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.
1. 1999 US Open
Seed: No. 7
Final opponent: Defeated No. 1 Martina Hingis 6-3, 7-6 (4)
Greatest Scare: Semifinal against No. 2 seed Lindsay Davenport; Williams won 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.
The Overview: Many thought Richard Williams was just trying to pump up the younger of his two tennis-pro daughters, Venus and Serena, when he said Serena was "bigger, badder and meaner" than older sister Venus. But there Serena was, at age 17, a Grand Slam champion before Venus -- as well the first African-American woman to win the US Open since Althea Gibson in 1958.
The media made much of the look on Venus' face as she sat watching the final in the player guest box. The older sister appeared stony, but in reality, this scenario was playing out just as the sisters dreamed. For as Serena later told the media, "It's really amazing. I was always the one who said, 'I want to win the US Open,' and Venus, she always wanted Wimbledon." The dream was fulfilled when Venus became the first Williams to win Wimbledon in 2000.
Did You Know? Todd Martin and Andre Agassi would in the men's final, guaranteeing that two players from the U.S. would win the tournament since Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert in 1982.
2. 2002: French Open
Seed: No. 3
Final opponent: Defeated No. 2 Seed Venus Williams 7-5, 6-3
Greatest Scare: Semifinals against top-seeded Jennifer Capriati, who took Serena to the brink, winning the first set and forcing a second-set tiebreaker before Serena rebounded to win 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2.
The Overview: What must have seemed like a childhood fantasy -- the chance for sisters to beat everyone else and meet in the finals of Grand Slam events -- was by this time turning into a nightmare of intense sibling competition.
Up to the French Open, Venus had accumulated a 5-2 head-to-head lead, including their three meetings at Grand Slam events. And Serena had gone nearly three years without bagging a second major. As it turned out, this tournament might have represented Venus' best chance to win a title on the red clay at Roland Garros.
But the blow of the loss might have been softened somewhat by the fact that the all-Williams final ensured that when the next rankings were issued, Venus would be No. 1, followed at No. 2 by Serena. This tournament also signaled the start of Serena's first "Serena Slam."
Did You Know? It was Serena's 15th WTA title, one more than two-time Slam champ Svetlana Kuznetsova has to date,
3. 2002: Wimbledon
Seed: No. 2
Final Opponent: Defeated top-seeded Venus Williams 7-6 (4), 6-3.
Greatest Scare: The closest anyone came to taking a set off Serena was Belgium's Els Callens, a qualifier who forced Serena two win two tiebreakers in their third-round match.
The Overview: This was the final step in the maturation of Serena as a Grand Slam champion. Up to this point in their careers, Venus had won four majors, and Serena, despite being the first to bag one, still had only two. But this second consecutive triumph against Venus in less than a month, in a tournament in which Serena had not dropped a set, was a preview of what lay in store over time for the rest of the WTA. Serena also took over the No.1 ranking from Venus with the win.
Not that Serena took her ascent as inevitable. In fact, she spent time during changeovers during the final reviewing handwritten notes reminding herself to "stay low" or to "hit the ball in front of you." When it was all over, Serena told the media her motivation was partly her desire to become one of the Wimbledon elites, a champion on the turf, "a member of so much prestige, so much history."
4. 2002 US Open
Seed: No. 1
Final Opponent: Defeated No. 2 seeded Venus Williams 6-4, 6-3
Greatest Scare: DNA (Does Not Apply). Evoking memories of the bad old day in women's tennis, Serena lost no sets for the second major in a row -- and a grand total of just 29 games. Her three opponents from the second through the fourth round, cumulatively, won just five games.
The Overview: This was the year of the catsuit, the all-black, one-piece Nike fashion statement that made Serena look even larger than life. As if she needed to impress her rivals even further. This was the third meeting of the year at the ultimate stage in a Grand Slam for the sisters. At this remove, it's easy to forget how difficult it must have been for them to meet so frequently, at such a young age, with so much at stake every time.
By the time it was over, Serena had won her 32nd consecutive set in Grand Slam competition, and she had become the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1996 to win three straight majors in the same season. As it turned out, she was just warming up.
Did You Know? Serena became just the second African-American athlete (male or female) after Althea Gibson in 1958 to earn the year-end No. 1 ranking when she won the WTA year-end championships and finished on top of the heap in 2002.
5. 2003 Australian Open
Seed: No. 1
Final Opponent: Defeated No. 2 seed Venus Williams 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4
Greatest Scare: In the semifinals, Serena found herself down 5-1 against No. 4 seed Kim Clijsters, the top seed went on to win 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
The Overview: It seemed only fitting that if Serena were to accomplish the rare feat of winning four consecutive Grand Slam titles -- a feat second only to completing a calendar year Grand Slam -- she would have to work a little harder at closing the deal than at setting it up. It certainly panned out that way Down Under as the top seed completed her first "Serena Slam." With the win, Williams also became only the sixth woman to complete career Grand Slam.
In fact, Serena almost never got her engine started. She lost the first set of her first-round against Frenchwoman Emilie Loit 3-6, then had to navigate a perilous tiebreaker and a long third set before she won it, 7-5. Things were a bit easier after that, but in that semifinal comeback against Clijsters, Serena survived two match points. If you've ever wondered where Serena's extraordinary confidence even in the most dire of straits was established, look no further.
Did You Know? Steffi Graf completed the last calendar-year Grand Slam in 1988 (it was a unique "Golden Slam," because she also won an Olympic gold medal in singles that year). One other Open era player completed the equivalent of a "Serena Slam": Martina Navratilova did it when she won the French Open in 1984.