Serena Williams

With eight Slams to her name, and having been the last player to have held all four Grand Slams at the same time, Serena Williams is no stranger to the world of tennis. Along with her sister Venus, the pair have been at the forefront of women’s tennis from the late 90s onwards. Therefore it comes as no surprise that she was included in Tennis magazine’s list of greatest players in the last 40 years.

The Early Years

Serena Jameka Ross Evelyn Williams, was born on the 26th of September 1981, in Saginaw, Michigan. She started playing tennis by the age of 4. Under the watchful eyes of her father and coach Richard, she honed her tennis skills. By 10 she had won 46 out of 49 tournaments in which she had taken part, and claimed the number 1 ranking for her age group.

At this age she was taken under the tutelage of Ricki Macci, someone who had worked with other teenage sensations such as Jennifer Capriati. She soon turned pro in September 1995, aged only 14. Her professional career took off in 1997. That year she beat two top 10 players, Monica Seles and Mary Pierce at the Ameritech Open in Chicago, Illinois. She finished the year with a world ranking of 99.

The Rise to Supremacy

She continued her ascension through the world rankings in 1998, finishing the year inside the top 20 for the first time in her career. Although she did not win any major singles titles, she won the Wimbledon and US Open mixed doubles titles, partnering Max Mirnyi. Incidentally, her sister Venus won the French and Australian Open mixed doubles titles, keeping all 4 mixed doubles Grand Slams in the family.

In the following year, she won titles at Paris, Los Angeles and Indian Wells. She became one of 5 unseeded Tier 1 winners in WTA history after her win at Indian Wells. Both sisters were steadily rising up the rankings during this period. At the final of the Miami tournament in the same year, she lost to her sister in the first all-sister final in the Open Era. Later that year, she won her first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open, beating Martina Hingis in the final 6-3 7-6. She finished the year ranked 4.

Although she did not win any majors in 2000, she did have some strong performances, including a semi-final appearance at Wimbledon. She managed to finish the year ranked 6. In the next year, she won at Indian Wells and Montreal, and also won her first WTA Tour Championship. She lost the 2001 US Open final to her sister Venus. That year the sisters teamed up at the Sydney Olympics to win the doubles gold medal. Once more she finished the year ranked 6.

The Serena Slam

Although she did not take part in the 2002 Australian Open, she went on to win the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open that year. Things got even better the following season as she won the Australian open, becoming the sixth woman in history to hold all 4 Grand Slams at the same time. Interestingly, she beat her sister in all 4 finals. As she did not win these titles in the same calendar year, but over period that extended into the following year, the feat was coined the ‘Serena Slam’. She naturally ended 2002 ranked the top player in the world.

Ups and downs

In the 2003 French Open, she lost a controversial semi-final to Justine Henin-Hardene, who she later accused of having behaved in an unsportsmanlike manner. This disappointment was overcome and Williams defended her Wimbledon title later that year, once again beating her sister in the final.

Having been out of the tour for nearly 8 months due to a knee injury, Serena did not have any Grand Slam success in 2004. She did, however, make the Wimbledon final that year, losing to a young Maria Sharapova in straight sets. She made the year end WTA Championships but was once again beaten by Sharapova in the final, 4-6 6-2 6-4.

In 2005, she avenged her loss to Sharapova, by beating her from match point down at the Australian Open semi-final. She went on to win the title by beating Lindsay Davenport in the final. She finished the year ranked just outside the world top 10 with a ranking of 11.

Due to recurrent injuries and other commitments, Serena could not participate in most of the tournaments of 2006, as a result of which her ranking slipped to 139. At the US Open that year, it was the first time she had been unseeded at a Grand Slam since 1998.

The Comeback

At the 2007 Australian Open, Williams made some strong performances in the early rounds, defeating up and coming players like Nadia Petrova, Jelena Jankovic and Shahar Peer. In the semi-final she beat the tenth seed Nicole Vaidisova and in the finals, she hammered Maria Sharapova 6/1, 6/2 to claim her eighth Grand Slam title. She was soon in the women’s top 20, and sounded the alarm that she was back at her best.

Later that year, she made history by becoming the lowest ranked player to beat the top 2 ranked players in the world in the same tournament. This was achieved at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida. She made the quarter finals of all the other three Grand Slams but was stopped by an in-form Justine Henin. Williams came under criticism for claiming that she would have won these encounters if she had been fully fit. These performances, however, helped her to secure a year-end ranking of 7.

Style of Play

Serena Williams is a right-handed player who uses a double handed backhand. She has the ability to hit winners off both flanks with ease. This is largely due to her strength, speed and balance on court. She has been known to commit many unforced errors, but this is offset by the number of winners she hits. She has one of the best serves in women’s tennis and possesses a wide variety of serves.

The Williams sisters are often associated with bringing power tennis into the women’s game but she is also excellent at the net, proven by her six doubles Grand Slam titles. Another stunning feature of Serena Williams’ game is her spirit. She has won numerous matches (many of them in Grand Slams), where she has been on the brink of defeat but miraculously clawed her way back to win. Her game is so versatile that it has enabled her to win on all surfaces, which is why she will go down in history as one of the greatest women’s tennis player of all time.

Life outside of tennis

Serena has four sisters. Her parents Richard and Oracene are often seen at her matches. Quite tragically, one of her sisters, Yetunde Price, was killed in a drive by shooting in September 2003.

Serena Williams is known for her fashion statements on and off the court. She has her own clothing line named Aneres. She has also made many appearances in television series, ranging from The Simpsons to E.R. She regularly features in talk shows and music videos. In fact, the band Super Furry Animals have dedicated a song, entitled Venus and Serena, to the Williams sisters. Serena Williams is also a strong role model for the African American community.

She said

All my life I’ve kinda dreamed of being the best, and doing the best, and it hasn’t always been easy for me. So I’ve been trying, but it’s really special to have come such a long way, it’s just really fulfilling. And the fact that I’m just making history right now and the fact that I was able to win four in a row, it doesn’t happen every day.

If you can keep playing tennis when somebody is shooting a gun down the street, that’s concentration.

I’m really exciting. I smile a lot, I win a lot, and I’m really sexy.

For us, family is number one, family is important. It lasts longer than a sport, five, ten years from now, I’ll be gone, there will be someone else. But she’ll (Venus) still be my sister.

They said

When she’s hitting a first serve, I suppose it’s a little bit like Pete (Sampras). The guys just don’t know where he’s going. I didn’t really ever have a good clue on where she’s going – Former world number one Lindsay Davenport on Serena’s devastating serve.

I like for her to have variety in her life, just maybe schedule it better and this one loves to win at everything – Oracene Williams on her daughter Serena.

In the short term you may be happy with the various things going on in your life, but I wonder whether 20 years from now you might reflect on your career and regret not putting 100 per cent of yourself into tennis. Because, whether you want to admit it or not, these distractions are tarnishing your legacy – Tennis Legend Chris Evert on Serena Williams having interests outside of tennis that may be affecting her game.