Serena Williams has many qualities- the massive serve, the bone-crushing returns, the wonderful athleticism; but her greatest asset has got to be her will to win- a spirit that simply refuses to accept defeat. The serve and the booming groundstrokes will not always fire; and an opponent can get inspired, but Serena often finds a way, breaking through with sheer determination and resolve.
Serena’s glorious Australian Open history is littered with remarkable comebacks, and the odd tough loss, all of which combine to make the American one the greatest competitors ever seen.
We look back at William’s most memorable Australian Open moments.
5. 2001 Quarter Finals vs. Hingis
Martina Hingis’ rivalry with the Williams sisters was one of the great stories at the turn of the millennium, with Hingis getting a head start and the Williams trying to catch up.
The Swiss Miss and the younger Williams served up a classic in their 2001 Australian Open quarter final.
Martina Hingis was the more accomplished of the two at the time, with her five Grand Slam titles, but the powerful Serena had given her plenty to ponder with her big-hitting, famously beating the Swiss in the 1999 US Open final- Serena’s first, and only major at the time.
The first two sets in this Melbourne thriller were relatively uneventful, with Hingis racing through the first 6-2, and Williams recovering from stomach upset and dizziness to take the second set 6-3.
Serena bulldozed her way to a 4-1 lead in the third, with a double break under her belt, but that was where the match went bonkers.
Hingis broke for 4-2, and held in a mammoth seventh game, before breaking again, courtesy the most gorgeous of backhand lobs on break point.
Serena stopped the rot with a break in the next game- moving ahead with a clean backhand return winner, but the American faltered while serving for the set.
A roller-coaster ride eventually ended when Hingis put away an overhead after working Serena all over the baseline.
That was to be Martina’s last victory over Serena, as Williams went on to win their next three matches before Hingis announced her first retirement.
2003 Semi-Final vs. Clijsters
Two years after that epic collapse against Martina Hingis, Serena Williams returned to Melbourne Park in 2003 with scores to settle (She missed the 2002 tournament with a knee injury). A lot had happened between that match against Hingis and the 2003 Australian Open. Serena had powered her way to number one in the world, and went into the Australian Open looking to complete a remarkable Serena Slam, having won Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open the previous year.
Serena scraped past Emilie Loit in the opening round, but cruised through the rest of the tournament until she bumped into the in-form 19-year-old, Kim Clijsters. Clijsters had won her last three tournaments, and was on a 17-match winning streak. She took a confident first set 6-4, with Serena helping out with back-to-back double faults at the end of the set, but fighting back is Serena’s forte, and fight back she did, taking the second set 6-3.
Just like that quarter final in 2001, all hell broke loose in the final set.
With Clijsters up 2-1, Serena received treatment for a foot injury, and that seemed to hamper her movement, as Clijsters sauntered to a 5-1 lead.
Serena Slam was being ripped into pieces.
Williams held serve for 5-2, saved two match points and broke for 5-3, and held again for 5-4. She was well and truly back in the contest, and Clijsters was feeling it.
While serving for the match a second time, the Belgian teenager donated two double faults to fall 0-30 down. Clijsters got back to 30-30, but there was no denying Serena, as she went on to break again to even the score, and apply the finishing touches to one of the most sensational comebacks in Australian Open history.
She did get that Serena Slam, beating sister, Venus Williams in another absorbing contest in the final to win her first Australian Open crown, and become the first woman since Steffi Graf to hold all four majors at the same time.
2005 Semi-Final vs. Maria Sharapova
After completing the Serena Slam at the 2003 Australian Open, Serena Williams won just one of the next seven Slams, as her invincibility began to wobble. Injuries played a big part in Serena’s dry spell, so did the emerging Russian teenager, Maria Sharapova, who defied the odds to stun Serena in straight sets at the 2004 Wimbledon final.
Both ladies would meet again at the 2005 Australian Open, with Serena seeking just her second major in eight tournaments. The American was also desperate to avenge her shock Wimbledon loss to Sharapova.
Perhaps in her desperation, Williams made an uncertain start, littering the court with unforced errors as Sharapova cruised through the first set 6-2. The second set was a tighter affair, but Serena made her move at 4-5 down to reel off three straight games and force a decider. After an exchange of breaks at the start of the third set, Sharapova took control with another break, and sighted the finish line when she served for the match at 5-4.
She carved out three match points, but Williams rallied again, unfurling some searing returns to break even for 5-5.
There was still room for more drama as Serena fended off three more break points at 6-6, before closing out the two-hours-forty-one-minute contest with one last break of serve.
Serena defeated Lindsay Davenport in the final to claim her second Australian Open title.
2010 Quarter Final vs. Azarenka
It had become a recurring theme at the Australian Open- Serena seemingly down and out, but staging the most remarkable comeback on her way to claiming another title.
And that was the case again in the 2010.
Rarely does Serena Williams get outhit, but Victoria Azarenka hit her way to the brink of a shock victory before Serena found her range, reeled her in and ultimately ran away with it. Serena admitted that she had been thinking of the flight back home when she trailed 4-6 0-4, but she won five games in a row to restore order, before taking the second set on a tie break.
That seemed to break Azarenka’s resistance, as the previously free-hitting Belarusian lost her sting, paving the way for Serena to run through the final set.
The 2010 Australian Open title did not come easy for Serena. Following that Azarenka escape, she needed two tie breaks to see off Li Na in the semi-finals, before beating old rival, Justin Henin in a three-set final.
2007 Final vs. Sharapova
Serena’s crushing victory over Maria Sharapova in the 2007 Australian Open final was one of the most lopsided finals in the tournament’s history, but the storyline behind her success made it one of the most superb comebacks in sports.
Restricted to just sixteen matches in the previous year because of a knee problem, Williams entered the 2007 Australian Open ranked 81st in the world; and without a Grand slam title in two years.
Not surprisingly, Serena struggled through the tournament. She recovered from a set and 5-3 down in the third round to beat Russian fifth seed, Nadia Petrova, and was two points away from defeat against Israel’s Shahar Peer in the quarter finals.
She overcame all of that to take her place in the final against Russian rival, Maria Sharapova. In Serena’s absence, the elegant Sharapova had become the pin-up girl in the sport, and she was on a 13-match Grand Slam winning streak, following US Open 2006 success.
Two years earlier, when Serena was closer to her best, she had to fend off three match points before defeating the Russian.
Surely, with Serena struggling, and Sharapova about to rise to number one in the world, the Russian would be too good?
Serena was fired up for this final, perhaps the hurt of that Wimbledon loss to Sharapova still ringing in her head. The American flew out of the blocks, and kept running away. Williams was banging down the serves, crushing returns, charging the net, staring, roaring and pumping her fist with menace. No one could live with her in that form.
This match was over in just 63 minutes, as Serena Williams flashed away 28 winners and just 11 unforced errors to complete a thorough thrashing of her Russian adversary.
She would have enjoyed that one!