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40 Important Women's Moments: 1999, Little Sister, Big Hit

At age 17, Serena Williams shocked the world in winning the 1999 US Open women's singles crown. It would be the first sign of the dominance the world No. 1 still exhibits in New York now as a 31-year-old veteran.
By Nicholas J. Walz
Sunday, September 1, 2013

Celebrating both the 40th anniversary of equal prize money for men's and women's players at the US Open and the formation of the Women's Tennis Association, founded in 1973, is proud to present "40 Important Women's Moments in US Open History."

This look at some of the greatest achievements and accomplishments by women players from the last 40 years will run all the way to the 2013 US Open women's singles final, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 8. To review our entire countdown of the 40 Important Women's Moments in US Open History, click here.


THE BUZZ: Seventeen-year-old Serena Williams becomes the first African-American Grand Slam tournament champion of the Open era, defeating Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-6.

THE IMPACT: The “better, badder, meaner” Williams, as fondly described by father and coach, Richard, Serena could also be described as “resilient” during the surprise title trek that was expected to come from her sister, Venus.

In the three consecutive matches leading to a US Open semifinal with defending champion Lindsay Davenport, Serena would fall behind in the first set to future Open champ Kim Clijsters (4-6, 6-2, 7-5), one-time Wimbledon winner Conchita Martinez (4-6, 6-2, 6-2) and Hall of Famer Monica Seles (4-6, 6-3, 6-2), only to find strength in her serving power and hard forehands to rally in three.

A victory over Davenport would also require three sets, setting up a final with Hingis, who on the same day beat Venus, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, preventing the first all-sister final in major tournament history.

“Now she's playing for two people,” said Venus of Serena after her loss to Hingis. “Hopefully I gave Martina a good workout.”

Up a set and leading 5-3 in the second, Serena couldn’t put Hingis away, failing to convert two match points. A tiebreak ensued, with Williams forcing Hingis to defend with backhand lobs. When the last Hingis return floated long, the celebration commenced.

“There's my name right there, ‘Serena Williams,’” Serena said with glee, as she pointed at the silver trophy. She thanked her family for support, as well as the only other African-American female major tennis champion, Althea Gibson.

“It's really amazing for me to even have an opportunity to be compared to a player as great as Althea Gibson,” said Serena in her post-match interview. “One of her best friends told me she wanted to see another African-American win a Slam before her time is up. I'm so excited I had a chance to accomplish that while she's still alive.”

In only her second US Open singles draw as a professional, Serena’s performance proved superlative: Her 62 aces for the tournament, for instance, were 40 more than any other player in the field. Against Hingis, she’d fire all eight aces in the match and hit 36 winners to the Swiss champion’s seven.

"Those serves were, like, smacking," said Hingis. It was to become a common lament for Serena’s opponents from the late 1990s through present-day.

Not all was lost for Venus in the wake of her sister’s surprise singles success: The siblings celebrated their first US Open doubles title as a tandem one day later, defeating fellow American Chanda Rubin and partner Sandrine Testud of France, 4–6, 6–1, 6–4. The following year, Venus would earn her first US Open singles championship and then successfully defend the title in 2001, beating Serena in the first-ever primetime women’s final.

THE QUESTION: Which US Open win was more impressive for Serena Williams – in 1999 as a teen, or in 2012, as a player in her 30s?