<
>

Revisiting Serena's Slam titles: Serena's brush with mortality

From Monday through Friday, we will take a trip down memory lane, revisiting Serena Williams' 21 Grand Slam titles. Check back each day for another installment as the world No. 1 prepares for the US Open and a chance to complete the rare season Slam.

Nos. 1-5 | 6-10

No. 11: 2009 Wimbledon

Seeded: No. 2

Final opponent: Defeated No. 3 seed Venus Williams 7-6 (3), 6-2.

Greatest Scare: No. 4 seed Elena Dementieva had a match point against Williams in the semifinals before losing.

The Overview: The controversy de jour at Wimbledon was Dinara Safina's hold on the No. 1 ranking, which she secured in April mostly by playing a lot and winning smaller tournaments. She had never won a Grand Slam event, yet she was the top seed at Wimbledon -- even though Venus Williams was the five-time champion and trying to win her third consecutive title at the All-England Club.

Venus obliterated Safina in the semifinals, 6-1, 6-0. So much for that. In the bottom half of the bracket, Serena and Elena Dementieva played a match for the ages. Williams brushed aside a match point, winning 6-7 (4), 7-5, 8-6. By contrast, the final was anticlimactic. After winning the first-set tiebreaker by a comfortable margin, Serena broke Venus for a 4-2 lead in the second set. Venus would not win another game.

Did You Know? Serena and Venus returned to the court after the final to win the doubles title for the second consecutive year, bringing their haul of major doubles titles to nine.

No. 12: 2010 Australian Open

Seeded: No. 1

Final opponent: Defeated wild-card Justine Henin 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

Greatest Scare: In the quarterfinals, No. 7 seed Victoria Azarenka won the first set and pushed the second into a tiebreaker before Serena pulled it out, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

The Overview: Serena was firing on all cylinders after she won at Wimbledon in 2009. Although she lost in the semifinals of the US Open, she swept through the WTA Championships and finished the year ranked No. 1. She played 16 tournaments, the most of any year to that point. It was good preparation for the 2010 Australian Open. But it also marked the return of a player who had always presented Serena with problems, the diminutive but versatile Henin. Serena's head-to-head advantage at that point was just 7-6.

The holder of seven major titles, Henin was returning to tennis following a 20-month "retirement" (hence her wild-card status). In truth, it seemed more like she was ready to go after a nice rest and it took all of Serena's formidable firepower to counter-balance Henin's artistry. Fittingly, this high-quality match was the first three-set women's Grand Slam final since Wimbledon in 2006.

Did You Know? This tournament marked the emergence of Chinese women as a force in the WTA, as Li Na and Jie Zheng both reached the semifinals. Serena received the tougher assignment than Henin but mastered Li in two tiebreakers.

No. 13: 2010 Wimbledon

Seeded: No. 1

Final opponent: Defeated No. 21 seed Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-2.

Greatest Scare: The night Serena thought she lost her wallet at a restaurant in Wimbledon village.

The Overview: While Venus and Serena completed a doubles "Serena Slam" at the French Open (it was their fourth consecutive major final win), Serena lost to Sam Stosur in the quarterfinals on the red clay of Roland Garros. It added to her motivation to do well in the grass-court major.

Serena bounced back with one of the strongest Wimbledon performances of her career, a seven-match run that brought an extra measure of attention to the stroke that would always be associated with her name and game -- the serve. The shot with that she would march into the history books. Serena hit a record 89 aces in the tournament, 17 more than in the previous year. And she was just warming up.

Zvonareva was a Grand Slam final debutante, but far more experienced players would have found it equally discouraging to face Serena's serve on grass during this fortnight. After the match, Zvonareva was left clutching at straws in her postmatch news conference. "Of course she's beatable," Zvonareva insisted. "She's a human being, not a machine."

Did You Know? After the final, a reporter asked 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova if she thought Williams might one day threaten the record that Navratilova shared with Chris Evert (the two were tied for second on the Open era list of Grand Slam singles champs). Navratilova replied, "Let her get to 13 first, but it's possible. Yeah, no doubt."

No. 14: 2012 Wimbledon

Seeded: No. 6

Final opponent: Defeated No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.

Greatest Scare: In a tournament with more than one close call for Serena, she lost the first set to No. 25 seed Zheng of China in the fourth round and was forced to go into overtime to win it, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 9-7.

The Overview: Perhaps No. 13 was unlucky for Serena after all, despite the overpowering way she won that 13th major at Wimbledon in 2010. Just days after that win, she stepped on broken glass in a restaurant in Munich, Germany, badly cutting both feet. She would end up having two different surgeries to address the damage. And that was just the beginning of it.

Later, she was also hospitalized under emergency alarms and treated for blood clots in her lungs (official diagnosis: a hematoma and pulmonary embolism). At one point Serena's ranking dropped to No. 169. She ended up missing 11 months of tennis and when she returned suffered some unexpected losses at majors, including her first-ever, first-round defeat. Serena was beaten at Roland Garros by French wild-card Virginie Razzano.

The response was, arguably, Serena's most emotional Grand Slam event. There was a nearly desperate edge to her efforts, no doubt because her brush with mortality showed her how lucky she was to be able to play at all. But she also had a lot of trouble finding her A-game. Radwanska, Zheng and Yaroslava Shvedova all pushed Serena to three sets. And her own father/coach, Richard Williams, didn't help matters by declaring her lucky merely to have reached the quarterfinals. In the end, the struggle made the triumph -- which tied her with sister Venus at five Wimbledon titles apiece -- that much sweeter.

Did You Know? Serena may have had troubles galore, but serving proficiency wasn't one of them. She set a record for most aces in a match (24), and she also finished with the most aces -- male or female -- for the tournament (103).

No. 15: 2012 US Open

Seeded: No. 4

Final opponent: Defeated top-seeded Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.

Greatest Scare: Nobody even came close until the final, when at one point Serena was two points from defeat against Azarenka.

The Overview: With that emotional Wimbledon fortnight in her rearview mirror, Serena seemed to relax and appeared to have her confidence restored. She returned to the US and won at Stanford, and then completed her career "Golden Slam" by belting her way to the gold medal at the Olympic Games in London, on the same Centre Court where weeks earlier she had won Wimbledon.

Serena played one of her most dominant majors in New York in 2012. Only two players got as far as 6-4 in any set against her, and those each did it once. But Azarenka almost single-handedly made up for all the fireworks the other women failed to produce. In a match featuring numerous shifts of momentum, Serena finally found herself serving at 3-5, 30-all. But she pulled out that game and, while Azarenka struggled with anxiety, Serena reeled off the final three games to win it.

Did You Know? She became the first woman in a decade to win Wimbledon and the US Open in the same year. Of course, the previous woman to do it was ... Serena Williams.