Serena Williams' Aussie Open title path may require topping the Top 3Feb 16, 2021
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Serena Williams' Aussie Open title path may require topping the Top 3
Only Steffi Graf has accomplished the feat at a major.
Published Feb 16, 2021
Serena Williams was in vintage form on Rod Laver Arena Tuesday night, ripping 24 winners and winning five games in a row from 3-1 down in the second set to take out Simona Halep, 6-3, 6-3.
Despite the showing—a bit of revenge for her 6-2, 6-2 loss in the pair’s last meeting, in the 2019 Wimbledon final—things won’t get any easier for the 23-time Grand Slam champion from here.
Serena’s reward for beating No. 2-ranked Halep in the quarterfinals is a semifinal match-up with No. 3-ranked Naomi Osaka—with No. 1-ranked Ashleigh Barty potentially in the final.
It turns out Serena’s 24th major title could be her toughest, but she’s focusing on Osaka for now.
“I think she’s a very strong player,” said Serena, who lost her first two meetings against Osaka at Miami and the US Open in 2018 before winning their most recent encounter in Toronto in 2019. “I feel like she does everything well. She has a good serve, she has a great return, she’s strong on both sides.”
Only once since the WTA rankings began in 1975 has any woman gone through the Top 3 players in the world to win a Grand Slam title—that would be Steffi Graf, when she won her 22nd and final major at the 1999 French Open, and all three matches were three-setters:
—She beat No. 2 Lindsay Davenport in the quarterfinals, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3
—She beat No. 3 Monica Seles in the semifinals, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4
—She rallied from a set and a break down to beat No. 1 Martina Hingis in the final, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Years later, Graf described that Grand Slam run as her most unexpected.
“In terms of where I was in ’99, and where I was coming back from with the knee surgeries, and just for many months not playing as well as I could have, and not really believing in myself as much—to beat the players that I did at the time, yeah, I still think that was probably the most unexpected.”
The good news for Serena is that she’s one of two players to achieve the feat at regular WTA events.
She beat the Top 3 en route to the first of her eight career titles at the Miami Open in 2002—all of the wins coming in straight sets. No. 3 Hingis in the quarterfinals, 6-4, 6-0; No. 2 Venus Williams in the semifinals, 6-2, 6-2; No. 1 Jennifer Capriati in the final, 7-5, 7-6 (4).
The other player to achieve the feat was Venus Williams, who did it at the 2008 WTA Finals, beating No. 2 Dinara Safina and No. 3 Serena in the round-robin stage before topping No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the semis.
Nestled between January's summer swing of tournaments in Australia, and March's Sunshine Double in the U.S., February can be overlooked in tennis. But not in 2021, with the Australian Open's temporary move to the second and shortest month of the calendar. Beyond that, February is Black History Month, and also a pivotal time for the sport in its rebound from the pandemic.
To commemorate this convergence of events, we're spotlighting one important story per day, all month long, in The 2/21. Set your clock to it: it will drop each afternoon, at 2:21 Eastern Standard Time (U.S.).