This archived article was written by: Shania Hurst
Top ranked in women’s singles tennis, Serena Williams is the athlete to watch this year. According to Wikipedia, she was first ranked No. 1 in the world in women’s singles in July 2002, and ranked over and over until her sixth time in February 2013. She is the only female tennis player to have ever won over $60 million in prize money.
Williams holds the most major singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles combined amongst active players, male or female. She was born in Saginaw, Mich., on Sept. 26, 1981, and started playing tennis at 3. She was homeschooled and coached by her parents, alongside her sister, Venus, who is also a high-ranked female tennis player.
When Williams turned 9, her family moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., so she and her sister could attend the tennis academy of Rick Macci. He spotted the exceptional talents of the sisters. He did not always agree with Williams’ father, but respected that, “he treated his daughters like kids; allowed them to be little girls.” Williams’ dad stopped sending his daughters to national-junior-tennis tournaments when Williams was 10. He wanted them to take it slow and focus on school work.
Another factor was racial, as he had heard white parents talk about the Williams’ sisters in a derogatory manner during tournaments. At that time, Williams had a 46–3 record on the U.S. Tennis Association junior tour and was ranked No. 1 among under-10 players in Florida. In 1995, when Williams was in the ninth grade, her dad pulled her and her sister out of Macci’s academy, and from then on took over all coaching at their home.
When asked in 2000 whether having followed the normal path of playing regularly on the junior circuit would have been beneficial, Williams responded, “everyone does different things. I think for Venus and I, we just attempted a different road and it worked for us.” Williams performed in her first professional event in 1995 at 14. She lost in the first round, winning only two games.
Williams did not compete in 1996, and in 1997 she decided to try again. This time around, she was ranked No. 304, and upset the No. 7 and No. 4 world-ranked players, Mary Pierce and Monica Seles. Williams ended up losing to No. 5-ranked Lindsay Davenport, finishing 1997 ranked No. 99 in the world.
Williams progressed throughout the years, and reached No. 1 in 2002, and has held steady to that title until 2003. She had a minor setback in 2003, when she had surgery on the quadricep tendon in her knee. Initially Williams was supposed to be out six to eight weeks, but ended up having to stay down for eight months, during which time many questioned her desire to return to tennis, dropping her world rank to No. 7. She held that rank through the next year as well. In 2005, she suffered an abdominal injury early in the year, causing her to finish the year ranked No. 11. It was her first time being ranked outside the top 10 since 1998.
In 2006, Williams started the year strong, but later on she blamed her lack of fitness and a knee injury when she lost in the third round of the Australia Open. She sat out the following six months until she had a chance meeting with a young girl who idolizes her. When she got home that evening she watched some of her old games on tape and started to believe in herself again. She signed up to play in Cincinnati.
On her return, Williams went on to the semifinals before losing to Vera Zvonareva. She finished the year ranked No. 95. She came into 2007 with renewed fire, and after several key tournaments, pulled into the No. 7 ranked spot in the world, reclaiming the top-ranked American spot in the world. In 2011, she moved her rank up to No. 4, and suffered a hematoma and pulmonary embolism at some point during the year. She did not let this injury set her back. Williams finally claimed her rightful spot as No. 1-ranked-female-singles player in the world in 2013, and has held fast to it since.