As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we look back at the 50 champions who have left an indelible mark on this inimitable event.
Richard Williams sure knew what he was talking about. His daughter Venus was busy taking the tennis world by storm, a 17-year-old girl wonder, head full of confidence, hair full of beads. She would crack the Top 10 that year, 1998, capturing the first three pro singles titles of her career. But the patriarch told anyone who would listen that it was his youngest, 16-year-old Serena, not Venus, who would go the furthest in the game.
Skeptics initially pooh-poohed Williams’ prognostication. Venus, after all, seemed poised to revolutionize the sport. And just how many elite athletes could one family possibly produce anyway? But those doubters were converted into believers the following year, when Serena became the first Williams to win a Grand Slam singles title, defeating Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-6(4), at the US Open. She was also the first black woman to take the title since Althea Gibson in 1958.
Venus has had her own success on the Grand Slam stage, of course, including back-to-back titles in Flushing Meadows in 2000 and 2001. The second came in primetime against her sister, a historic final that drew more than 22 million viewers and A-list courtsiders like Spike Lee, Diana Ross and Sean Combs. But Serena returned the favor the following year in New York, the same year the sisters held the Nos. 1-2 spots in the world rankings, and has since gone on to surpass Steffi Graf as the Open Era’s all-time Slam queen. Serena captured her 23rd major at the 2017 Australian Open, and now trails only Margaret Court’s overall record of 24. Six of those titles have come at the US Open, a feat equaled only by Chris Evert.
“It's always been special and the one that's been my dream to win,” said Williams of the US Open. “The feeling is the crowd here is unbelievable. It feels so good to have the support of the crowd and hear the roar. It's like no other roar at any stadium like the one on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It's a great feeling. I think it's my favorite feeling.”
Photos: Venus and Serena Williams in the 2001 final
Williams’ most dominant stretch in Flushing Meadows came between 2012 and 2014, when she captured three straight titles, including back-to-back wins over runner-up Victoria Azarenka and a 6-3, 6-3 domination of pal Caroline Wozniacki.
Now 36 and a new mom, Williams will chase a record seventh title at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. As Alexis Olympia Ohanian approaches her first birthday, her mother will be among the Flushing favorites once again, spurred by her fairytale showing at Wimbledon, where despite an unaccustomed world ranking of No. 181 she reached the final.
The Williamses’ success is not confined to the singles court. Together, Venus and Serena have claimed a pair of women’s doubles titles (1999 and 2009).
50 Fact: Fifteen years separate Serena’s first and last singles titles at the US Open (1999, 2014), yet another all-time mark for the American. She ranks ahead of Margaret Court (11), Molla Bjurstedt Mallory (11) and Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman (10).