Serena Williams in numbers, US Open campaign

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An analysis of every head-to-head clash with Williams shows that top rivals rise, fall and almost always lose to the 23-time major champion.

In the weeks since Serena Williams announced her impending retirement, the rest of the tennis world suddenly took notice. Time is running out to cross paths with the most decorated Grand Slam player of the Open era.

Although 319 different women have faced Williams in singles matches over her 27-year career, according to statistics website Tennis Abstract, many of today’s players are too late to get their chance. In the twilight of the Williams era, they weren’t just potential Serena rivals, they were Serena fans too.

World number one Iga Swiatek, for example, was still in college during Williams’ prime. As the 23-time major winner prepares to step down, Swiatek says she’d just say hello – as long as she doesn’t get too dazzled.

“When I look at her, I suddenly forget that I’m here as world number one,” Swiatek said in Cincinnati. “I see Serena and it’s ‘Wow, Serena.’ I feel like a kindergartener… I’m just trying to say hello.

The weight of his accomplishments – 23 Grand Slam titles, over 300 weeks as world No. 1 and more than 1,000 singles and doubles wins – is almost hard to grasp for the current generation of pros, who don have never experienced tennis without Serena. .

What’s really amazing is that several generations of gamers have had the same thought.

The full list of Williams’ 319 different opponents at tour level, from his debut in 1995 to his swansong this summer, paints a picture of dominance and longevity that has somehow spanned multiple eras in the sport.

“She won her first US Open years before I was born. I’ve seen her career all my life,” said Coco Gauff, 18. “She didn’t dominate a generation. She didn’t dominate for two generations It ruled for more than three generations.

Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic, who was just 11 months old when Williams made her professional debut, will become her 320th rival when they meet in the first round of Williams’ US Open final on Monday. (The tournament announced Saturday that Serena will also play doubles in New York, one last time, alongside Venus.)

Of the 319 other singles opponents, only two have managed to post winning records against her after a minimum of four encounters – and they have come at opposite ends of Williams’ career. The first was Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the four-time Major champion from Spain who beat her 4-3 early in her career. To tell you how long it was, Sanchez Vicario has been retired since 2002.

The second is Naomi Osaka, who went 3-1 over Williams playing the style of tennis that most closely resembles Williams in her prime.

For the rest, big winners and seasoned pros came and went, all having learned the same lesson the hard way: Serena had her number. Martina Hingis, a Swiss prodigy, appeared at the start of the Williams sisters and ran close to Serena for a while. But Serena still sent Hingis into retirement with a 7-6 record over her. Belgian powerhouse Justine Henin also proved to be one of Williams’ toughest opponents for some time, and yet she lost eight of their 14 encounters.

Others in her career have been more thoroughly beaten – which comes as no surprise given that Williams has won 78% of her career matches against players ranked in the Top 10 at the time she faced them. . There was Lindsay Davenport (10-4 against Williams), Simona Halep (10-2), Victoria Azarenka (18-5) and even her own sister Venus (19-12) to name a few.

“I remember 2013 when I played against her in the semi-finals in Rome. She killed me,” said Halep, a former world number 1. “But that year she didn’t lose a match on clay.”

No one endured more punishment than the now-retired Maria Sharapova, who simply had no answers for Williams’ full game. His last record against Serena: two wins and 20 losses.

What players like Sharapova realized in the late 2000s and early 2010s was that Williams was playing a whole different brand of tennis, one that combined power from the baseline and a ball-and-socket serve. cannon with offensive finesse and a champion mentality. John McEnroe compared his revolutionary impact to that of Stephen Curry in basketball’s three-point revolution.

Those who finally made it went on to win their own Grand Slam titles. Serena’s power was the key to Osaka’s four major rounds. The same was true for Ashleigh Barty, as she racked up three. And more recently, Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan won Wimbledon mostly by having the biggest serve in women’s tennis.

But live opportunities to see how Williams herself does it — and join her long list of opponents — have dried up in recent years. Now 40, she has played less than two dozen matches since the start of 2021. So when defending US Open champion Emma Raducanu found herself drawn against Williams in Cincinnati earlier this month, she knew she was entering her first (and likely only) game. against the greatest of all time just under the wire.

“I can’t believe I just faced Serena Williams,” Raducanu said after their 6-4, 6-0 win. “I was really trying to make the most of every point and give myself the best memories of the time I played against Serena.”

-The Wall Street Journal

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