There is no doubt about it: 2013 belonged to Serena Williams.
The youngest Williams sister was already a legend coming into this season, but with 11 titles (including two Grand Slams and the WTA Championships) and a 78-4 record that included 21 Top 10 wins, 34 breadsticks and 25 bagels, this year launched Serena into another stratosphere.
Serena has accomplished this all at 32 years old—already the oldest No. 1 in the history of the WTA.
As a reward, she also won a record-setting amount of money, a truly special way to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the WTA, as Courtney Nguyen of SI.com pointed out:
Serena Williams' 2013 season shatters the single-season WTA prize money record. First woman to crack $10M, takes home $12.38M. #wtachamps— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) October 27, 2013
The scariest part about all of this? According to Serena, she's only getting better—and her 18-match winning streak to close the season doesn't dispute that.
Last week, Serena finished the season on a high note, storming through the field at the WTA Championships in Istanbul without losing a match. She took out Angelique Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova easily in round robin play, before hitting what she described to The Guardian as "a wall" before her semifinal match against Jelena Jankovic.
Instead of succumbing to the exhaustion brought on by 80 matches, Serena fought through her fatigue. She scraped out a three-set win over Jankovic and then withstood an assault of winners from Li Na to win the final in three sets, finishing off her year with a bagel over the world No. 3.
She could hardly believe that she was the last one standing after such a year—but the truth remains that a tired Serena Williams is still better than the rest.
Serena: 'I can't believe I won, I was so tired. Did I really win? It's really awesome - it's such a special moment' #WTAChamps— TennisTV (@TennisTV) October 27, 2013
Along with the 78 wins and over $12 million in prize money, Serena has built up a nearly insurmountable lead in the rankings. She finished the year with 13,260 points. Victoria Azarenka, the No. 2 player, only had 8,046. With a margin that big, it's almost unfathomable that she began the year ranked No. 3.
Coming off of a strong finish to 2012 that saw her win Wimbledon, the Olympics, the U.S. Open and the WTA Championships, all eyes were on Serena—as they usually are—at the start of the year.
Since joining forces with coach (and rumored boyfriend) Patrick Mouratoglou after her 2012 first-round loss at the French Open, Serena had showed a dedication and passion to tennis that we hadn't seen from her before. However, many wondered if she would be able to keep up her dominance with her age increasing and Azarenka's form improving.
But she started out the year strong, winning her first tournament of the year in Brisbane without dropping a set. Unfortunately, she couldn't keep her good form going. She twisted her ankle in her first-round match at the Australian Open and eventually fell to Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals. In her next tournament in Doha, she finally was able to regain the No. 1 ranking but still lost to Azarenka in the finals.
After pulling out from her next tournament to rest her ankle, she returned to the tour in March at the Sony Open in Miami. She won her next five tournaments, even going undefeated in clay-court season and capturing the French Open title for the first time since 2002.
Sabine Lisicki did what seemed impossible, and took out Serena in the fourth round at Wimbledon, but Serena didn't let that derail her record-setting year.
How many Grand Slams do you think Serena will win in 2014?
She shocked everyone when she traveled to the small clay-court tournament in Bastad to rack up another clay title, and then switched right back to hard courts to win the Rogers Cup in Toronto. She then made the finals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, where she suffered her fourth and final loss of the year to Azarenka.
Serena finished off the year in style, capturing the U.S. Open, the China Open and the Billie Jean King trophy at the WTA Championships. She might not be able to admit that this was her best season, since she "only" won two slams as opposed to three in 2002, but she played in 20 more matches and her win percentage (95 percent) was higher than any other year in her career.
We've never seen Serena like this. Focused day in and day out. Determined to play her best tennis in each tournament, no matter how big or small. Chasing history with a vengeance and avoiding the ticking hands of Father Time.
Finally, Serena seems to love tennis as much as tennis loves her. Don't count on her going downhill anytime soon. She's a woman on a mission—we might as well just enjoy the greatness as long as it lasts.