Serena Williams hails Tiger Woods’ influence as she continues her US Open run. Photograph: Gary Cramer/Sports Illustrated/Corbis
Serena Williams started as an unknown. A five-time Grand Slam champion, a six-time Wimbledon champion, a seven-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the most successful women in tennis, she had been a one-dimensional player. An easygoing, understated, elegant and modest person, she was, as many would say, never going to get better than great. She was known to many of the people around Tennis Channel and the USTA as “the quiet one”, which, with all the pressure that comes with that title, probably wasn’t too far off. After all, with the amount of time she had spent on tour and the fact that she had won a lot of her titles in the years before she became a top player, she was a pretty impressive achievement on her own.
Williams started her career by capturing the Wimbledon and US Open titles in 2005 as a 22-year-old and followed that up with the Australian Open in 2006. “I think the most important thing in my life right now is being able to win every tournament that I play, regardless of whether it’s on clay or grass or hard or any other surface I’m playing on,” she said before the Australian Open last year. “It’s important to look after your body and I feel I’m in the best shape of my life.
“I feel that I have to stay away from what I started with, and that is to play as fast, as hard and as long as I can, and I hope I can do that.”
This is the second time that Serena Williams has won a Grand Slam in back-to-back years. Photograph: Peter Blackwood/Getty Images
The next year was quite a different story. Williams won the Australian Open but found herself in a heated feud with Sharapova, the world number one and her rival for the title. She lost a final-set thriller after just two hours, 26 minutes and was eliminated in the quarter-finals on her return from two months out. Sharapova won all four matches on the way to a 6-2 6-4 record.
The year following was much more subdued,