Whatever Happened To The First Person To Beat Serena Williams?
Her family still brings it up. "Remember when you beat Serena?"
Annie Miller's typical reaction? "Shy and embarrassed." Not because she defeated someone who will go down in history as one of the best -- if not the best -- women's tennis players of all time. But rather because, well, Miller felt she should have beaten her.
Going into that match on Oct. 28, 1995, the 18-year-old Miller had heard the buzz about the just-turned 14-year-old. It was impossible to miss.
The year before at the same age, the girl's older sister Venus had defeated the world's 58th-ranked player, Shaun Stafford, in straight sets in her pro debut, then led No. 2 Arantxa Sanchez 6-2, 3-1 before losing in three sets.
Soon after, Venus Williams signed a five-year, $12 million contract with Reebok.
Little sister Serena was supposed to be every bit as good. But Miller, a Bollettieri Academy graduate ranked 149th in the world, was undeterred that day in a qualifying match at the Bell Challenge in Quebec City.
"Truth be told, even though Serena Williams would go on to be the best of all time, I was like, 'I should definitely beat her because I've been doing this for a while,' " laughed Miller, now Annie Borus, who will turn 38 on Monday, the opening day of the 2015 Australian Open, where Serena Williams will be going for her 19th Grand Slam title.
Borus, who reached a career-high ranking of 43rd before leaving the tour to return to college when she was 21, already had memories of watching Serena and Venus practice in Florida at the Orange Bowl years earlier. She remembered their father, Richard, as "a strong presence" on the sideline. And by the time Venus was 12, everyone in tennis knew the girl who had won 63 straight California junior tournaments and had been featured in Sports Illustrated and the New York Times, just as they knew that Richard had pulled Venus and her then-10-year-old sister Serena out of junior events for two years.
Serena had gone 49-2 to that point and much as her father did not want to rush his daughters into professional tennis, the two were clearly ready.
For the most part, anyway.
After a missed airport connection in Philadelphia contributed to 15 hours of travel time -- the last leg through rough weather -- and several lost rackets, Serena, accompanied by her father, arrived in the capital of Quebec to little fanfare and left with even less.
"I remember the club," said Borus, now a mother of two. "I remember going to Quebec City because for me, coming from a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and playing indoors all the time, it was a beautiful place to visit."
The private club where the tournament was played, however, was hardly Centre Court Wimbledon.
"Instead of a stadium showcase, [Serena] competed on a regulation practice court at a tennis club in suburban Vanier, side-by-side with another qualifying match," described Robin Finn, who covered tennis for the New York Times and was at the match. "There were no spotlights, no introductions, not even any fans. Her court was set a level below a smoky lounge that held a bar, a big-screen television, an ice cream cart and 50 or so onlookers with varying stages of interest in her fate."
Borus said she doesn't remember the smoky lounge, though she does remember the cigarette sponsors of the day, and after dispatching Serena 6-1, 6-1 in less than an hour, she doesn't particularly remember saying, "I felt like a complete veteran compared to her."
"At 18, I probably said that with some sarcasm," Borus said. "Or maybe to look tough."
Borus also laughed about her other comment at the time: "I guess I played a celebrity ..." she had said. "[Williams] has as much power as anybody around, but maybe she needs to play some junior events the way Anna Kournikova has to learn how to become match-tough. There really is no substitute for the real thing."
Kournikova would retire 12 years later without a single WTA singles title.
As for her view of Serena, Borus was not the only one who predicted greatness. At the time, however, it did not translate into feeling intimidated by her.
At the time, Borus recalled, "I was just trying to build my ranking up, so I just went out there and didn't let the mental fact that I was playing Serena get to me and just played my game.
"I played well but I knew she was perhaps nervous. It was her first [pro match] and despite the fact that she was so athletic and going to be a great player, it was a lot of pressure. At the time, Venus was the one everyone talked about. I have two young daughters and I understand, the little one can be in the shadow. I imagine it was a tough situation."
Serena admitted to butterflies.
"I felt bad out there because I lost," she said afterward. "I didn't play like I meant to play. I played kind of like an amateur."
Borus would go on to beat three more opponents in the tournament, one in the main draw, before losing in the round of 16 to Julie Halard-Decugis, a two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist who would go on to achieve a world ranking of No. 7.
Serena, who took home a paycheck of $240 from Canada (to Borus' $1,750), did not play another pro event for another 17 months, when, in her fifth tournament back, she dispatched then-No. 4 nine-time Grand Slam singles champion Monica Seles along with then one-time champ and No. 5 Mary Pierce at the Ameritech Challenge in Chicago.
Gosh, in retrospect, little did I know when I was 18 and playing Serena, I was a baby. And when I stopped at 21, I was a baby.Annie Borus
By '98, Williams had signed a $12 million contract with Puma and had reached No. 22 in the world. The following year, she captured the US Open title with a victory over Martina Hingis to rise to No. 6.
By that time, Borus, who counted victories over Lindsay Davenport and Pierce as her other career highlights, was out of tennis and going on to earn her bachelor's and master's degrees at Michigan.
And that victory over the bouncy 14-year-old in '95?
"It's funny because it's been over a decade since I last played professional tennis, so I don't really talk about it much anymore," Borus said. "But my husband and my family obviously know about that match and for them, it's a huge deal: 'Annie beat Serena Williams.'
"It's nice, but at some point I usually point out that it was so early in her career and then I get in trouble from family members. I mean, it would certainly be different if I went out and beat Serena today."
Today, Borus, who has worked as a CPA, for a sports marketing firm and for Adidas, is a stay-at-home mom in Portland and on the board of directors for a local nonprofit. She said she hopes to get more involved in tennis by possibly starting a "hitting partner business."
As she gets older, Borus said, she is grateful for the way her life has turned out but has gained more perspective on a career that had her moving on her own to Florida to train at the Bollettieri Academy at age 15.
"Gosh, in retrospect, little did I know when I was 18 and playing Serena, I was a baby. And when I stopped at 21, I was a baby," she said. "At the time, it was such a young sport. You had to get out there at 16 and win and turn pro and solider on. By 18, I felt like 'I've been at this a long time already.' It was such a grind.
"But now I look at Serena in her early 30s and I wish I would've known [it was possible to play that long]. It is pretty incredible, though, that she and Venus' careers have endured so long and been this successful."
Borus said she tells her brother, who has a daughter interested in a pro tennis career: "It's a journey. And if you're not ready to be a Serena and go out at 16 and establish a ranking, [don't].
"The idea now more and more, is to go to college and begin a career at 21, which is a great thing. Mentally, I feel that would've been so good for me to see what was out there in the world, and that there is more to life than tennis."