American tennis star Serena Williams hammers a shot during her 1999 United States Open singles final against Martina Hingis of Switzerland. Williams won the match and became the first black tennis player to win a grand slam singles title since American Arthur Ashe won at Wimbledon in 1975.
Serena Williams, born in 1981, American professional tennis player, one of the top female players in the world. Serena and her older sister, Venus Williams, combined physical power with deft shotmaking to set a new standard for the sport.
Serena Williams was born in Saginaw, Michigan, and spent her early years in Compton, California, near Los Angeles. Her father, Richard, encouraged Serena and Venus to pursue tennis at a young age, and both became prodigies. Coached by her father, Serena began entering tournaments by the age of five and became a star on the highly competitive southern California junior tennis circuit. However, Richard limited his daughters’ participation in national junior events, citing other cases where teenage tennis stars had suffered burnout. The family moved to Florida in the early 1990s so Serena and Venus could get more advanced tennis instruction.
Serena turned professional when she was 14 years old but continued to play a limited tournament schedule. She improved steadily, capturing her first pro title in February 1999 in Paris, France. A month later, Serena lost to her sister in the final of the Lipton Championships in Florida.
Later in 1999 it was Serena—rather than the higher-ranked Venus—who became the first in the family to win a major tournament, capturing the United States Open singles championship. In the final match Serena defeated the world’s top player at the time, Switzerland’s Martina Hingis, in straight sets for her first grand slam title. (The four grand slam tournaments in tennis are the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.)
Serena was eclipsed by her older sister the next two years as Venus won four grand slam titles. But in 2002 Serena began to dominate her sister and the rest of professional tennis. That year she won the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open, defeating Venus in the final each time. When she won the 2003 Australian Open, Serena became the first female player to hold all four major singles titles at the same time since Germany’s Steffi Graf accomplished the feat in 1993-94. Serena also won Wimbledon for the second time in 2003.
The following year, hampered by injuries and personal problems, neither Serena nor her sister won a grand slam title for the first time since 1998. Serena reached the 2004 Wimbledon final only to fall to Maria Sharapova, one of the top young Russian tennis players who emerged during the year. But Serena came back to beat Sharapova in the semifinals of the 2005 Australian Open on her way to winning that tournament, her seventh grand slam singles title.
Serena and Venus also form a highly ranked doubles team. The sisters have won all four grand slam doubles titles, including two wins at Wimbledon (2000 and 2002) and two at the Australian Open (2001 and 2003). They are the first sisters to win a grand slam doubles title together since the late 19th century. The pair also won the gold medal in doubles at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
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