Tennis Honors: Naomi Osaka on Serena Williams

This week, Steve Tignor looks back at five contests that made Serena Williams the greatest of all time.

I was blind today.


Venus and Serena always loved and prioritized the Olympics. The inspiration came from their father, Richard, who touted the Games to them as the ultimate athletic competition. After being treated like a second-class citizen in segregated Louisiana in the 1940s and ’50s, Richard may have taken particular satisfaction from the sight of his world-beating daughters bringing home gold for their country.

They brought plenty home. Venus won gold in singles in 2000, and in doubles with Serena in 2000 and 2008. But coming into the London Games in 2012, Serena had never gone gold by herself, a hole in her otherwise ironclad résumé that she was determined to fill.

Seeded fourth, she set out on a course of destruction. In her first five matches, she faced four former Grand Slam finalists: Jelena Jankovic, Vera Zvonareva, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka. Serena didn’t drop more than three games in any set.

Waiting in the final on Centre Court was, appropriately enough, Maria Sharapova. Eight years earlier, as a 17-year-old, the Russian had stunned Serena in the Wimbledon final. Since then, Serena had been on a mission to avenge that defeat—again and again and again. Her eventual 20–2 record against Sharapova, who may have been the second-best player of the 2010s, is a sign of her incredible dominance.

While Sharapova couldn’t beat Serena, she could bring out her best. That was never more true than in this match. While she’s famous for her grunts and screams, a quiet Serena was often the most dangerous. Even in a swirling wind, she won the first eight points and six games with an unbeatable mix of power and precision, and she didn’t make a sound doing it.

Serena’s completion of the Golden Slam in singles and doubles at the 2012 Olympics was GOAT-worthy achievement if ever there was one.

Serena’s completion of the Golden Slam in singles and doubles at the 2012 Olympics was GOAT-worthy achievement if ever there was one.


“I was blind today,” was how Serena described her focus. “It was something about today and this tournament. I just played well, I don’t know.”

Sharapova pushed back a little in the second and even reached break point a couple of times. But Serena erased them with winners—and finally issued a “C’mon!” She said her resolve was out of respect for her opponent.

“If you give her any hope, she’s trying to come back,” Serena said.

But there was no hope to be had on Serena’s best day. When she paired this win with another gold with Venus in London, she became the only player to have career Golden Slams in singles and doubles.

“Hey, I did something nobody’s done,” Serena said. “I’m really excited about it.”

On match point, she fired an ace down the T. After years of wanting singles gold, and after keeping her emotions bottled up for two sets, Serena’s triumphant scream began before the ball even touched the back wall.