Friday 10 to 1: Venus and Serena’s defining moments
Linking in with the release of their documentary, we take a look at the top 10 defining moments of Venus and Serena’s careers.
Have any players ever drawn more attention to tennis than Venus and Serena Williams?
The sensational siblings, the subject of the highly anticipated documentary Venus and Serena (released on Thursday on iTunes) have revolutionised the game, polarised fans and opinion, and introduced a whole raft of new fans to the game.
Their Cinderella story – starting with their rise from a Los Angeles ghetto to the very top of tennis – is highlighted by stunning achievements, world firsts, controversies, injuries, illness and remarkable comebacks.
And there simply wasn’t enough room in today’s 10 to 1 list to include all their important career events – narrowly missing the cut was their first professional meeting at Australin Open 1998, their rise to world No.1 and 2 in June 2002, and Venus’ remarkable comeback to win Wimbledon in 2005 after several years of injuries.
After much careful consideration, today we look, in chronological order, at the top 10 defining moments of Venus and Serena’s careers.
The tennis world didn’t know what hit it when Venus rocked up to Flushing Meadows in 1997, all beads, attitude, raw power and jaw-dropping athleticism. And it appeared her opponents didn’t know either, as the 17-year-old mowed down all opposition to reach her first Grand Slam final. Controversy has never been far from the Williams sisters, and it began at this tournament when Venus and semifinal opponent Irina Spirlea engaged in a court-side chest bump (instigated by the belligerent Romanian). Yet Venus went on to win regardless, jumping and screaming for joy as the enormity of the achievement sunk in. It took the crafty world No.1 Martina Hingis to subdue Venus in the final, the beginning of one of women’s tennis’ most storied rivalries.
Like Venus two years earlier, Serena began to assert herself on the tour in a big way in 1999, cracking the top 10 prior to the US Open. And when she arrived in New York, her serve, power and mental strength all came together. In a formidable display en route to the final, Serena came from a set down to defeat Kim Clijsters, Conchita Martinez and Monica Seles before upending Lindsay Davenport in a three-set semifinal. In the final, it was again Hingis across the other side of the net, but unlike Venus, Serena was able to overpower the Swiss to become the first Grand Slam winner from the Williams family. Interesting to note: Venus’ stony expression in the player box as Serena hoists the trophy …
Although she was widely tipped to be the first of the sisters to claim Grand Slam glory, it didn’t take long for Venus to join Serena in the winners’ circle. Playing inspired tennis on the lawns of the All England Club in 2000, Venus stormed to the title in the finest possible style, upended world No.1 Hingis – her first win over the Swiss in Grand Slam play – in the quarterfinals, brushing aside Serena in the semis and then defeating second-ranked Davenport for the title, leaping with joy as she clinched match point. The title marked the beginning of a stunning 35-match winning streak and saw her honoured as the WTA Player of the Year for 2000.
Things took a nasty turn for Venus and Serena when Venus pulled out of the sisters’ highly anticipated semifinal at Indian Wells in 2001. When Serena fronted up for the final against Kim Clijsters, the packed crowd was merciless, booing Venus and father Richard as they walked to their seats to watch, and booing Serena throughout the contest. Though the “source” of the booing was apparently due to the crowd’s displeasure at Richard’s supposed fixing of the outcome of his daughters’ matches, Richard claimed it was racism, and said that racist insults had been delivered to him during the match. Though it has never been proved, the sisters have never returned to Indian Wells, their 12-year boycott (and counting) the most significant and notable in tennis history.
Richard had been predicting it for some time, and at the US Open in 2001, it finally happened – with Serena’s demolition of Hingis and Venus’ destruction of Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals, the sisters set up with first ever all-Williams Grand Slam final. Staged on Saturday night for the first time in women’s final history, the sisters drew an unprecedented TV audience for their clash. Despite the match being a fizzer – Venus won 6-2 6-4 – history was created that night as they became the first sisters since Maud and Lillian Watson in 1884 to do battle in a major final.
That US Open final was shortly followed by a period of Williams sister domination. Beginning with the 2002 French Open, Venus and Serena contested four straight Grand Slam finals and became the world’s first and second-ranked players. Yet Serena come out on top of all of them, and when she won the title at Australian Open 2003 – beating Venus in an entertaining three-set final – she became just the fifth player in history (along with Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf) to hold all four major titles. Incredibly, the win almost never eventuated – Serena battled tooth and nail just to survive her first round match against Emelie Loit, and in the semifinals, she recovered from 5-1 and two match points down in the third set to beat Kim Clijsters. That match established Serena’s ability, even penchant, for recovering from major deficits to record famous victories.
Many had written Serena off when she arrived at Australian Open 2007, out of condition and ranked No.81 when she played her first match on Rod Laver Arena. After two years during which she suffered a multitude of injuries and depression, it seemed her career could possibly be over. Yet write Serena off at your peril. The negative sentiment and commentary seemed to fuel the younger Williams, and she channelled that into her matches, dispatching a string of quality players before utterly annihilating top seed Maria Sharapova 6-1 6-2 in the final. The win propelled her to world No.14 and re-established Serena as a force once again on tour. By 2008, she had reclaimed the No.1 ranking with victory at the US Open.
While the US Open in 2008 had been the scene of a great victory for Serena, in 2009, it marked the site of one of her lowest points. Frustrated with her inability to subdue Kim Clijsters – who incredibly, was controlling their marquee semifinal despite being an unranked wildcard just three tournaments into her comeback from childbirth – Serena was in a foul mood all night; there was yelling and screaming at herself, and a warning for cracking her racquet after dropping the first set. The real drama, however, came deep in the second set, after Serena was famously foot-faulted on a second serve, handing a pair of match points to the Belgian. Serena turned to the lineswoman in question and unleashed a tirade, verbally threatening her and demonstrating extremely intimidating body language. When the lineswoman reported Serena’s actions to the chair umpire, it prompted the calling up of the tournament referees, who awarded Serena a point penalty. Being on match point, it ended the contest, sending Clijsters into the final and Serena stalking off court to a cacophony of boos.
2011 marked a year of personal turmoil for the sisters, with Venus struggling to cope with the affects of her newly diagnosed auto-immune condition Sjogren’s syndrome, and Serena hospitalised for blood clots on her lungs and a haematoma. They made tentative steps back onto the tour in mid 2011, but by 2012, both were thankfully back to near full strength. They demonstrated that at the London Olympics, combining to win gold in the women’s doubles and becoming the first players in history to win three Olympic golds in the same event. With Serena winning gold in the singles, it capped a magic week in London for the Williams family.
Serena’s 2012 season was one of the most dominant in history – after a successful first half of the year in which she claimed the Charleston and Madrid titles, she caught fire in the second half, winning at Wimbledon, Stanford, the Olympics, the US Open and the WTA Championships and losing just one match in six months. Yet the only thing missing was the top ranking. Despite her exploits, Serena found herself ranked third behind Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, players she had combined to go 8-0 against in 2012. But come Doha 2013, the No.1 ranking was in sight – she just had to defeat the dangerous Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals to take it. What ensued was a stunning match, in which Serena yet again recovered from near-certain defeat – down 4-1 in the third – to eventually win. Sinking to her knees and shedding tears, the win, and the No.1 ranking, marked the complete return from her deathbed to the top of the sport.