An Ode to Serena Williams

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The 26th of September, 1981 was like any other normal day. On this very day in the city of Saginaw, in the state of Michigan, USA, a baby girl was born to a couple, who were just like any other ordinary couples out there. And well….. the rest is history! Thirty-six years have gone by since then, and what we have with us right now, is someone really special and legendary- Serena Williams. On the occasion of her 36th birthday, let’s take a look at what sets her apart from other players who have graced the sport.

1) Her dominance over her closest rivals

While every era has had its own share of great rivalries, something that sets Serena apart is her record against her fellow peers. While Serena just began her storied career, another tennis legend, Steffi Graf was approaching the end of hers. However, the two did meet twice, splitting their meetings. The only players to beat Williams more than four times are: her sister Venus Williams (11-14), Jennifer Capriati (7-10), Martina Hingis (6-7), Justine Henin (6-8) and Elena Dementieva (5-7). None of them however have winning head-to-head records against Serena. As a matter of fact, amongst players who have played her more than once, only two players have a winning record against her (Sybille Bammer had a 2-0 record and Aranxta Sanchez Vicario led their head to head 4-3). What’s more, her record against her recent rivals stands very strong: 19-2 against Maria Sharapova winning her last 18 matches including a 6-0 6-1 drubbing in the 2012 Olympic finals, 17-4 against Victoria Azarenka, 10-0 against Aga Radwanska, 11-1 against Li Na, 10-1 against Caroline Wozniacki, 6-2 against Angelique Kerber and 3-2 against Garbine Muguruza. During the years 2012-14 she earned 18,21 and 13 wins against the Top 10 respectively. This dominance displayed by Serena over the years especially against player who have been in the World’s Top 3 simply underlines her dominance of the sport!

2) Her never ending list of records

Serena and records seem to go hand in hand. She holds the record for the most number of singles Grand Slams won by a player in the Open Era with her 23 Slam titles. She has also won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles and 2 Mixed Doubles crowns. What’s more, she even has three Olympic doubles gold (with Sister Venus in ’00,’08,’12) and an Olympic singles gold to her name. Her longevity has helped her break many records which were once thought to be unachievable.
In 2017, Serena became the first player, male or female, to win more than 80 matches at 3 of the 4 grand slam events. She has 81 match wins at the Australian Open, 86 at Wimbledon and 89 match wins at the US Open. Williams holds a 316-43 singles record in grand slams, winning 114 of those since turning 30 years old. Her 316 grand slam singles match wins is equal to Roger Federer and the most in tennis history, for men and women. Her 2017 Australian Open crown was her 10th grand slam singles title since reaching her 30th birthday. With wins in the mixed doubles events at the Australian Open and the French Open, she could complete a Box Set of Slams (winning the singles, same gender doubles, and mixed doubles in each of the four grand slam tournaments).
In 2015, Williams won 4 consecutive grand slam titles for the second time in her career, which she called as the Serena Slam, a feat she also accomplished in 2002-2003. She and Steffi Graf are the only two players in the Open Era to win 4 consecutive grand slam singles titles on 2 separate occasions. She also holds the record for being the oldest player to have been ranked No.1 in the world at 35 years, 6 months and 29 days. She also shares the record for the most consecutive weeks as the World No.1 with Steffi Graf, having held the spot for a span of 186 consecutive weeks. The list of her achievements could go on and on because everytime she takes to court, a record is broken!

3) Overcoming all the hardships

Serena has had her own share of ups and downs throughout her career. How could one forget the Indian Wells incident in 2001? The final between Serena and Kim Clijsters was marred by the behaviour of the crowd towards Williams and her family. There were racist chants during the presentation ceremony. Elena Dementieva, a fellow professional player, said during a post match interview after losing to Venus at the Indian Wells quarterfinals in 2001, that Richard Williams decided the results between the two sisters. The crowd accused the Williams family for having fixed the matches between Serena and Venus, after Venus withdrew before their semifinal match. The Williams family vowed to never return back to the scene inspite of the tournament being a Premier Mandatory Event later in the future. However, fourteen years later Serena Williams returned back in 2015 after having been influenced by Nelson Mandela’s words. This boycott of a kind was one of the biggest in tennis history.
She has been at the receiving end of racial slurs multiple times, with people even questioning her gender; this even includes Shamil Tarpischev, a former player and former Russian Tennis Fed Cup captain who referred to the Williams sisters as the ‘Williams Brothers’.
If this wasn’t enough, in 2003 Serena’s eldest sister Yetunde Price was murdered. While this took its toll on Serena, she did well to bounce back from the loss of one of her dear sisters. In 2011, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with bilateral pulmonary embolisms following foot surgery. Pulmonary embolism is the medical term for what happens when some type of material — most often a blood clot — travels to the lungs and gets stuck in one of the arteries there. This blockage can cause parts of the lung to die, making it difficult to get oxygen to all the other parts of the body. The condition can life-threatening if not treated with medication or surgical procedures. She skipped the remainder of her 2010 season undergoing surgery and returned back the next with even more intent. Her ranking plummeted to a low of 169. However, this did not deter her and she won Wimbledon and the US Open in 2012 and went on a roll winning 8 of the possible 16 Slams during the 2012-15 seasons.
She was then chasing Steffi Graf’s record in 2015, having won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and later was standing just two matches away from winning all four majors in a single season and tying Graf’s record of 22 Slams. However, she took a surprising loss to Roberta Vinci in the semis of the US Open. The following year she was twice one match away from equalling Graf’s record, having lost in the finals of the Australian Open (to Angelique Kerber) and French Open to (Garbine Muguruza). She finally managed to break the jinx and equalled Graf’s record by winning Wimbledon that year.

4) The word ‘give up’ doesn’t exist in her dictionary!

Serena has always been an epitome of grit and determination. As she always says, “A match is never won until you win the last point.” Thrice she has won a Grand Slam having faced a match point over the course of the seven matches that she won to capture the crown (’03 Australian Open- saved 2 match points in the semis against Kim Clijsters, ’05 Australian Open-saved 3 match points in the semis against Maria Sharapova and ’09 Wimbledon- saved a match point in the semis against Elena Dementieva). Saving a match point and going all the way to win the Slam is no easy task. And to do it three times? Easier said than done! ). No wonder she is the only player ever to have achieved this unique feat. The French Open 2015 is the best example that showcases her mental strength, given that she lost a set in 5 of her 7 matches and came from behind to win in each of these matches. Winning matches against Serena has never been an easy task. She doesn’t give them to you, but instead, you need to earn it from her!

5) The beginning of a new phase

In the month of January this year, before the Australian Open, Serena received the welcoming news of a baby with her fiancé Alexis Ohanian. However, keeping this news only amongst her well knit circle, she participated in the Australian Open and won the title without dropping a set, beating elder sister Venus in the finals. This definitely is going to be etched in history forever- to win a Grand Slam with a baby inside you, is no piece of cake! And yet Serena continues to impress! She even continued to train while she was in her seventh month of pregnancy!

On September 1st, Serena and Alex welcomed their little angel Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

While Serena did disclose that there were a few complications during the delivery, they both were doing fine. Now that Serena has Olympia by her side, it is to be seen how she makes her comeback, although she did say that she would return in time for the defense of her Australian Open title. Until then, let Serena cherish this new phase of motherhood!

Indeed, Serena has achieved so much, that one falls short of adjectives to describe this tennis great! While it was once thought that she may be nearing the twilight of her storied career, one thing is for sure, Serena will stop winning only when she feels like!
Here’s wishing Serena a very Happy Birthday!


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