Eight years ago to this day—on August 4, 2012—one of the all-time greats became even greater when Serena Williams captured the gold medal at the London Olympics to complete her Golden Slam.
It had been nearly a decade since Serena had completed a Career Slam—she did that by winning the 2003 Australian Open, the last leg of her self-coined Serena Slam. And though she’d already won two Olympic gold medals in doubles by then, she’d only been able to play the singles event one time, falling to Elena Dementieva, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
This time, though, she was fresh off winning Wimbledon, and with the London Olympics being held on the very same grass courts at the All England Club, a first gold medal in singles was looking good.
And she absolutely blazed through to the final, losing just 16 games in five matches. Her path to the gold-medal match included a 6-3, 6-1 win over Jelena Jankovic, a 6-1, 6-0 win over Vera Zvonareva, a 6-0, 6-3 win over Caroline Wozniacki and a 6-1, 6-2 semifinal demolition of Victoria Azarenka.
“I was really surprised. I was kind of blind. I didn’t even know where I was going,” Serena said after her win over Azarenka, who was No. 1 at the time. “But you’re playing the best player in the world, so you’ve got to play well. She’s No. 1 for a reason. I felt like I had nothing to lose, just going for it.”
After her semifinal victory, Serena played down her expectations for the final, where she was going to face Maria Sharapova, who had just completed her own Career Slam at Roland Garros.
Serena had beaten Sharapova the last seven times they’d played.
“One of us is definitely going to get [a Golden Slam],” Serena said. “That will be great. I’m excited to have that opportunity. Roger is in the final, too. That makes three. So the odds are good.
“I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I feel like if I were to retire last week, I would be fine. I’ve had a fabulous career and I’m having so much fun right now in my career that I’m not missing anything. Whether I win or lose, that’s not the big deal. The big deal, for me, is that USA is guaranteed another medal. I’m guaranteed to just go out there tomorrow and have fun. That’s all I can do.”
Serena crushed Sharapova the next day, 6-0, 6-1, to win gold and add a new title to her resume. She became just the second woman in the Open Era to attain a Golden Slam, after Steffi Graf, and just the fourth player overall to do it, male or female, following Graf, Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal. Serena also became the only tennis player in history, male or female, to have a Golden Slam in both singles and doubles.
“Oh my gosh, this one is so high up there, being Olympic gold champion, being Golden Slam champion in singles and doubles, that’s pretty awesome,” she said. “Hey, I did something nobody’s done. So I’m really excited about it. I haven’t even had time to think about it. I’m hungry right now—and I’ve got a doubles match that I’ve got to get serious for. We’ve got to do this. So, I don’t know.”
A day later, Serena would win her third doubles gold medal alongside Venus.
Fast forward eight years, and the 23-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 is scheduled to make her return to the tour at the new WTA event in Lexington, K.Y. next week.