To commemorate Serena Williams’ 40th birthday on September 26, we're looking back at four matches that define the power, precision and unshakeable persistence that took her to an Open Era record of 23 Grand Slam titles and 319 weeks atop the WTA rankings.

Next up: her definitive clay-court performance against terre battue rival Svetlana Kuznetsova at Roland Garros in 2013.

Serena avenged a 2009 Roland Garros defeat to Kuznetsova four years later in a classic quarterfinal.

Serena avenged a 2009 Roland Garros defeat to Kuznetsova four years later in a classic quarterfinal.

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THE MOMENT: Serena proved herself a player for all surfaces right at the start of her Slam-winning career when she won Rome and Roland Garros in 2002 to kick off her first (Non-Calendar Year) "Serena Slam."

Highly capable and always dangerous no matter what lay beneath her bespoke Nike sneakers, clay nonetheless became Serena's least successful surface—if only relatively. After her first French Open title in 2002, she wouldn’t reach another final in Paris for over a decade, missing the event three times due to injuries and making just one semifinal in seven subsequent appearances.

"There was definitely a few years I thought I could have won and I didn’t," she said in 2013. "It was mostly on my racquet and my fault that I didn’t win, but for the most part, I’m still here, still fighting and doing the best I can in each of my matches."

Justine Henin was an early nemesis on clay, snapping Serena's Grand Slam winning streak at Roland Garros in 2003, and defeating her again en route to the title in 2007. The later 2000s saw Serena struggle on the terre battue against dirtballers like Svetlana Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur, players with heavy topspin forehands that moved the ball out of the American’s ideal strike zone.

But a solid clay swing in 2012, bolstered by titles in Charleston and Madrid, put Serena among the title contenders in Paris. Then a shocking first-round loss to an inspired Virginie Razzano—marking Serena's earliest Grand Slam exit—sent her back to the proverbial drawing board.

Tennis Channel Live: Serena wins her 20th major at 2015 Roland Garros

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"It’s about winning and losing,” Serena said. "I’m still a little bit upset about that loss last year but it’s all about how you recover. A champion isn’t defined by how much they win but how they recover from downs, whether those are injuries or losses."

The following season arguably saw Serena at her absolute best; even with a second "Serena Slam" on the horizon, Williams was at her most dominant in 2013, a season she would end with a superlative-defying 78-4 record, 13 finals and 11 titles out of 15 appearances.

That perfection extended to clay, as she slid to a treble of major clay-court victories in Charleston, Madrid, and Rome—leading up to a presumptive coronation in Paris.

It nearly didn’t happen, though, thanks to a quarterfinal clash with Kuznetsova, the 2009 champion who outlasted Williams that year in three sets. Kuznetsova was in the midst of her own career resurgence, starting the season with a run to the Australian Open quarterfinals, and was back in the last eight after a three-set thriller over Angelique Kerber.

Serena, conversely, had dropped just 10 games through four matches, and continued that trend against Kuznetsova with a thudding 6-1 opening set. The Russian, however, began to find her range and disrupt the No. 1’s pitch-perfect rhythm in the second set with a 4-0 lead of her own, and would level the contest at one set apiece.

A champion isn’t defined by how much they win but how they recover from downs, whether those are injuries or losses. Serena Williams

The match ultimately turned on a titanic third game. With Serena trailing by a break, and behind break points that would have moved her back 0-3, the top seed hit through Kuznetsova’s spin with a mix of power and angles, wrong-footing the Russian and literally bringing her down to the dirt to get back in the match.

Serena’s supreme mental toughness soon took over and helped her reel off six of the next seven games, sealing victory with an audacious forehand swing volley.

Into her first Roland Garros semifinal in a decade, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, Serena celebrated as if she’d won the title—likely with the clairvoyance that the trophy was close at hand.

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After a decade between her first and second Roland Garros titles, she would win her second and third within three years, most recently in 2015.

After a decade between her first and second Roland Garros titles, she would win her second and third within three years, most recently in 2015.

THE MEANING: Serena would resume her march towards a second Career Slam in imperious fashion, dismissing 2012 finalist Sara Errani, 6-0, 6-1, and dethroning defending champion Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 6-4.

Having at last conquered the terre battue, Roland Garros resumed being a haven, and even a home for the Miami-based American, who had begun training at coach Patrick Mouratoglou’s eponymous academy in the south of France.

She reclaimed the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen two years later for the third leg of a second “Serena Slam,” surviving debutante finalist Lucie Safarova in three dramatic sets, and made her return to Grand Slam action at Roland Garros in 2018 after giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia, decked in an unforgettable sequel to her signature catsuit.

If Roland Garros was where Serena went to war, then Wimbledon allowed her to engage in diplomacy. To curtesy towards the Royal Box and play with her fashions—so they played within the framework of the postal code that shares her initials. Elder sister Venus may have dreamed of Wimbledon glory, but Serena has often been ebullient in her own quests for glory at the All England Club, none more memorable than her fortnight in 2015 against one of her most recent rivals…

On Saturday: Victoria vs. Serena