Serena Williams, an extraordinary champion
Serena Williams has revolutionized women’s tennis during her 20-year reign. She has won almost everything, even if she is one title short of matching Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam victories.
Serena Williams “revolutionized tennis,” “opened the doors,” “invented intimidation,” and brought in the “business”, her former coach Patrick Mouratoglou told AFP in September 2021, explaining why her champion was the greatest player in history.
Serena Williams picked up her first racket at four, and only her sister Venus has, at times, challenged her superiority. This was the case in their childhood in the black ghetto of Compton, Los Angeles because Serena was 15 months younger and less eye-catching than her lanky sister.
In this family scenario, the father, Richard, had foreseen his daughters’ success. When a coach assured him that he had “the next female Michael Jordan” in Venus, then aged ten, he replied: “No, I have the next two.”
Father Williams is also a great character and has been the key figure in the careers of the Williams sisters, whom he has shaped from a young age after learning about coaching from books and videos. The story was told in a 2021 blockbuster film starring Will Smith as the father.
The media was talking about the Williams sisters’ phenomenon, and the New York Times had already done an article when they were not yet ten years old; the Williams sisters first scoured the circuit as a pair. Serena won the family’s first Grand Slam title, at the US Open in 1999, just before her 18th birthday. Then Venus became the world No. 1 in 2002, shortly before her sister. From the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian Open, four consecutive Grand Slam tournaments ended in the exact match: Williams versus Williams. This is unprecedented.
Dollars started flowing. Sports equipment manufacturers signed the two sisters to multi-million dollar contracts in their pre-teens, turning the lives of the family of nine upside down, as the parents had five other children from previous marriages.
The Williams sisters’ game was different. While Venus specialized in grass court at Wimbledon, where she won five times, Serena extended her dominance on all surfaces with a simple tactic: use her unrivalled power to hit as early and hard as possible and win by knockout. There was no question of letting herself be dragged into long rallies where her kilos of muscle would end up being heavy to carry.
Serena Williams has a fantastic service, reaching over 200 km/h and forehand. Confidence too. She is convinced that no one can beat her when she plays her best tennis. But life’s accidents have not always allowed her to express herself.
In 2003-2004, she was absent for eight months after a knee operation. Even though she was only 21 then, there were doubts about whether she would play tennis again, as she seemed to have other interests, such as fashion and television.
During the 2010 season, she cut her feet while stepping on broken glass, and in March 2011, a pulmonary embolism almost cost her life. Her setbacks, especially the tragedy that struck her family in September 2003 when her half-sister Yetunde was shot dead in Los Angeles, made her more human in the eyes of the public, some of whom were tired of seeing her win.
The Paris crowd was very mean when they whistled at her at the French Open, even though she has always said she loved Paris, where she has a flat. These people never imagined that ten years later, coached by Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou; she would be speaking in the language of Molière on center court.
With a superb record: 7 Australian Opens, 3 French Opens, 7 Wimbledon’s, 6 US Opens, as well as 14 Grand Slam doubles titles with her sister, and four Olympic gold medals (one single, three doubles) – Serena won her 23rd and last major in Australia in 2017. Since then, she has been chasing a 24th in dollars, which would tie Court’s Australian record, set between 1959 and 1975.
While some might have seen the birth of her first child in September 2017, after a complicated pregnancy and delivery, as a sign of early retirement, the youngest Williams has shown that her daughter Olympia is an additional motivation for her.
Serena Williams returned to competition in March 2018, regained her form and played four more finals, two at the US Open and two at Wimbledon, but lost them.