Where does Serena Williams, one of the best tennis players ever, come from? The answer to this question is the city of Saginaw, Michigan first gained world renown in the 1960’s Simon and Garfunkel hit ‘America’. In that song, it took ‘four days to hitch hike from…’, elevating the city from Mid-West mediocrity to rock icon status.It also happens to be the birthplace of Serena Williams, a city where she spent the early years of her life before moving with her family to California and eventually to Florida.In a way that Europeans may not always appreciate, Americans can (and do) with relative ease, uproot themselves and move from state to state in search of opportunity.This is exactly what the Williams father Richard did, dedicating his efforts to the advancement of his two daughters on the tennis court.
In terms of Serena’s career, it is the Florida period that is critical.It was there at the age of nine that she first enrolled in the Rick Macci tennis academy which set her career on its eventual trajectory.Her early tennis years were marked by the unorthodox strategy of her father’s decision to remove both herself and Venus from the national tournament circuit and have them develop their games under his tutelage – a high risk strategy but one that eventually paid off.
Serena was born in 1981, in an era when wooden racquets were still in vogue, when Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova dominated the game.Her own development and ascent in the game moved in parallel with the many technological developments in the game (mainly racquet technology) in the 1990’s and the Noughties.In this sense, she is a clear icon of the modern era.
Talking about Serena without reference to Venus is like pasta without wine or fish without chips – the two, particularly in their early careers, were almost a reflection of one another.Their frequent joint appearances at press conferences and their doubles partnership ensured an identifiable Williams ‘brand’, a phenomenon also fuelled by media hype. A year younger than Venus, Serena was slightly in the shadow of her elder sister in the early part of her career, but over the course of time, Serena has clearly surpassed Venus in terms of career achievements.Let’s have a closer look at those career achievements.
Serena has been in the professional game since 1995 and amazingly, eighteen years later, holds the position of World No.1.During those eighteen years, she has had many ups and downs and two major comebacks which would have proved insurmountable obstacles to most players.
Her Grand Slam stats are stellar.In Singles, she has 15 titles: 5 Wimbledon, 5 Australian, 5 US and one French as well as an Olympic Gold.In doubles, she holds 5 Wimbledons, 4 Australian and two apiece in the US and the French, all with her sister, Venus and in the mixed, she hold two Slam titles (US and Wimbledon).She holds two Olympics doubles golds. In overall WTA career titles, she holds 49 titles, putting her in sixth place of all time.
Her career Grand Slam titles, while impressive, are not as numerous as several others in the history of the women’s game, yet many hail her as the best women player ever.Why is that so? This view, it seems, revolves around three key factors.
First is her all-round play which is almost flawless – a powerful serve, strong return and ground strokes on both sides (particularly her forehand) and a huge will to win.If there is flaw, it has been her temperament which has occasionally let her down, resulting in several heavy fines and a measure of ill-will among her opponents.
The second factor has been her almost miraculous ability to stage not just one, but two major comebacks after illness and injury.In a competitive cauldron like professional tennis, this is no mean achievement and as of the present, she commands the World No. 1 position, a position she first held in 2002.
The third factor has to be her stellar career title count in Grand Slam events and in doubles which puts her head and shoulders above most in the history of the game.Comparing players across eras is always fraught with difficulty.Is she better than Navratilova or Graf or Court?Statistics can only reveal so much, although they are important.In a way that the men’s game can with certainty hail Federer as the best of all time, this cannot be so easily done in the women’s game.In William’s favour is the fact that her career is far from over and at 31 years of age and world No.1, the short-term future for her looks promising.The debate will roll on.
An analysis of Serena’s game would be incomplete without reference to her head-to-head rivalry with sister, Venus.Despite Venus being in the ascendant in the early years, this is firmly in Serena’s favour with a 14-10 record.Of the eight Grand Slam finals in which they faced one another, Serena has won six.
Perhaps the greatest victory of her career was her winning the Australian title in 2007.Entering the event unseeded and without a title of any sort in over two years, she managed to dispatch opponent, Maria Sharapova in the final with the loss of only three games – a measure of her resilience and determination after a series of setbacks. Her Wimbledon and US Open tiles in 2012 should also be cited as a measure of her great longevity and a call to her rivals that she is still a force to be reckoned with.
Serena and her sister grew up in the tough, competitive school of tennis without any silver spoons, fighting all the way for success and recognition.In the process, she has been the perfect role model for young aspiring players from humble beginnings like her own.To show that she is not simply a one-dimensional player, she has also developed sideline careers in fashion, the media and music which should stand her in good stead in her retirement from tennis.
The exciting thing is we have not heard the last from this great talent who in 2013, stands atop the women’s game with the same zeal and commitment as ever.