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Triumph and turbulence: Serena Williams's tempestuous history at the US Open

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 6 Sep 2019
  • The US Open has seen the best and worst of Serena Williams
  • Will she triumph over Bianca Andreescu in Saturday's final - or are we in for more turbulence?
Serena Williams has a complicated history at the US Open (PA Sports)

Serena Williams has a triumphant yet troubled history at the US Open.


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She has won more US Open singles titles than almost anybody in the Open Era, and could become the greatest US Open player of all time should she beat Bianca Andreescu in Saturday's singles final - but Serena Williams has also had some of the lowest moments in her career at her home major.

Indeed, Williams's relationship with the US Open over the years has proved to be the most fraught of her career.

Unlike Indian Wells, where Williams refused to play for 14 years after being booed and racially abused by the crowd during the 2001 final, Williams has never stayed away from the US Open too long, missing the tournament only three times over the past 21 years since making her debut in 1998.

And it's notable that every low moment at the fourth major of the year has been followed by a dazzling triumph - so far. 

Williams has the chance to show that she's picked herself up after last year's disastrous final against Naomi Osaka when she heads out to take on another younger opponent, Bianca Andreescu, at 4pm local/9pm BST on Saturday.


Ahead of that much-anticipated final, we look back at some of the highs and lows of Williams's dizzying US Open career.

1999: First title


Williams with the US Open trophy in 1999 (PA Sports)
Williams was just 17 years old and playing in the main draw of the US Open for only the second time when she claimed her maiden major title in New York.

The teenager beat a who's who of the world's top players on her way to the title: Kim Clijsters, Conchita Martinez, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis.

Williams was the first black woman to win the title in the Open Era, and the first since Althea Gibson won back-to-back titles in 1957-8. (A state to Gibson was unveiled at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in 2019.)

'I don't think anything could have stopped me that year,' Williams said when she reflected on the title run many years later.

2004: The match that changed tennis umpiring forever


It's often forgotten that one of the most significant reasons for the introduction of electronic review systems in tennis were the horrendous calls Williams was on the wrong end of during a quarterfinal clash at the US Open in 2004.

Facing Jennifer Capriati, Williams lost 6-2, 4-6, 4-6 - her earliest defeat at the US Open for four years. It was not Williams's best day: She made 57 unforced errors throughout the match.

But the unforced errors from umpire Mariana Alves were just as egregious. Four times in the deciding set, questionable calls went against Williams. The most problematic was an overrule from Alves when Williams had pushed to deuce on Capriati's serve at the beginning of the third set. Williams's backhand return was called good but Alves overruled and gave Capriati the point. Capriati went on to hold.

After the match, Williams received an apology from the tournament referee and tournament organizers, and the US Open went on to introduce electronic review for line calls. Williams never blamed bad officiating for the loss, but you can understand why in subsequent years she would sometimes seem to believe that officials at the US Open were not on her side.

2008: Return to the winners' circle


After winning her second US Open in 2002, Williams would struggle at her home major for some time. She suffered the aforementioned quarterfinal defeat to Capriati in 2004, and was unfortunate enough to face sister Venus in the fourth round in 2005 and Amelie Mauresmo at the same stage in 2006 as her ranking plummeted in the latter year. Justine Henin beat her in the quarterfinals in 2007.

Finally Williams ended a five-year span which saw her struggle to win major titles anywhere except the Australian Open by picking up her ninth Grand Slam at the US Open, without dropping a set on her way to the title as she defeated Jelena Jankovic in the final. The win saw her tie Monica Seles's total.

2009: Footfaultgate


Williams was going for her third Grand Slam title of the season at the US Open in 2009 but her campaign was dramatically derailed in the semifinals.

Williams during the 2009 US Open semifinal: 'I never said I was going to kill you, are you serious?' (PA Sports)
Facing Kim Clijsters, who had recently returned to competition after retiring and becoming a mother, Williams lost the first set 4-6 and was serving to stay in the match at 5-6 in the second set when she was called for a foot fault on her second serve at 15-30, meaning that she was then down two match points to Clijsters.

Williams lost her temper and accosted the lines judge who had made the call, reportedly saying: 'I swear to God, I'm fucking going to take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat, you hear that? I swear to God.'

The lines judge reported the conversation to the umpire and the tournament referee and supervisor both came on to court. Williams was heard to say, 'I never said I was going to kill you, are you serious? I never said that.'

Having already received a warning for smashing her racquet earlier in the match, Williams had to be given a point penalty for her behaviour - and that handed victory to the baffled Clijsters.

Williams was initially defiant, saying: 'An apology from me? How many people yell at linespeople? Players, athletes get frustrated. I don't know how many times I've seen that happen.'

She would later issue a statement apologizing to the lines judge and to Clijsters.

2011: Unattractive inside


Williams did not play the US Open in 2010 and when she returned to the tournament in 2011, was again embroiled in an officiating controversy.

Up against Australia's Samantha Stosur in the final, Williams lost the first set 2-6 to the big-serving Stosur, who was playing in her first Grand Slam final. Serving to open the second set, Williams was down break point when she hit a forehand which she clearly thought was going to be a clean winner and screamed 'Come on!' - but the ball was still in play, Stosur getting a racquet to it, and as a result Williams lost the point (and with it, the game), her yell having been judged a hindrance.

Williams had been on the wrong end of a similar call from the same umpire earlier in the year, and she obviously felt aggrieved, asking Eva Azderaki: 'Are you the one who screwed me over last time?' 

The American broke right back, but she wasn't done with Azderaki. On the next changover, she continued to berate the umpire, saying: 'If we're ever walking down the street, stay on the other side. You're totally out of control. You're a hater and you're unattractive inside. What a loser.'

Williams ultimately lost the match in straight sets.

2012-14: A trio of titles


Williams would win the next 26 matches she played at the US Open after losing that 2011 final as she became the first player since Chris Evert in the 1970s to win three consecutive US Open titles, beating Victoria Azarenka in 2012-13 and Caroline Wozniacki in 2014.

The 2014 title would see Williams tie Martina Navratilova and Evert's joint record of 18 Open Era titles, leaving the American second only to Steffi Graf with 22.

2015: Not in-Vinci-ble


Serena Williams suffered a shock defeat at the 2015 US Open (PA Sports)
Williams would suffer one of the most shocking defeats of her career at the 2015 US Open.

The American was on an extraordinary run of form at Grand Slams, having won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in 2015. For the second time in her career, she held all four Grand Slam titles at once - a second 'Serena Slam' - and was on a 33-match winning streak at Grand Slams as well as a 26-match winning streak at the US Open.

Williams was closing in on both the Graf-tying 22nd major title of her career, and the calendar Grand Slam, when she faced Italian veteran Roberta Vinci in the semifinals - and lost, 6-2, 4-6, 4-6.

'I don't want to talk about how disappointing this is for me,' Williams said afterwards.

2018: 'Defeated and disrespected'


Williams returned to the US Open in 2018 having given birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, a year previously. 

She had already reached one Grand Slam final in her comeback from maternity leave, doing so at Wimbledon where she lost in straight sets to Angelique Kerber.

Williams dropped just one set on her way to the final, where she faced 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, who was playing her first Grand Slam final.

Serena Williams during the US Open final in 2018: 'That is not right' (PA Sports)
But it was the young Japanese-Haitian player who rose to the occasion. delivering a nerveless performance of her phenomenal power hitting to take a 6-2 lead. 

Early in the second set, Williams received a warning for coaching, with coach Patrick Mouratouglou clearly visible signalling her to move forward on returns. Williams had a civil exchange with umpire Carlos Ramos, denying that she had had any intent to cheat, and seemingly felt that the matter was closed. But when she smashed her racquet after losing the break lead she had built up for 3-1, she was given a point penalty because of the earlier code violation, and that incensed Williams, who had apparently felt that the conversation she had had with Ramos earlier had somehow expunged the warning.

As the match went on, Williams continued to berate Ramos on changeovers and when she was heard to call him a 'liar' and accuse him of having stolen a point from her, after having been broken to trail 3-4 in the second set, Ramos handed her a third code violation - and a game penalty in consequence, putting her down 3-5.

Furious to the point of tears, Williams railed at the umpire and the tournament supervisor: '

This is not fair. This is not fair. This has happened to me so many times. It is not fair. It’s really not. There are lot of men out here who have said a lot worse than that. I called him a thief because he stole a point from me. That is not right, and you know it. I know you can’t change it. I get the rules, but I’m just saying it’s not right.'

Williams was openly weeping as she held serve to force Osaka to serve the match out, which the younger woman did to 15. But the trophy ceremony was marred by booing from the crowd, reducing Osaka to tears.

Williams comforted Osaka and appealed to the crowd to stop booing and celebrate the new Grand Slam champion. She would later reveal that she wrote an apology to Osaka after the match, and underwent therapy to help her deal with what happened.

'As for me, I felt defeated and disrespected by a sport that I love - one that I had dedicated my life to and that my family truly changed, not because we were welcomed, but because we wouldn’t stop winning,' Williams wrote in an essay for Harper's Bazaar.

2019: ?


When Williams takes the court to face Bianca Andreescu, another phenomenally talented, much younger player with nothing to lose, the 2018 final is sure to be on everyone's mind - including hers.

It's an unbelievable amount of emotional baggage to carry - that, and the memory of every other defeat and disappointment she's suffered at the US Open, often at the hands of the tournament's representatives.

But Williams has always managed to come back stronger at the US Open, and always found a way to make the story about her tennis again. 

Hopefully, whether she or Andreescu make history on Saturday, it's the tennis we'll be talking about afterwards.


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Triumph and turbulence: Serena Williams's tempestuous history at the US Open

As Serena Williams heads into the 2019 US Open women's final to face Bianca Andreescu, we look back at her up-and-down relationship with her home major, one which has seen some of the biggest highs and lowest lows of her career

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