This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we’re counting down the 50 most memorable moments in the history of America’s Grand Slam. Today, we take a look back at No. 11.
After a 17-year-old Venus Williams surged into the final of the 1997 US Open before losing to Martina Hingis, the prevailing view was that she would win a Grand Slam tournament within two years. Everyone in the know already held the younger sibling, Serena, in high regard, but the feeling prevailed that she would have to pay her dues a little longer and follow Venus into the winner’s circle at a major.
But Serena had other notions in 1999 at the US Open. She was not waiting for anything or for anyone. Her time was now. Her goal was to make history of the highest order as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
Serena was seeded seventh that year at the Open and nearly bowed out in the round of 16 against a rival she would meet many more times in the years ahead on important occasions. Kim Clijsters took a commanding 5-3 lead in the third set against Williams, but a resolute Serena swept 16 of 17 points and four games in a row to forge an exhilarating victory. One round later, she rallied from a set down to beat No. 4 seed Monica Seles, the two-time former champion. In the semifinals, she held back yet another formidable opponent, ousting 1998 champion Lindsay Davenport (the No. 2 seed) in another hard-fought, three-set confrontation.
Altogether, Williams was taken to three sets in four of her seven contests, setting a record among champions at her nation’s Grand Slam event with that many matches going the distance. And yet, in the final, she did not drop a set against Hingis, the No. 1 seed who was appearing in her third consecutive final. Hingis had upended third-seeded Venus Williams in the semifinals, but the Swiss stylist did not have the answers to solve the problems thrown at her by an unrelenting Serena.
Serena was dominant in taking the first set, 6-3. She then had Hingis trapped at 3-5, 15-40, double-match-point down in the second set, but the perspicacious Swiss held on, broke and held again. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Serena was serving at 5-6, 0-30, two points away from being pushed into a third set. But she displayed both grit and poise to hold and then seal victory, 7-4, in the tiebreak.
With Venus watching it all from the stands, Serena became the US Open champion at 17. “I was really mentally tough out there,” said Serena. Call that a major understatement.
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