Serena Williams, winner of the 1999 US Open

From The Bud Collins History of tennis:

The words of Richard Williams that kid sister is the more talented of the two began to ring true.

Seventh-seed Serena, 17, became the first Williams to win a major singles title, and the first black since Althea Gibson at Forest Hills in 1958 to take a major female championship. Her run to the title was not a cake walk.
In the third round, she was on the brink of defeat against 16-year-old Belgian Kim Clijsters, a future Open champion, with Clijsters leading 5-3 in the final set before Serena won 16 of last 17 points to close, 4-6 6-2 7-5.
In the round of 16, Serena rallied from a set down to top Conchita Martinez, 4-6 6-2 6-2. Facing Monica Seles in the quarters, Serena dropped the first set again before recording a 4-6 6-3 6-2 victory. Next on her agenda was defending champion Davenport. Serena took that one 6-4 1-6 6-4.

Serena had played 16 sets, but she was ready for the final against top-seeded Hingis, winner of a bruising battle over big sister Venus 6-1 4-6 6-3 the day before that shut off a prospective all-Williams final.
Hingis took too much out of herself in that strenuous showdown, and Serena was just hitting her stride. Williams led 3-6 3-5 15-40, double match point against an overwhelmed Hingis, but Martina refused to walk away. She took three games in a row and was two points from parity at one set all. Hingis led 6-5 30-0 but Serena rekindled her energy and enthusiasm and came away with a 6-3 7-6(4) victory in her first major final.

As Serena finished off Hingis, big sister Venus watched from the stands, wearing a bittersweet expression. She had been expected to win a big championship before Serena, but the following afternoon the two sisters joined forces to capture the doubles title over Chanda Rubin and Sandrine Testud 4-6 6-1 6-4.

Serena and Venus Williams, Wimbledon 2000

Extract from Tennis’s strangest matches by Peter Seddon:

Despite overcast skies on most days, Wimbledon’s Millenium Championships proved the brightest for some time as story after story made the headlines.
None was more hype than the semifinal between sisters Venus and Serena Williams, the first ever occasion on which sisters had met for a place in the Wimbledon final.

But unusual as the statistic is, it isn’t that which qualifies the match for ‘strange’ status. Nor is it the girls’ unusual route to stardom. Growing up far from privilege in the Compton ghetto district of south central Los Angeles, they were taught the game by their father Richard, who schooled himself in the rudiments by buying a ‘how to do it’ book and video when he decided that tennis was the route to riches for his girls. Way before they reached their teens he was declaring both would be champions. Richard Williams was a man with a mission.

Younger sister Serena won the US Open in 1999. As their semifinal showdown loomed, 20-year-old Venus had yet to land a Grand Slam title.
Most experts tipped Serena to win on form alone but even before the match some respected observers in the know, including players, were already imbuing the contest with its status as an oddity in tennis history.
The result, they said, would be contrived. Dad would give Serena ‘orders’ to lose. It was, quite simply, Venus‘s turn.
Even though Serena had been hitting even hotter than Venus in the run-up, veiled predictions were rife. Reigning champion Lindsay Davenport felt Venus would win ‘for outside reasons’. The 1961 runner-up Christine Janes, British to the core and naturally opposed to skulduggery of any kind, puzzled her fellow Radio 5 Live commentators with the mysterious assertion that the match, which promised to be an all-time classic, would be ‘flat’.
She was spot on. On Thursday 6 July Venus duly romped to victory 6-2 7-6.

Some of the papers were quick to say Serena ‘lost’ it. The Daily Mail pulled few punches: ‘The Williams sisters upset the formbook and sparked a conspiracy theory to rival the assassination of JFK yesterday as hot favorite Serena blundered her way to semifinal defeat,’ it said.

That sort of talk sparked much debate. Camps became split. The match was dissected.
Eighteen-year-old Serena had bludgeoned her way to the semis by dropping only 13 games in five matches en route. Against big sister the unforced errors came thick and fast as she lost another 13 games in this one match. The first set sailed by but, when Venus served two double faults in the first game of the second, a real contest looked on.
Both sisters hit flat out as Serena eased ahead 4-2 and the expectant crowd anticipated a deciding set. Was that the point at which ‘Dad’s orders’ kicked in? Serena promptly lost 11 points in a row, including 5 unforced errors. She trailed 5-4.
Games went to 6-all and a tie-break. Serena led 3-2 before losing the final five points and finishing on a limp double fault.
It was all over. Venus walked sadly to the net, looking rather bemused and concerned and without a flicker of her famous winning smile. Serena fought back tears.

Naturally enough the media asked all the right questions: ‘Was it a family carve up? Had Father issued orders?’ it probed. ‘Not as far as I’m aware,’ replied Venus, with what seemed like a genuine response. Serena somewhat guiltily cast down her eyes and simply said, ‘I can’t answer that question for my family.’

The tennis psychologists drew their own conclusions. Little sister had gone the way of younger siblings the world over, reluctantly accepting to the point of tears that ‘father knows best’.
The headline writers punned themselves silly: ‘THE SISTERS PLAY UGLY AND SAD SERENA MISSES THE BALL,’ barked the Daily Mail.

Only Serena will ever know whether the unforced errors were genuine. What does remain certain is that two days later, Venus beat Lindsay Davenport and lifted her first Grand Slam trophy with such an unbridled display of spontaneous joy that the tennis world was uplifted.
Two days later again the sister act once more hit Centre Court and Serena was back to form as the Williams pairing bounded unfettered to the ladies’ doubles title.
Richard Williams was already on his way home. Both his girls were champions. Mission accomplished.

Clijsters, Navratilova, Hénin, Fernandez, Davenport, Roland Garros 2015

Clijsters, Navratilova, Hénin, Fernandez, Davenport

It’s always a joy for me to watch former great champions battle on the court. I really had a great time watching the final of the Legends Trophy opposing Martina Navratilova and Kim Clijsters to Lindsay Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez. 18 + 4 + 3 that’s 25 singles Grand Slam titles on the court!
Every time I see her play I’m amazed by Navratilova’s play at the net. She’s in her late 50s but she’s still has it!

Clijsters and Navratilova captured the title for the second year in a row (I can’t remember the score…). And guess who presented the trophy? None other than 4-time Roland Garros champion Justine Henin.

Mary Pierce, Roland Garros 2000

By Alan Tengrove, Australian Tennis magazine, July 2000:

A new Mary Pierce, more complete as a person and a tennis player, achieved an “impossible dream” at a dramatic French Open.

There were good reasons for Mary Pierce‘s self-pity. A father she loved, but who mistreated her in his obsession to make her a champion. A nervous temperament that often brought her undone. A part-French background that caused her more anguish than joy because she failed to live up to the expectations of a public thirsting for glory.

All changed at Roland Garros when Pierce, the No. 6 seed, became the first French woman to win he national championship since Françoise Durr in 1967. At last she did justice to her considerable talent. She out-hit three-time champion Monica Seles in a quarter-final, tipped out top seed Martina Hingis in a semi, and out-classed fifth seed Conchita Martinez 6-2 7-5 in the final.

With a partially disabled Lindsay Davenport upset in the first round, and an under-prepared Venus Williams eliminated by Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (who later lost to Martinez), there was no doubt Pierce deserved the title. Just as she did the doubles title shared with Hingis. At 25, and in her 11th year as a professional, she played the finest tennis of her career.

It seemed so much more than six years ago that she reached her first French Open final after surprising Steffi Graf. Then, a bundle of nerves, she was no match for Sanchez Vicario.

Seven months later, when she beat Sanchez Vicario in the Australian Open final, anything seemed possible. France hoped she would inherit Graf’s throne, but year after year Pierce was disappointing. For five years she failed to pass the fourth round at Roland Garros. She flopped at other French tournaments.
Her former fans felt let down, were irritated by her mannerisms, and turned against her, teating her with derision. She was overshadowed by younger players, such as Hingis, the Williams sisters and Davenport. And three years ago, disenchanted, she stopped representing her adopted country in the Fed Cup.

To win the French Open was her dream – an impossible dream, it had seemed.

“Everything that’s happened here in the past, everything that I’ve been through, there’s just so many emotions that attach to this tournament,” she said after heer unexpected triumph. “to win is amazing.”

She was 13 when her American father became dissatisfied with the attitude of the USTA and decided to move the family to France, where her mother was born. Pierce hated to leave her school and friends in Florida, but had no choice.
In Paris she was separated from her family and lived in a dormitory at Roland Garros.

“I couldn’t speak French. I didn’t know anybody? I didn’t have any friends and I was by myself,” she recalled. “It was really tough. I probably cried every night, trying to fall asleep. It was tough practicing.”

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Jennifer Capriati

By Bruce Schoenfeld, Tennis Magazine (November/December 2004)

At 28, Jennifer Capriati knows her days are numbered. Following a dramatic but disappointing run to the US Open semifinals, her hopes of another major victory now rest on the 2005 Australian Open.

Jennifer Capriati had been crying. Her red-rimmed eyes gave her away as she stepped into the interview room in Arthur Ashe stadium after her semifinal loss to Elena Dementieva at the US Open. Usually so calm, so cautious, so media-trained, she couldn’t help but offer a glimpse into her soul.

Who could blame her? It was all so unfair. She’d fought so hard against Serena Williams in the quarterfinals, doing what she had to do to win, only to have it undermined by that silly controversy about the umpire’s overrule. For two days, it was all she saw on television, the ball landing near the line and Serena striding toward the chair. Didn’t they have anything else to talk about? Lying in bed at night, she replayed the point over and over, like a bad song she couldn’t get out of her head. Then, against Dementieva, she had found herself a game away from finally reaching a US Open final after all these years. And wouldn’t you know it? The wind was swirling, the sun was in her eyes, and suddenly she was out of the Open again, facing a press conference like so many others.

She’d squandered her fist opportunity, in 1991, as a 15-year-old, losing a memorable semifinal match to Monica Seles in a third-set tiebreaker that would haunt Capriati for years. A decade later, in 2001, she reached another semifinal, this time losing to Venus Williams in straight sets. And then last year she’d served for the match in the semis against Justine Henin-Hardenne but couldn’t close it out. This year’s semifinal against Dementieva, who was floating seves of 60 mph and slower across the net, presented her best chance, and possibly her last.

“I was just thinking, Play the wind the best you can,” she murmured. “I guess I waited for her maybe to make a few more errors. I mean, I can’t really…” She trailed off. “I don’t know.”

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