overcame then-world number one, Martina Hingis, to become the second African-American woman, after Althea Gibson in 1958, to win a Grand Slam singles title. The world of tennis was already well aware of her incredible talent, but now the major trophies began to pour in. It was clear a superstar had arrived and was here to stay.
A true trailblazer – re-live Serena's best Australian Open moments
3 - Indian Wells, 2001
The 2001 edition of Indian Wells does not provide pleasant memories for Williams, despite the fact that she beat Kim Clijsters in the final to take the title, and it led to a 14-year boycott of the event from the sisters. Venus was forced to pull out before a hotly anticipated semi-final against her 19-year-old sister with a tendonitis injury, with fans emphatically booing the ensuing announcement in the stadium. Then followed a disgraceful episode in the final two days later, when a stadium full of mostly white fans jeered her and her family throughout. In response, Richard raised a clenched fist, evoking John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s iconic Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games, and both Venus and Richard have since alleged they received racial abuse throughout the match. Whilst this episode in Serena’s career is not a positive one, it highlighted her tenacity and ability to overcome extreme adversity; a skill she has been forced to hone throughout her entire career.
In 2002-03, the remarkable achievement dubbed ‘The Serena Slam’ was completed; in 2002, she lifted her maiden Roland-Garros and Wimbledon trophies, before winning her second US Open title. Then thanks to a tension-filled win against sister Venus in the final at Melbourne Park, Serena added the Australian Open to round off her career Grand Slam and, in the process, became only the fifth woman in history to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously. By playing Venus in all those finals, they also became the only women in the Open Era to appear in four consecutive Grand Slam finals. If that were not enough, the Williams sisters also captured their sixth Grand Slam doubles crown together in Melbourne to further demonstrate their dominance in the sport.
5 – A challenging comeback
It is often forgotten how tough it was for Williams to recapture her form and reassert her position at the top of the tennis world in 2007 with a victory at the Australian Open many deemed unlikely after a gruelling few years of injuries and setbacks, including the tragic shooting of her sister Yetunde. She was able to make a brief comeback in March, 2004 after eight months away from the tour, which was then followed by an injury-blighted 2005, despite kickstarting it with more success Down Under by capturing her seventh Grand Slam singles title. But it would be two years until she would taste Grand Slam success once more; Williams’s 2006 season also came with complications, and she ended up having to take six months off, away from the tour. The 2008 US Open sparked a stunning run in Grand Slams as she also triumphed at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2009, ending the year at the top of the world rankings for the second time in her career. This resurgence demonstrated once again her remarkable willpower and resolve after a hugely challenging spell.
6 – Teaming up with coach Mouratoglou
In 2011, Serena suffered more injury setbacks and a pulmonary embolism which threatened her life. After her first ever opening-round defeat in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament at Roland-Garros in 2012, she hired Patrick Mouratoglou to join her team as coach. Just one month later, she proceeded to claim her fifth Wimbledon title and clinch gold in both the singles and doubles at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Working with Mouratoglou, Williams has added three Wimbledon, three US Open, two French Open and two Australian Open titles to her astonishing tallies in what has already amounted to one of the longest and most successful coaching partnerships in tennis.
Serena Williams célèbre sa victoire en finale de Wimbledon 2012 avec son père Richard et sa soeur Venus.
Image credit: Getty Images
7 – Olympic glory at London 2012
Serena already owned Olympic doubles titles from Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008 with Venus, but when she beat Maria Sharapova 6-0 6-1 for the singles gold at London 2012 she reached new heights still, and joined Steffi Graf as the only women to complete the ‘Golden Slam’ - winning the Olympics and the four Grand Slams. But she wasn’t finished; Serena also became tennis' first double gold medallist at an Olympics since Venus won both the singles and doubles at the Sydney Games. “Crazy, I’m always copying her!” she said, overjoyed.
8 - The second ‘Serena Slam’
As if one ‘Serena Slam’ wasn’t enough, a second followed as she claimed a stunning triumph at Wimbledon in 2015 to cap off the feat. It was her sixth Wimbledon crown and 21st Grand Slam singles title as the tally just continued. Earlier that year in proving victorious at Roland-Garros, Williams secured her place in history as only the third player to win each Grand Slam at least three times, joining Margaret Court and Graf.
9 – A particularly special Grand Slam title
Of all Williams’s remarkable achievements, perhaps the most astonishing was her triumph at the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant. In beating Venus in yet another major final, Serena clinched her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, surpassing Graf's Open Era record of 22 and winning at Melbourne Park for an Open Era record – yes, another one - seventh time. It was not until late April that she revealed she was 20 weeks pregnant and would miss the remainder of the season. In September that year, Williams gave birth to a daughter named Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.
Serena Williams con il trofeo degli Australian Open 2017
Image credit: Getty Images
10 – The latest improbable comeback
Grand Slam singles title number 24. It’s still there, waiting to be claimed by Williams. But will she ever equal – or surpass - Court’s record? The birth of her daughter was particularly traumatic, and Serena later revealed that she almost died during it. But resilient and spirited as ever, she made her comeback at Roland-Garros in 2018 and has come agonisingly close by reaching four Grand Slam finals since then. She has won seven of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles in Melbourne, with her last victory coming in 2017 – can she triumph one more time in Australia? History awaits if Serena can finally complete her latest incredible comeback with yet another Grand Slam singles title.
Eurosport's ‘Trailblazers’ - a 10-part series showcasing sport’s greatest stories and heroes who inspired meaningful change - starts this Friday with a Serena Williams special, and is available on eurosport.co.uk and the Eurosport app.