June 9, 2023

From Compton to 23-time Grand Slam champ

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Sept. 26, 1981: Serena is born in Saginaw, Mich., to Richard Williams and Oracene Price. She is the youngest of Price’s five daughters. The family will soon move to Compton, Calif., where Richard begins to train Serena at age 4, alongside her older sister, Venus, on concrete playground courts.

1990: The Williams family moves to West Palm Beach, Fla., where Serena and Venus begin training at Rick Macci’s academy.

1992: Serena is ranked No. 1 among under-10 girls in Florida, but Richard pulls her from competitive junior matches and says he wants both daughters to focus on school.

Oct. 28, 1995: Serena makes her pro debut at age 14 at the Bell Challenge in Quebec City. She is routed, 6-1, 6-1, in a first-round qualifier by Annie Miller, the 149th-ranked player in the world. The match lasts less than an hour and Serena collects $240 in prize money.

Aug. 25, 1997: Serena shows up at a booth at U.S. Open to sign autographs with Venus. The fans just want to chat with Venus, but 15-year-old Serena says she is counting the days until she can join her sister on tour.

Jan. 21, 1998: At the Australian Open, Serena and Venus play their first professional match against each other in an uncomfortable second-round meeting. Venus wins, 7-6 (4), 6-1. It won’t often end that way. Serena currently owns a 19-12 head-to-head advantage.

Aug. 31, 1998: In her U.S. Open debut — sporting white, yellow and blue beads in her hair — Serena beats veteran Nicole Pratt in the first round. She eventually loses to Williams-family nemesis Irina Spirlea of Romania in the third round. Spirlea had clashed with Venus in the previous Open when the two players bumped into each other on a changeover.

Sept. 11, 1999: All the fuss and pre-tournament talk was about her sister, Venus. But it is 17-year-old Serena who wins the U.S. Open with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Martina Hingis. To win her first major title, Serena had to defeat future Hall of Famer Monica Seles, defending champ Linsday Davenport and then rising star Hingis.

The budding rivalry between Serena and Hingis had grown nasty, in the weeks before their meeting. The Swiss star attacked the family, saying, “They have a big mouth. They always talk a lot. It’s more pressure on them. Whether they can handle it or not, now that’s the question.”

Serena replied: “She’s always been the type of person that says things, just speaks her mind. I guess it has a little to do with not having a formal education. You have to use your brain a little more in the tennis world.”

In the end, Serena ended their head-to-head rivalry with a 7-6 edge.

July 6, 2000: Serena is now the favorite at Wimbledon, but she plays nervously and loses to Venus in a straight-set semifinal. Venus would go on to win the championship.

March 18, 2001: Serena is jeered at the Indian Wells tournament and the sisters begin a 14-year boycott of the event. She and Venus had been scheduled to face each other in a semifinal, but her sister pulled out 20 minutes before the match with a knee injury. Fans charged that the father had orchestrated the late withdrawal, and then the entire family was heckled during Serena’s win over Kim Clijsters in the final.

“I stepped onto the court a couple minutes before Clijsters, and right away people started booing,” Serena wrote in her autobiography, “On the Line.” “They were loud, mean, aggressive.

“What got me most of all was that it wasn’t just a scattered bunch of boos,” she wrote. “It wasn’t coming from just one section. It was like the whole crowd got together and decided to boo all at once. The ugliness was just raining down on me, hard.

“I didn’t know what to do.”

Jan. 24, 2003: Serena defeats Venus in a three-set final at the Australian Open to complete the first of her two “Serena Slams.” At the ceremony, Serena blew kisses to the crowd while her sister applauded with her racket. Serena is now the reigning champ at Paris, Wimbledon, New York and Melbourne.

June 5, 2003: Serena’s 33-match winning streak in Grand Slam tournaments is ended in a controversial semifinal against rival Justine Henin. Serving at 4-2 in the decisive third set, Serena misses a first serve after Henin puts her hand up in the air asking for more time due to crowd noise — actually boos aimed at Serena. When the umpire asks Henin about that, the Belgian denies such a gesture. Serena then melts down. Years later, Henin would say she was sorry about the incident.

Sept. 14, 2003: Yetunde Hawanya Tara Price, Serena’s oldest half-sister is murdered, the innocent victim of gunfire in Compton. Serena, and the family, grieve.

Sept. 7, 2004: The first in a series of four major controversies for Serena at the U.S. Open. She loses to Jennifer Capriati in a three-set quarterfinal after chair umpire Mariana Alves overrules a line judge and claims that a Williams backhand landed out — when it clearly was in.

“I don’t need to see the replay,” Serena says. “I know my shots. Not only was it in, it wasn’t even near the line.”

Sept. 12, 2009: Serena implodes over a key foot-fault call made by a line judge, Shino Tsurubuchi, in her semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters. Serving at 15-30, 5-6 in the second set, Serena loses the point because of the call. When she then appears to threaten the lineswoman with a tennis ball, Serena is handed a point penalty by umpire Louise Engzell. That point ends the match. Serena insisted she did not physically threaten Tsurubuchi.

“I’ve never been in a fight in my whole life, so I don’t know why she would have felt threatened,” she says.

There are some calls for Serena to be suspended from Grand Slam tournaments, but in the end she is fined a record $82,500 and given a warning.

July 7, 2010: Serena steps on broken glass at a party, beginning nearly a year of medical problems that includes a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. “I was on my death bed at one point — quite literally,” she says. “I’ve had a serious illness but at first I didn’t appreciate that.”

Sept. 11, 2011: Serena hits a forehand during the U.S. Open final and celebrates her shot — a presumed winner — by shouting, “Come on!” But Sam Stosur is still reaching for the ball with her backhand and umpire Eva Asedraki rules hindrance against Serena. The umpire gives the point to Stosur. Williams is broken in the game and begins to taunt Asedraki. “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside,” she says. Serena loses the final, 6-2, 6-3 and is fined $2,000 for her outburst.

June 2012: Richard Williams has been trying for some time to distance himself from coaching duties, and now Serena begins a productive, 10-year partnership with French trainer Patrick Mouratoglou. Before long, Serena and Patrick are photographed holding hands around Wimbledon and rumors begin that they have a romantic relationship. That is never really confirmed.

July 11, 2015: Serena wins Wimbledon to complete a second Serena Slam at age 33, becoming the oldest player ever to win the tournament in the Open era. She is now expected to complete that rarest of all accomplishments: a calendar Grand Slam. All she has to do is win the U.S. Open, where she will be the heavy favorite.

Sept. 11, 2015: Unexpectedly, Serena wilts under the Grand Slam pressure and loses in three sets at the U.S. Open to a far lesser opponent, the unseeded Roberta Vinci of Italy. “I think this is the biggest upset we’ve ever seen in women’s tennis,” says Rennae Stubbs, who will eventually become Serena’s coach.

January 2017: Serena wins her 23rd major title — and her last, to date — by capturing the Australian Open while pregnant with daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian. It is truly a family affair: She beats Venus, 6-4, 6-4, in the final. She had found out about the pregnancy just before the tournament started, taking a test as a joke after a friend suggested she might be with child.

“I did a double take and my heart dropped,” Serena says. “Like literally, it dropped. Oh my God, this can’t be — I’ve got to play a tournament. How am I going to play the Australian Open? I had planned on winning Wimbledon this year.”

Sept. 13, 2017: Serena gives birth to her daughter.

Sept. 8, 2018: During a straight-set loss to Naomi Osaka at the U.S. Open final, Serena is docked a point by umpire Carlos Ramos after he rules that her coach, Mouratoglou, had sent hand signals telling the player to move closer to the net. Serena calls Ramos “a thief” and complains that his ruling is sexist; that he thinks a woman needs a man to tell her what to do on the court. Serena is docked a game for verbal abuse.

“One thing I’ve never done is cheat,” she says. “If he gives me a thumbs-up, [Mouratoglou] is telling me to come on. We don’t have any code. I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.”

Serena’s antics ruin Osaka’s victory celebration, and the Japanese player is left in tears.

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June 29, 2021: Serena retires with a leg injury from a first-round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich at Wimbledon after slipping on the slick grass court.

Nov. 19, 2021: The film, “King Richard,” is released, telling the story of the Williams sisters and their father, Richard. Serena endorses the movie, and the portrayal by Chris Rock.

‘He did such a great job of just becoming Richard Williams to a point where it was actually like I was looking at my dad or really remembering those moments when we were together and when we were younger,” Serena says. “It’s really amazing.”

June 14, 2022: Serena confirms she will return to Wimbledon after a 12-month recovery from her leg injury. Her return to tennis does not go well, however, as she drops a first-round match to Harmony Tang in a three-point tiebreaker. She also fares poorly in other lead-ups to the U.S. Open.

Aug. 9, 2022: Serena announces she will ‘evolve’ away from tennis, citing her wishes to grow her family and business endeavors.

Aug. 29, 2022: After her announcement in Vogue that hints she will walk away after the U.S. Open, Serena wins her first-round match before a glamorous, rapt crowd inside Ashe Stadium.

Aug. 31, 2022: A much fitter version of Serena beats second-seeded Anett Kontaveit to reach the third round of the U.S. Open and once again delays her departure. The draw seems to be opening for her… More to come?

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