Serena Williams all set for title defences in Rio
Serena Williams cemented her dominance of women’s tennis by winning singles and doubles gold at London 2012, taking her total of Olympic titles to four, and she will be hoping for further glory at Rio 2016.
It was back in 2000 in Sydney that sister act Venus and Serena Williams won the first of their three Olympic women’s doubles titles, with older sibling Venus also taking gold in the singles to crown a remarkable year in which she won Wimbledon and the US Open.
Serena, who turned 19 in the Australian capital, had one Grand Slam singles title to her name by that stage: the 1999 US Open. Her list of career achievements would grow significantly in the years that followed.
In establishing herself at the very top of the WTA rankings, Serena completed a Career Grand Slam by 2003, having won the four biggest titles in the game. Meanwhile, she and her sister achieved the unique feat of contesting four consecutive Grand Slam finals between 2002 and 2003, Serena winning on each of those occasions.
Forced to miss Athens 2004 due to an injury she picked up that summer, Serena was reunited with Venus at Beijing 2008, where they sealed a second doubles gold by beating Spain’s Anabel Medina and Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-2 6-0 in the final.
Serena was full of confidence when she arrived at the All England Club for the London 2012 tournament, having claimed her fifth Wimbledon title there just three weeks earlier.
Her progress through the Olympic draw was regal, the American player seeing off Jelena Jankovic of Serbia in the last 32 and Urszula Radwańska of Poland in the last 16 before beating Russia’s Vera Zvonareva in the quarter-finals, all without dropping a single set. Waiting for her in semis was the No1-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who also fell to the imperious Serena in straight sets.
In sweeping to the final, the younger of the Williams girls lost a mere 13 games, a record that became even more impressive when she overwhelmed Russia’s Maria Sharapova 6-0 6-1 to clinch the gold.
“I was so focused here,” said the jubilant champion afterwards. “I remember I was serving and I was thinking: ‘Serena, this is your best chance to win a gold medal. You’re at Wimbledon. You’re on grass. You play great on grass. Pull it together! Just win this!’ And that’s what I thought about.”
In taking the singles title, Serena became the fourth player after Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal and Steffi Graf to complete the so-called Career Golden Slam. A 13-time Grand Slam doubles winner with Venus, she also became the first female player in the history of the game to win singles and doubles titles at the Olympics and all four major tournaments.
A third Olympic doubles title came her way the day after her singles triumph, with the irrepressible Williams sisters, who did not lose a set in the competition, capping a flawless run to gold with a 6-4 6-4 victory over Czech duo Andrea Hlaváčková and Lucie Hradecká.
“Crazy,” said Serena after her London double. “I'm always copying her. I forgot that she did it in Sydney and I do it here. We're the same doubles team. We just split this to singles, so it's cool.”
In making it four US Opens later that year, Serena reclaimed the No1 spot in the world rankings, a position she still held in May 2016, a whole 170 weeks later. In the meantime, she won her second and third French Open crowns, her fifth and sixth US Opens, her sixth Australian Open and her sixth Wimbledon.
In 2014 and 2015, she completed the second “Serena Slam” of her career, holding all four singles Slam titles simultaneously, a feat she first achieved in 2002 and 2003. In addition to her four Olympic medals, Serena, who is coached by Patrick Mouratoglou, now has 21 Grand Slam singles titles to her name, just one behind Graf’s open-era record.
“Tennis players never really thought about winning the Olympics. You grew up thinking about winning grand slams, but now, with tennis in the Olympics, of course you think about it,” she said in March 2016, contemplating her bid for more gold in Rio. “The Olympics have had such a big impact on everyone. It will probably affect my schedule a little bit and I probably won't be playing as much because I will be in Rio. I am really looking forward to it.”
Her preparations are picking up pace. Competing in only her third tournament of the year, on the clay of Rome, she beat her young compatriot Madison Keys to win the Italian Open in the middle of May.
As well as another tilt at Olympic singles glory, she is also hoping to go for gold again with her sister. “I love playing with Venus,” she said this spring. “She's the best partner and hopefully she feels the same about me. We make a great team.”