I remember watching a youngster with a ponytail giving Wimbledon’s undisputed king, Peter Sampras, a run for his money; it was at Wimbledon in 2001 My younger brother and I could hardly believe what we were witnessing - like millions of tennis fans across the world - because this was Pete Sampras, the man who had won the Wimbledon Championship a record seven times in the previous eight years. We were rooting for the great American, of course, being his avid fans and when the ‘rookie’, Roger Federer, sent Sampras packing, we were left shell-shocked and frustrated; an absolute nobody had knocked our favourite tennis player out of the championship.
This was the time when the two American legends of tennis Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were in the twilight of their extraordinary careers. And no one at that point in time could have predicted that a new age in tennis was drawing its first breath - an unprecedented era dominated that would be dominated by that same young Swiss, Roger Federer, who had outplayed Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. But Federer wasn’t alone for long in this domination as he was later joined by an athletic, young Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, who was unplayable on clay courts at Roland Garros. And, if that wasn’t enough, the Serb Novak Djokovic’s emergence helped form the real holy trinity in Men’s Tennis. The three have won 63 out of the last 75 Grand Slams and tennis enthusiasts have enjoyed every minute of it.
What Federer, Nadal and Djokovic did in Men’s tennis, Serena Williams did in Women’s tennis - alone!
The younger of the Williams sisters, Serena, was a level or two above the rest. She broke all sorts of records in Women Tennis. During the early days of her career, her elder sister Venus was one of her fiercest competitors but with the passage of time, Serena honed her skills and perfected her game so much that it showed on the court. Her rivals looked handicapped when facing Serena; such was the charisma and power that exuded from the American.
Sports fans all over the world have had the privilege of watching some of the greatest individual sports stars during the last 20 odd years. It is sometimes hard to believe that we have lived in the time of so many greats such as Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods, Ronaldo, Messi, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Phelps. Tennis superstars Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic are also in the same bracket. These players have enjoyed careers that dreams are made of. They have enthralled sports fans with their skill and magic on the tennis courts.
All good things come to an end, they say, and this year Roger Federer and Serena Williams will finally call it a day. The two greats have announced their retirement from Tennis and in the process have left a void that will not be easy to fill. Nadal and Djokovic will continue for some more years but in Women’s Tennis, it is hard to think anybody could emulate or achieve even half as much as Serena Williams did during her glorious career.
Roger Federer, during his illustrious career, won 20 Grand Slam titles; the first to reach the milestone and only behind his fiercest competitors Rafa Nadal (22) and Novak Djokovic (21). This, however, does not show the way Federer dominated the tennis scene in the first decade this century. Federer claimed both Wimbledon and the US Open title five consecutive times between 2003 to 2009; during this period Federer was at the absolute peak of his powers; he appeared in 21 Grand Slam finals winning 15. Had it not been for Nadal, Federer’s dominance of Men’s tennis during this period would have been a spectacle - if it already isn’t.
It all began in Wimbledon for Federer in 2003 when he won his first Grand Slam title and he has left a herculean legacy at Wimbledon, claiming the title a record eight times.
Federer also has a century of individual titles to his name. His 103 titles are only behind Jimmy Connors’ 109 in the Open Era, his total career singles victories (1251) are also only bettered by Connors (1274). Federer spent a record 237 consecutive weeks as the number one player in Men’s Tennis. Federer was so elegant on and off the field … and, at his peak, he would dispatch his opponents so effortlessly as if he was playing an exhibition match. Commentators would run out of superlatives to describe his gameplay; he was a genius on the court, a walking work of art. He was fondly called the King of Tiebreaks. During his career that spanned over two decades Federer played in more than 1500 games, never retiring from a match even once. Just incredible!
In Women’s Tennis, Serena Williams, who enjoyed a longer career than her elder sister Venus was an absolute powerhouse. Serena Williams emerged as a teenage sensation in 1999 when she won her first Grand Slam title. She was just 17 years of age, and the rest as they say is history.
Anyone with an eye for talent could see that this was a rare individual, a once in a lifetime talent that would be head and shoulders above her competition. Serena’s career was marred by injuries; yet, every time she returned to the tennis court, she looked hungrier for more accolades. Serena Williams won an Open Era record number of Grand Slam titles (23), which is one more than the legendary German player Steffi Graf. Serena Williams was a phenomenon on the tennis court; not only did she create history in singles Grand Slams, she won the doubles title with her sister Venus Williams 14 times and the pair was unbeaten in Grand Slam doubles finals.
Her title count doesn’t stop here; she clinched gold four times at the Olympics. Her only singles gold came at the 2012 London Games, while the other three were won as a pair with Venus in Sydney 2000, Beijing 2008 and London 2012. Interestingly, the sisters were coached by their parents Oracene Price and Richard Williams. Serena’s strength was in her ground strokes and her powerful serve. At the 2013 Australian Open, one of Serena’s serves was recorded at an astonishing pace of 207 km/h which is the 3rd fastest serve ever recorded in Women Tennis.
One of her most amazing achievements is winning 10 Grand Slam titles after turning 30 during a period of five years, from 2012 to 2017. To put this in perspective, during Serena Williams’ 27 years on the WTA tour no female player has won more than seven Grand Slam singles titles.
Both Serena Williams and Roger Federer will retire from tennis this year; Roger Federer at the same age of 41 and Serena Williams at 42. This is nothing short of astounding; to be able to compete at such high level at their age in individual sports is an achievement in itself. The two greats of the game graced the courts across the world with their majestic elegance and class. Being in the company of other greats like Nadal and Djokovic, Federer perhaps had to face much tougher competition whereas Serena mostly had to fight it out against her elder sister for the winner’s trophy. The early retirement of one Martina Hingis paved the way for Serena to almost bulldoze through one record after the other. However, this cannot and should not overshadow the achievements of Serena Williams in Tennis.
Needless to say tennis will never be the same with the retirement of two of its greatest champions!