The world of Sport has seen many colossal figures in recent years. Players such as Michael Phelps (Swimming), Usain Bolt (Athletics – Sprint), Diego Maradona (Football) and Sachin Tendulkar (Cricket) have completely dominated their respective sports right from the moment they stepped on the field or the court or in the pool. While their skills and talent are a sight to behold, their numbers and statistics can never do enough justice to the impact they have had on the world of sports.
Similarly, there is another name in the world of women’s tennis which has dominated the circuit with its unmatchable authority and great dominance. Yes, you guessed it right, we are talking about the one and only Serena Williams. The American superstar is arguably the biggest and most decorated women’s tennis player the world has ever seen in the modern era.
Born in 1981 in Saginaw, Michigan – Serena Williams started playing at a very early age of 3. Being the youngest in the family – Serena was the most pampered among the five daughters of Richard and Oracene Williams. Along with her elder sister Venus, she soon discovered her love for the sport of tennis.
By the age of 10, Serena was 46-3 on the junior United States Tennis Association (USTA) tour and ranked first in the 10-and-under division. Williams’ father left no stone unturned when it came to taking up the coaching responsibilities for her daughters. At one point in time, he managed Serena's and Venus's career simultaneously. After starting her professional career in 1995 at the Bell Challenge event, Serena drew first blood by winning her maiden Grand Slam title by beating Martina Hingis on home turf in the final of the US Open in 1999.
She also paired with her elder sister Venus Williams for the women’s doubles event and formed a solid partnership. In 2000, the William sisters not only won their first Wimbledon title but also clinched the elusive Gold in doubles at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The American sisters created history by becoming the fifth doubles pair to win all four Grand Slam women's doubles titles. Serena and Venus were largely responsible for changing the outlook of tennis among the fans and experts. The sport which was famous for speed and finesse has since been dominated by Serena’s sheer power and brute force.
Journey to the Top
Despite Serena’s dominance on the tennis court, the journey to the top was not an easy one for the younger Williams. She was ranked world No.1 for the first time on 8th July 2002 by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). In her glittering career embellished with numerous feats and achievements, Serena acquired the top spot six times overall.
The year 2002 was an especially path-breaking one in Serena’s career as she went on to bag three majors including the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. Interestingly, she defeated Venus in all the finals. The victories placed her at the world no. 1 ranking, dethroning her sister from the top spot. Later by winning the Australian Open in 2003, she became one of the only five players to complete the calendar slam and bagged the title of ‘The Serena Slam’.
Tough times and a new revival
Just when it looks like, Serena is going to rule the sport and enhance her status as a modern-day legend, her super-successful career graph suffered a major hiccup. Serena succumbed to several niggling injuries in the next couple of years which took a toll on her performances on the court. The World No.1 went through a lean patch and continuously struggled on the court, failing to defend all her titles and eventually losing the top spot. Battered by injuries and a lack of confidence, Serena soon slumped to a career-low ranking of 139 in women’s game.
However, like a true champion, she made a sensational comeback in the year 2007 by winning her 3rd Australian Open and 8th Grand Slam singles title against her long-time rival Maria Sharapova. She overcame many barriers including physical, psychological and emotional, to record a resounding victory in the first Grand Slam of the year.
Serena credited Jehovah's Witness for the turnaround and made an eye-opening journey to West Africa to renew her passion and pride to play at the highest level. By the end of 2009, Williams released a new autobiography – ‘Queen of the Court’, and won her place back at the top of the women’s rankings for the second time in her career after winning both the 2009 Australian Open singles (for the fourth time) and Wimbledon 2009 singles (for the third time).
Despite a minor setback in 2011 due to ill health, which kept her away for few months, Serena continued to compete at the highest level and proved the age old adage that ‘age is just a number’.
In 2013, she defeated Victoria Azarenka in the final of the US Open to become the oldest US Open champion in tennis history. Serena got tougher mentally and physically in her 30’s, constantly exuding confidence of a player who meant business on the court. On February 18, 2013, Williams once again rose to the top spot on the player's rankings list for the sixth time. By 5th September 2016, she had been ranked world No. 1 for 186 consecutive weeks, tying the record with former German great Steffi Graf for 309 weeks overall.
Many tennis commentators, players, and sports writers regarded Williams as the greatest female tennis player of all time. Her records and achievements justify that claim without much discussion.
And the Record's list continues…
- Williams holds the most major singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles combined amongst active players (male or female).
- Her record of 39 major titles puts her fourth on the all-time list and second in the open era – 23 in singles, 14 in women's doubles, and two in mixed doubles.
- She is the most recent female player to have held all four major singles titles simultaneously (2002–03 and 2014–15) and the third player overall to achieve this record twice after Rod Laver and Steffi Graf.
- She has won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles with her sister Venus, and the pair is yet to lose a major final.
- With a victory in Australian Open 2017, Serena has surpassed the German legend Steffi Graf for the most number of Major wins by a tennis player (male or female) in the Open Era. Serena has 23 titles against her name and she is behind Margaret Court who leads the list with 24 titles.
- At the 2012 London Olympic Games, Serena beat Maria Sharapova to take her first gold medal in women's singles event.
- She is also the only tennis player to have won 10 Grand Slam singles titles in two separate decades.
- Williams also holds an all-time record of 13 Grand Slam singles titles on hardcourt.
- Williams holds the Open Era record for most titles won at the Australian Open (7) and shares the Open Era record for most titles won at the US Open with Chris Evert (6).
- Serena also holds a stupendous record for the most number of singles victory at the Grand Slams with 309 matches, she surpassed the likes of Roger Federer and Martina Navratilova.
- In women's doubles, Serena along with her sister Venus is second on the list of most number of grand slam titles, only behind the 20 titles won by Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver.
- Serena has also won four Olympic gold medals, one in women's singles and three in women's doubles (with Venus).
- Williams was the highest-paid female athlete in 2016, she dethroned Maria Sharapova by accumulating $28.9 million from prize money and endorsements.
- In December 2015, the 35-year old was named Sportsperson of the Year by ‘Sports Illustrated magazine’.
(Image Courtesy: Opta)