The First Victory (1997)
Her older sister Venus made her pro debut ahead of Serena, but the younger Williams sibling had long been tipped to be the better player. She was just 16 years old in 1997 when she recorded her first professional main draw win. at the Ameritech Cup in Chicago. She quickly followed that up with two more wins, including one over Monica Seles, before losing in the semifinals.
First Grand Slam title (1999)
Williams won her first title the hard way, beating world No. 4 (Monica Seles), No. 2 (Lindsey Davenport) and No. 1 (Martina Hingis) on her way to the US Open title in 1999. Hingis was the best player in the world until the rise of the Williams sisters, and the victory confirmed that a new era had begun.
Indian Wells (2001)
The Williams sisters helped transform a white-dominated sport, but there were ugly incidents along the way. In 2001, rumors circulated in Indian Wells that Venus had pulled out of a match against Serena to avoid facing her sister. Serena was subsequently mercilessly booed by the crowd in her home state in the final against Kim Clijsters. There have also been allegations that the sisters have been racially abused by some fans. Serena didn’t return to Indian Well until 2015. Venus returned the following year.
Serena Slam (2003)
Williams couldn’t match Steffi Graf’s performances in 1988 when the German won all four Majors in a calendar year. But she won four consecutive Grand Slam titles, starting with her first French Open title in 2002 and ending with the Australian Open in early 2003. Dubbed Serena Slam, she confirmed her greatness. Another notable feat came at the London Olympics in 2012, when she became the first player in history to win all four majors and the Olympics in both singles and doubles during her career.
US Open (2009)
Williams shared two qualities with compatriot John McEnroe: a strong focus on winning and a temper that often exploded on the court. During a tense semi-final against Clijsters at Flushing Meadows in 2009, Williams was called up for a questionable foot fault. She turned on the linesman and threatened to shove the ball down her throat. “I know you don’t believe me, but I used to be worse,” Williams said after the match she lost. The US Open in 2018 saw more controversy when she was docked a game in the final after repeated clashes with referee Carlos Ramos. She lost the match against Naomi Osaka and later accused Ramos of sexism.
Australian Open (2017)
Williams broke Graf’s Open-era record with her 23rd Grand Slam singles title after her win in Melbourne. However, Margaret Court’s overall record of 24 remains just out of reach. Williams’ victory was made all the more remarkable when it was revealed she was eight weeks pregnant at the time.