All her life, Serena Williams has followed her sister Venus Williams. She tagged along onto the tennis courts of Compton where her older, taller and athletically-gifted big sister received the applause and accolades of Dad and Mom and the attention of coaches.
She wanted to play tennis like her sister. Serena lived and breathed, trying to be just like Venus.
Everyone associated with the sisters soon recognized their immense potential as their father oversaw every aspect of the their education and their development on the tennis courts. When Venus led the way into professional tennis, Serena followed.
Like most younger sisters, however, Serena was not content to remain in the shadow of sister Venus. As the stronger and more gifted athlete, Serena soon overtook her big sister on every surface except, perhaps, grass.
Conflict exists between sisters, especially those closest in age. They compete for attention at home, in school and in social settings. It is human nature.
But these two sisters competed on some of the largest tennis stages of the world, and the natural conflict between sisters became complicated, at times, by Venus' overwhelming need to look out for her sister and by Serena's internal guilt in defeating her sister so publicly.
Ultimately, the sisters reconciled their public rivalry inside their private closeness by being great partners on court in doubles and even greater cheerleaders for each other on court.
With Venus’ recent announcement that she has Sjogren’s Syndrome, Serena is now playing for herself and for Venus––until Venus can once again play for herself.
One of the goals providing impetus for Serena are her 13 career singles Grand Slam triumphs and her ambition to win No. 14.
Winning the 2011 US Open will give the younger Williams sister her next Slam trophy––dedicated to sister Venus.
On a road to the top of women's tennis that began in 1999 as Serena won her first slam title at the US Open at age 17, take a look at how far the teenager from Compton has come in 12 years.
Slam No 1: Serena Williams won 6-3, 7-6
After Steffi Graf retired and before the Williams sisters began to dominate, Martina Hingis reigned over women’s tennis for a short time.
During that time, Hingis won five Grand Slam championships and held tight to the No. 1 ranking for 209 weeks.
There was no love lost between Hingis and the woman who would replace her at the top of the women’s game—Serena Williams. The two met 13 times, with Williams coming out on top seven times.
This rivalry had claws.
In 1999, Serena came into the US Open as the No. 7 seed. Hingis was the No. 1 seed. After Serena defeated defending champion Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals, she faced Hingis who had defeated sister Venus in her semifinal contest.
Serena, at age 17, won her first Grand Slam title the very first time she appeared in a final. Serena Williams became the first African-American to win a Grand Slam title since Althea Gibson in the 1950s.
Serena’s power overcame Hingis’ finesse, and the world No. 1 began to realize what the future had in store for her. Ultimately, Hingis did not survive the rise of the women’s power game.
This win was the first of Serena Williams’ total of 13 Grand Slam singles titles.
The younger Williams sister beat Venus to the winner’s circle, but their rivalry was just beginning. Serena had just served her loudest wake-up call to date.
Slam No. 2: Serena Williams won 7-5, 6-3
After Serena triumphed at the US Open in 1999, becoming the first of the Williams sisters to win a Slam, Venus came on strong, winning Wimbledon and the US Open in 2000 and 2001.
Venus had arrived, winning Slams as predicted.
The sisters were on a collision course, however, both advancing to the final of the 2002 French Open.
They had met previously in a Slam final at the US Open in 2001 when Venus held on to win 6-2, 6-4. It was one of two times that Venus would defeat Serena in a Slam final.
At the 2002 French Open, Venus was the No. 2 seed and Serena was seeded No. 3.
In order to reach the final, Serena Williams had to get by the No. 1 seed Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals. Capriati, by the way, had very little good to say about the Williams sisters after her defeat.
Venus’ efforts in the final against her sister seemed lacking to those watching. She could not seem to find her wicked serve, scoring no aces and securing no winners throughout the match on her backhand.
It was an error-prone awkward match for both, even though Serena held on to win 7-5, 6-3.
The sisters, especially, Venus, were not comfortable competing against each other. That would be true throughout their careers.
Slam No. 3: Serena Williams wins 7-6, 6-3
Venus and Serena Williams came into the Wimbledon final as the top two seeds.
Whatever emotions complicated their matches with one another, this Wimbledon final was worthy of the build-up and the execution as a championship match.
Serena, with her hair bleached and pulled back severely from her face grimaced with every powerful stroke she sent across the net at sister Venus.
Venus grew increasingly frustrated as the match progressed, unable to counter the power her younger sister unloaded on her.
For the second Slam final in a row, Serena was relentless, determined to surpass her sister and stay ahead in the rankings race––as the two clung to the top two spots in women’s tennis.
The Williams sisters continued to lead the pack in women’s tennis. Venus had defeated Justine Henin to reach the Wimbledon final in 2002 while Serena took out Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo to reach the final.
A year ago, Serena had lost in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, undone by unforced errors and the criticism of the media.
Serena credited her turnaround on court in 2002 to maturity and a newfound mental toughness.
Serena would go on to prove that whatever new plateau she reached in her internal bargaining, it reaped huge dividends for the new No. 1 in 2002.
Slam No. 4: Serena Williams wins 6-4, 6-3
For the third consecutive Slam, the sisters, Venus and Serena Williams, would meet in the final––this time at the 2002 US Open.
Venus came in as the defending champion, but she was unable to hold back her younger sister in this final on Arthur Ashe Stadium in September of 2002.
In order to reach the final, Serena Williams had to overcome the No. 4 seed American Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 7-5 in the semifinals while Venus faced down Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 to reach her third consecutive US Open final.
Once again, the sisters failed to bring out the very best in each other during the US Open final in 2002.
Serena seemed to love the spotlight while Venus accepted it.
Serena loved the competition and the winning while Venus regarded it more as a duty to herself and the sporting world.
Serena loved winning while Venus loved completion and doing her very best.
Serena was always the extrovert while Venus the quiet introvert with enormous talent and an unbelievable wingspan.
Even though they had to wait until football had concluded for the day before their match began, Serena and Venus Williams proved once again that they were the two best female athletes on the planet in 2002.
Slam No. 5: Serena Williams wins 7-6, 3-6, 6-4
The Williams sisters met for their fourth consecutive Slam final in Melbourne in 2003.
With her victory there, Serena Williams would win her “Serena Slam,” holding all four Slam titles at one time. The titles were, however, not won in the same calendar year, as everyone rushed to point out.
Steffi Graf was last woman to win a calendar year Slam––which she claimed in 1988.
In order to reach the final, Serena defeated Kim Clijsters 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the semifinals while Venus upended another Belgian in her semifinal. Venus sent the No. 5 seed Justine Henin packing 6-3, 6-3.
Once again, the crowd watched in awkward ambivalence as the sisters did battle, not wishing to cheer for one sister over the other.
Even with the match going to three sets, everyone sensed that Serena would win because she wanted it more.
After the match, Venus admitted that she needed to be more like her sister. It was at this juncture that Venus began trying to bolster her ego and her desire meter.
Slam No. 6: Serena Williams wins 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
Neither sister reached the final of the French Open in 2003, but they were back in their customary spot during the Wimbledon championships of 2003––both reaching the final.
They had been in the final of Wimbledon for four consecutive years. With Serena’s second consecutive win, they each had two Wimbledon trophies.
The sisters were dead even at the All England Club.
Once again, to reach the final, the sisters had to overcome the Belgians who were seeded two and three. Venus had fallen to the No. 4 ranking.
Venus took out Kim Clijsters 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, while Serena took out Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-3, 6-2.
During this final, however, Venus was injured, which added to the normal anxiety of those watching the sisters play with already conflicted emotions.
Venus, who seemed to be hitting the ball with that renewed confidence she promised, aggravated a strained abdominal muscle during her match with Kim Clijsters.
Venus’ injury caused Serena to falter uncharacteristically, and Venus was able to play well enough early on to take the first set.
Serena, however, rallied to win. Her celebration, though, was subdued, as might be expected.
The sisters would meet again during future Wimbledon finals but never again in a championship match on any other major tennis stage.
Slam No. 7: Serena Williams wins 2-6, 6-3, 6-0
Seeded No. 7 in 2005, Serena Williams did not have an easy path to the Australian Open final.
The younger Williams sister met and defeated Amelie Mauresmo in the quarterfinals 6-2, 6-2 and then had to battle against Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, finally winning that match 2-6, 7-5, 8-6.
Serena had to fight off three match points to defeat Sharapova.
The win propelled Serena into the final against fellow American Lindsay Davenport. Serena took charge, winning that match 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.
Despite little preparation coming into Melbourne because of a torn abdominal muscle which occurred in November, Serena Williams overcame Davenport in the final after losing the opening set.
Serena, who had just won her seventh major, assured reporters that tennis was her priority once again now that her injuries were behind her––the abdominal tear plus the knee surgery that kept her out of action for about eight months.
While Serena’s interests expanded beyond tennis at this point, the sport would remain a priority.
Injuries, however, would constantly interfere with her training and preparation going forward.
Slam No. 8: Serena Williams wins, 6-1, 6-2
Serena Williams entered the 2007 Australian Open unseeded.
The younger Williams sister was overweight and out of shape, coming back to the Australian Open after a long layoff with substantial knee injuries and personal problems.
Serena had not played tennis on tour since the 2006 US Open until she entered a small tournament prior to the Australian Open.
Serena lost in Tasmania to Sybille Bammer in the quarterfinals.
Ranked at No. 81, Serena Williams defeated six ranked players during her arduous journey through the draw.
By summarily dismissing Sharapova in the final, Williams claimed her eighth major and announced her return to the top of the women’s game.
Her play in the final rounds was relentless as Serena refused to lose a match.
She was proving something to herself as well as the rest of the world as they watched Serena overcome her personal demons.
After winning this tournament, Serena’s ranking rose to world No. 14. Serena promised the press again that she was back.
Slam No. 9: Williams wins 6-4, 7-5
The sisters did meet in this event, but not in the finals. Serena, seeded No. 4, and Venus, seeded No. 7, met in the quarterfinals of the 2008 US Open with Serena advancing by defeating her older sister 7-6, 7-6.
Serena went on to defeat Dinara Safina in the semifinals 6-3, 6-2 before she met Jelena Jankovic in the finals of the 2008 US Open.
Jankovic tried mightily to hold back the Williams power but squandered four set points serving at 5-4 in the second set.
Serena went on win 10 of the final 16 points to secure her ninth major championship, taking back the No. 1 ranking in the process––but briefly.
Jankovic only got to hold the No. 1 ranking herself for one week. She would, however, regain it shortly.
But for now, Serena was back on top. The journey back to the world No. 1 ranking had been a hard one for the youngest Williams sister, who fell at one point below the Top 100 players in the world.
She had suffered injuries and personal tragedies in the years since 2003 when Serena first climbed to the top spot.
Serena would go on to reign near the top until another strange injury sidelined her.
Slam No. 10: Serena Williams wins 6-0, 6-3
Still, Serena was not ranked No. 1 when she entered the Australian Open in 2009. The No. 1 seed was Jelena Jankovic, who fell in the fourth round at Melbourne in 2009.
Venus was also in attendance at the 2009 Australian Open, but she went out in the second round.
Serena, however, who had a real fondness for the Aussie Open, made her way through the draw to the final once again.
Serena overcame Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals in a tough three-set contest, 5-7, 7-5, 6-1. In the semifinals, Serena faced Elena Dementieva, defeating her 6-3, 6-4.
Dinara Safina seemed to crumble under the weight of the moment and the opponent who never shows the opposition any mercy. The final between Serena and Safina lasted less than an hour.
The win gave Serena her 10th Slam championship trophy and her fourth Australian Open title.
It also sent Serena Williams back into the No. 1 ranking.
Slam No. 11: Serena Williams wins 7-6, 6-2
The Williams sisters once again met for a final on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
They had met each other at the All England Club one year ago for the ladies final, which Venus won in straight sets, defeating her sister 7-5, 6-4.
In 2009, however, it was Serena’s turn to win one, and she went for it, winning 7-6, 6-2, stealing Venus’ opportunity to win her sixth Wimbledon crown.
Serena, however, was severely challenged in her semifinal match against Elena Dementieva. The Russian was inches away from winning. Serena managed to hang on, winning 6-7, 7-5, 8-6.
Venus meanwhile, took care of the No. 1 seed at this event, Dinara Safina, in straight sets, 6-1, 6-0 during their semifinal contest.
In the final, it was Serena who emerged as the winner.
Venus and Serena matched each other stroke for stroke in the first set with Venus mistiming a slam off Serena’s racket during their first-set tiebreaker. A lob gave Serena the set.
The second set was over in short time with Serena denying the defending champion a repeat.
It marked Serena’s 11th win over sister Venus. The win also gave Serena her 11th career Grand Slam victory.
Slam No. 12: Serena Williams Wins 6-4, 3-6, 6-2
Justine Henin retired from women’s tennis in May of 2008, just prior to the start of the French Open where the Belgian was the defending champion.
Henin returned to action in 2010 and remarkably advanced to the final of the Australian Open with a wild card entry. There, she met Serena Williams .
Williams had defeated Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. The lady from Belarus gave Serena quite a battle.
In the next round, Li Na of China gave Serena all she could handle as well. Serena held on to win 7-6, 7-6.
Severely bound, with her right knee and left thigh taped as well as her left wrist, Serena battled her way through her final match with Henin, edging her out 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
Williams happily collapsed on the court at the conclusion of the match.
It was Serena’s fifth Australian Open championship and her 12th career Grand Slam singles title.
It pulled Serena even with Billie Jean King, six behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, each with 18 career singles Slam titles.
While Henin would retire again before another year rolled around, Serena held onto her No. 1 ranking and moved on to the next Slam.
Slam No. 13: Serena Williams Wins 6-3, 6-2
It was like old times again with Serena Williams as the No. 1 seed and Venus Williams as the No. 2 seed, both ladies making their way to Wimbledon in 2010.
Both advanced to the quarterfinals where Venus was upset by Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, 6-2, 6-3. It was Pironkova who overcame Zvonareva to reach the final where she would face Serena Williams.
Serena had to overcome Li Na in her quarterfinal match and Petra Kvitova in the semifinals to advance to face Zvonareva.
The Russian offered little resistance in their final match, going down 6-3, 6-2. Zvonareva had no weapons to hurt Serena or even slow her down.
Serena’s serve was especially dominant during the fortnight. She never dropped a set throughout the tournament.
It was after the conclusion of the 2010 Wimbledon championships that Serena cut her foot on broken glass, eventually requiring surgery.
Serena was out for almost a year with the surgery on her foot, plus the complications she suffered with pulmonary embolism.
Returning to play at Wimbledon in 2011 where she went out in the fourth round, Serena Williams is now playing at the 2011 US Open, hoping to win Slam No. 14 for herself and for her sister Venus.