Smash. Slay. Twirl. Repeat. It does not leave a lot to conjecture when dominance is in question. It’s been more than an era; it’s been a dance and a reign. For Serena Williams, a statement on hustle and honour. As the queen leaves the court after 23 Grand Slam wins, the most by a player in the open era including two Serena Slams, the world marvels in retrospect at a career not only peppered by silverware of all kinds, but one that mercilessly reigned supreme over any other, relentless till the very last drop of sweat that graced the court.
The arrival of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, ushered in a new era of power and athletic temperament on the court, where the duo remains unbeaten in doubles finals, and is the only pair to have won the career Golden Slam in doubles. While Venus paved the way, Serena was destined for unparalleled glory, but it was also the voice that Serena owned, when it came to being vocal about pay disparity, racism, body shaming, that coloured her personality and established her as a figure of inspiration for countless aspiring young players.
As she hung up her boots following her loss at the US Open, to focus on the myriad facets of motherhood and spirituality, t2oS looks back at the best matches and moments that defined Momma Smash on court.
1999 US Open Final: The Arrival
A 17-year-old Serena initiated her era and announced her arrival, coursing through the US Open rounds defeating four Grand Slam winners — Kim Clijsters, Conchita Martinez, Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport — to set up an awaited final clash with World No.1 Martina Hingis. A pivotal moment in the history of the sport, Serena defeated Martina to take home her first major Grand Slam, becoming the second African-American after Althea Gibson to win a Grand Slam singles title. The tournament also saw her clinching the doubles title with her sister, Venus, marking the beginning of the Williams’ dominance.
2002 French Open Final: The Dominance
After crashing to a defeat at the hands of her sister at the 2001 US Open final, Serena was on a mission to get the groove back. As she defeated Jennifer Capiriati at the Roland Garros, she set up a clash with Venus, the match that the world sought to witness. With that final at Roland Garros, Serena upped her game with uncompromising brilliance and untethered power, as she defeated her sister to clinch her second major title, and rising to No.2 in world rankings, only behind her sister Venus.
(Left) At the 2019 French Open, Serena wore a custom outfit by Virgil Abloh x Nike; (Right) Serena’s ensemble featured sheer sleeves, crystal-encrusted bodice and a six-layer skirt, at the 2022 US Open
The First Serena Slam
To complete the Career Slam, Serena needed to scale an uphill task, having never won at Wimbledon or the Australian Open before.
Walking onto the Centre Court with unmatched confidence, Serena was aware of Venus being the favourite to clinch the title. The world got to witness athleticism and dominance of the highest order as Serena coursed through to the final, not having dropped a single set. Defeating Venus in straight sets, Serena lifted her first ever Wimbledon title and rose to No.1 in world rankings.
The dance continued, as she set up another Grand Slam final clash with Venus at the US Open, where she defeated her for the third time in a row to clinch her second US Open title. However, the crescendo arrived with the 2003 Australian Open, where she faced a tricky test against Kim Clijsters. Trailing 5-1 in the third set, Serena saved two match points to set up the fourth consecutive final clash with Venus, which saw them battle out a tense match, with Serena emerging victorious and becoming the first??? woman in the open era to complete a career Grand Slam. The dominance, besides cementing Serena’s uncontested place at the top, also stood testimony to a unique display of rivalry and camaraderie between the sisters, facing each other in the final four times consecutively and at the same time, taking home their sixth Grand Slam doubles title.
2007: The Comeback
Following the crowning Serena Slam, Serena’s high was perturbed by a knee injury that prevented her from playing for the rest of the year. While she was recovering from the setback, her half-sister and personal assistant Yetunde Price was shot and killed in Crompton, which led to Serena battling bouts of depression. It was a harsh stretch for Serena, as other injuries followed and she found it extremely difficult to get back on track.
Ranked 84th, Serena walked into the 2007 Australian Open with a lot on her mind. It was Serena in her natural flair again, as she reached the final. Facing a brilliant Maria Sharapova, a recognisably dominant Serena defeated Sharapova in straight sets to win the Australian Open title in what was hailed as the most powerful performance ever in Women’s tennis, almost two years after her last major title. Dedicating her win to the deceased Yetunde, the year marked an emotional return for Serena to the thick of things, rising to the 13th position in world rankings.
Olympics 2012: The Career Golden Slam
The Olympics proved to be Williams’s final box that was left to be checked. Serena continued her dominance in London, defeating Maria Sharapova to clinch an Olympic gold, which historically made her the second player in history after Steffi Graf to achieve the Career Golden Slam. London also saw the Williams sisters take home the doubles gold, making Serena the only player in history to win a career Golden Slam in both singles and doubles.
(Left) Serena in action, sporting an outfit with neon pink highlights, at the 2015 Australian Open; (Right) In a catsuit, at the 2018 French Open
The Second Serena Slam
Following an almost life-threatening pulmonary embolism in 2011, Serena eventually got back with her Olympic golds and reached the No.1 ranking in 2013, making her, at 31, the oldest number one in the history of women’s tennis. Winning the 2014 US Open and the following Australian and French Open, Serena had history awaiting her clasp on the racquet as she walked into the 2015 Wimbledon Championship chasing a dream. Overcoming Garbine Muguruza in the final, she stood atop a second Serena Slam.
Australian Open 2017: The Statement
The sisters squared off once again at the 2017 Australian Open final, which put a probable end to the GOAT debate, as Serena won her 23rd Grand Slam, the most by any player in the open era and only behind Margaret Court’s 24. However, the world admired in awe when she revealed she was eight weeks pregnant during the tournament. An inimitable feminist icon, Serena proved once again that nothing could possibly hinder when you are of right gravy to do so.
Serena: The Visual
She brings it. She owns it. If there is something that sang in tandem with her performance on court, it was the style and sartorial choices that she brought to the game. In a recent interview with The Vogue, she says, “They can play with aggression and pump their fists. They can be strong, yet beautiful. They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick butt and be proud of it all.” These words define what Serena, the icon, means to countless girls across the world and the unfazed conviction Serena, the player, can afford with ease.
For Serena, she has always used her sartorial choices to reflect her perceptions, her fluidity and her statement as a figure redefining physical and personal limitations. The presence has always been a conduit for self-presentation defying established dress-codes, sexist impositions and revered tenets when it comes to the sport.
She has always been aware of her place as a focal point, with cameras waiting to capture the statement she plans on donning every time she walks onto the court. Be it a tutu or a catsuit that stunned officials, or a pristine white trench at the Centre Court, Serena has embraced it royally, owning everything she put together.
The 2019 French Open saw her wearing a white Nike x Virgil Abloh dress with black accents that sported the words: ‘mother, champion, queen, goddess’, while 2004 saw her embrace the hip and the streets, sporting a James Dean-inspired black tank with denim skirt, and The US Open saw a badass ensemble: a studded leather jacket with black pleated miniskirt.
Very few have been able to play with such a spectrum when it comes to the traditionally conservative sport, but if not Serena, then who? Traversing a palette that ranged from pastel to solid primary shades, Serena’s fashion on court has evolved with temper and gravitas while indulging a frivolous riot of colours.
From a teen to a mother, her sartorial journey has been a powerful expression of her being, a fearless black woman at the top of her game, startling officials, and embracing life one ace at a time.