In the US Open 2014 Serena Williams beat Caroline Wozniacki in the Final to win her 18th Grand Slam. As Williams lied down on the court hands up in jubilation and eyes expressing disbelief of the feat she had just achieved, pundits acknowledged her undying drive to brave all odds. She had not only catapulted herself into the elite company of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova by winning the 18th major, she had put an end to the drought of her Grand Slam haul in 2014.
On account of a strong performance for the rest of the season that included the Asian swing and her fifth WTA title at Singapore Williams cemented her contention in the run for the Greatest of All Time in the following season of 2015.
With a ball, a racquet, a hope and some drama Williams made her way to 19 Grand Slams
There is never a dearth of drama when Serena Williams takes to the court. In the Australian Open 2015 Final against Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams lost a point in the beginning of the Second Set owing to hindrance on her behalf. Williams, during her US Open Final in 2011 against Sam Stosur, had taken on Chair Umpire Eva Azderaki for calling hindrance.
But this time around Williams shook it off and retained her focus – a marked improvement in the way she handled her emotions on court.
Even the way Williams capped her 19th Grand Slam win at the Australian Open this year was nothing less than dramatic. On Match Point Williams thought she had served an ace but was amused to hear a let call a moment later. On second serve Williams produced another monstrous serve that dodged the net and flew out wide. Out of Sharapova’s wingspan the serve registered as an ace but Williams celebrated only after a second confirmation from the Umpire and acknowledgement from her box.
Be it flawless technique mastered through years of practice and dedication or raw emotions that fuel her passion and stoke her fire, Williams lays them all down. This winning formula that is complex to fathom but inspiring to see unfold put her second behind Steffi Graf in the list of All-time Greats in the Open Era.
Forgiveness and love for the game saw Williams end a 14-year hiatus at Indian Wells
The finals of the Indian Wells in 2001 was not a pretty scene for the Williams family. The reaction of the schizophrenic crowd to the Williams clan at the beginning and the end of the Final showed that racism was still alive and kicking in the US in the wake of the 21st Century.
A clairvoyant Richard Williams had conditioned both his daughters for trying moments like these. In his book ‘Black and White: The Way I See it”, Williams mentions that he would bring kids from nearby schools and make them hurl racial abuses at the Williams sisters as they practiced. He did this to ensure both the sisters learnt to keep distractions at bay and play their game from a very young age.
In 2001 at the Indian Wells, as the 19-year-old Serena Williams readied herself for the Final against Kim Clijsters, the mostly white crowd booed as Venus Williams and Richard Williams made their way into the stands. Appalling to say the least the slurs, accusations and abuses continued to fill the stadium but Serena Williams, despite being in her teens, took it all her stride. She was ready for it. Over the next couple of hours she crafted the most befitting reply to the boorish crowd.
Serena Williams won the Final in a tightly contest 3 Setter and waved to the crowd to acknowledge the iota of support she received. She ran to the court-side to hug a tearful Venus Williams and her jubilant dad. Together the trio made a statement but Serena Williams never returned to Indian Wells for the next 14 years.
With forgiveness in her heart, Williams made a return to Indian Wells in March this year. As she walked on to the court to play her first match in 14 years she was visibly emotional.
This time around she was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation. Williams took care of business as usual. Her Quarter Final victory over Sabine Lisicki helped her clock her 700th win but she had to retire ahead of her Semi Final due to a knee injury. As she spoke to the crowd about her withdrawal the crowd sounded encouraging and it was a redemption of sorts for Williams.
Grand Slam No.20 and the brewing of Serena Slam 2.0
The Clay swing was not so great for Williams. Plagued by injuries, Williams looked vulnerable on her serves and was handed the first defeat of the season by Petra Kvitova in the Mutua Madrid Open. Her run at Rome was also cut short by a nagging elbow injury.
Williams’ conquest of her 20th Grand Slam at the French Open was nothing but easy. Playing with injuries she had to come from a set down, for the fourth time in five matches, to win her Semi Final and be within touching distance from a 20th Grand Slam title. In the Final, she passed the Safarova test in flying colors but the reaction was subdued. She had set the stage for another Serena Slam and once again she had to shoulder the burden of success that came along with her Roland Garros victory.
Achieving the Serena Slam 2.0: the purple patch on the green grass
Williams achieved the Serena Slam 2.0 at Wimbledon this year. True to the colors of the All England Club she found her purple patch on the pristine grass just in time to achieve this feat. After ignominious defeats in 2013 and 2014, Williams did well to overcome some stiff resistance from Heather Watson, Venus Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova to reach the Final this year.
In the Final Williams had to fend off a spirited Garbine Muguruza and she did so in straight sets. With her 6th Wimbledon title, the American edged closer to tennis history as she stood just one Grand Slam away from emulating the great Steffi Graf on two counts. One, achieving the Career Grand Slam and two, becoming the Greatest of All Time in the Open Era.
All set to turn 22, Williams floundered when it mattered the most
The Hard Court season was a mixed bag for Williams. In the Canadian Open at Toronto, Belinda Bencic defeated Williams thereby snapping the 19 match winning streak. However, Williams won a 2nd title at Cincinnati the following week and rekindled the buzz of her winning the Grand Slam No.22 and the Career Grand Slam at the US Open 2015.
For the first time in history the tickets for the Women’s Final were sold out earlier than the Men’s Final. The impending history that Serena Williams was expected to create made every commentator and interviewer parrot the same question – Would Williams win the US Open 2015?
Williams tried keeping the pressure at bay by keeping her responses terse. A win at the US Open 2015 would have seen her tennis career come a full circle. After all the US Open 1999 was her first Grand Slam victory as a 17-year-old. But it was not to be.
Williams ran out of gas physically, mentally and tactically against an inspired Roberta Vinci in the Semi Final. Williams did not play freely and committed a lot of unforced errors to lose the match in 3 Sets. After the shocking upset, Williams hurried off the court but did not forget her trademark finger wag that indicated that she would be back.
Following a brief 3 minute post-match interview by Serena Williams, news about her being a sore loser made the rounds. It is unfortunate for anyone who has known her incredible comeback stories to say so. Serena Williams has always been all about winning. Her defeat to Vinci was just the third of the entire season.
No one knows better than Serena Williams the art of braving odds. Ingrained into her since childhood, Williams has always embraced adversity. Though with every adversity she hits a plateau, she does exceedingly well to overcome insurmountable obstacles to accomplish more greatness. She may have left a void in few slices of history for now but her break from the rest of the season to heal – body and soul – will leave her well prepared to achieve greatness that has been deferred but hopefully not denied in future.