In 1999 the paths of two of the most recognized women athletes in the world crossed twice in different stages of their tennis careers. Steffi Graf was twenty-nine years old and was about to retire from a career she began in 1982, and Serena Williams was seventeen years old at the very beginning of her career that continues to the present day.
They played each other twice in 1999. Steffi Graf won their first meeting in Australia several months before she won her 22nd. major tournament at the French Open that year. Graf had won a Golden Slam in 1988 when she won all four of the major tournaments plus an Olympic Gold Medal in the same calendar year. No tennis player has won a calendar year Grand Slam since 1988.
The second time Graf and Serena Williams met in 1999 was in California at the Indian Wells tournament where Serena won in three sets. Two months after that match Graf retired, and three months after that contest Serena won the US Open which was the first of her current total of 21 majors in her sport.
Tonight, in just a few minutes, Serena Williams will begin her third round match in the 2015 US Open in New York City. She has won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon already this year. If she wins the US Open, she will have accomplished a calendar year Grand Slam and will be the first woman since Graf in 1988 to make that happen. Somewhat appropriately and coincidentally, it would be her 22nd. major title that would tie Graf’s record.
Serena is truly dancing with destiny, as one of the TV commentators for the Open said earlier this week. She is thirty-three years old but not the oldest gladiator in the Williams family in the Open this year. That honor belongs to her thirty-five year-old sister Venus who moves on to the Round of 16 next week following her victory today over eighteen-year-old Belinda Bencic from Switzerland, who is one of only two players to defeat younger sister Serena this year. Don’t mess with my sister, girl.
Win or lose at the Open this year, Serena Williams has already secured her place in history that allows her to be mentioned in the same breath with Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Billy Jean King. The Williams sisters have been the face of American tennis for the many years the male American players have wandered in a wilderness of mediocrity. Whether you are fans of theirs or not, they have earned our respect for their longevity in a sport that is physically demanding and mentally challenging.
To be continued.