Serena Williams: 23 Grand Slam Titles, in the Books

How long has Serena Williams been a champion? She won her first Grand Slam singles title in the 20th century.

Williams was 17 when she won the 1999 U.S. Open. She had beads in her hair and, even at that early stage, plenty of sting in her strokes as she knocked out five past or future major champions, including the 18-year-old Martina Hingis in the final.

“Oh, my God, I won, oh my God,” Williams said, her hand to her chest, looking as surprised as the rest of us.

Williams has seldom been the underdog since, but surprises have continued to be her trademark.

When she won the 2017 Australian Open, she was well aware that she was two months pregnant, but she kept the secret from all but her closest friends and family during the tournament and in the weeks that followed.

Now, the trophy from that victory sits on a shelf in the bedroom of her daughter, Olympia, who will turn 5 in September.

A strong argument can be made that that victory, which was Williams’s 23rd Grand Slam singles title, was as remarkable as her first, when she became the first African American woman since Althea Gibson in 1958 to win the U.S. Open.

Seven of Williams’s other major singles victories have come against her older sister Venus, who was born just 15 months ahead of her.

Williams, who said in Vogue this month that she plans to retire from tennis, is one championship shy of Margaret Court’s career record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Williams is set to compete again in this year’s U.S. Open, which could be her last chance to tie Court’s record.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record,” Williams told the magazine. “Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her.”

Here are excerpts from The New York Times’s coverage of Williams’s 23 Grand Slam titles.

1999 U.S. OPEN

Defeated Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-6

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Using her racket like a stun gun to pound and paralyze her savvy opponent, the No. 1-ranked Martina Hingis, into submission, Serena Williams, the 17-year-old follow-up act to her big sister phenom, Venus, captured the women’s championship at the United States Open in her first appearance in a Grand Slam final.

“Oh, my God, I won, oh my God,” the jubilant Williams mouthed, clasping both hands to her thumping heart, after Hingis motored a double-handed backhand out of bounds on Williams’s third match point. That sealed a 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) upset for the youngest of the five Williams sisters, the one who calls herself the family extrovert. — Robin Finn

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2002 French Open

Defeated Venus Williams, 7-5, 6-3

Credit…Phil Cole/Getty Images

Of the two, Serena Williams was always the one without a gatekeeper on her emotions when placed in the awkward position of playing her older sister.

It was hard to forget: Venus was the one she always leaned on as a child; the one who gave up her milk money when Serena lost hers; the one with the stoic veneer of a bodyguard.

Today, the Williams sisters reversed roles. Serena held on, while Venus came undone. Once the last unsteady backhand by Venus plunged into the net on the 15th stroke of match point, Serena bent over in pure relief, winning the French Open, 7-5, 6-3, and taking her first major title since the 1999 United States Open. — Selena Roberts

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2002 Wimbledon

Defeated Venus Williams, 7-6(4), 6-3

Serena Williams would punch a forehand into the deepest corner of the court, at angled degrees of difficulty that defied the condor wingspan of her older sister Venus.

At times, she would throw a fist, growl or scream to punctuate her winner. At times, Venus would wince, drop her head or coax herself to try harder with an audible “Come on!”

Unveiling their emotions, playing with the ferocity normally reserved only for others, Venus and Serena discarded their sibling code of conduct during Wimbledon final.

They played each other, no mental baggage attached. Once Serena tucked away her first Wimbledon title, 7-6 (4), 6-3, throwing down a 103-mile-an-hour serve that was too twisting for Venus to return, they greeted each other at the net like ordinary rivals.

A pat on the back, a kind word, and then Serena was off, waving toward the crowd with a smile as wide as the English Channel, finishing off a day when two African-Americans played in a Wimbledon final for the first time.

Venus was happy for her little sister, but not the way she was at the French Open, which was won by Serena last month, when Venus snapped pictures with the photographers. Much more subdued, almost moribund, Venus may have been coming to grips with the fact that, at this moment, her little sister is the more dangerous of the two. — Selena Roberts

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2002 U.S. Open

Defeated Venus Williams, 6-4, 6-3

Credit…Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

In the beginning, Venus Williams handed down the secret formula to her little sister, Serena, provided all the answers in the back of the book, but last night the one who took on tennis first left the court worn down from a season of disheartening discovery: the copy has become better than the original.

Although visibly drained, Venus Williams is not the type to expose her emotions in an Oprah-style catharsis. So, she forced a smile after

Serena Williams picked her apart during a 6-4, 6-3 victory for the United States Open championship; and Venus patted her younger sister on the shoulder after Serena’s third major championship in a row, each at Venus’s expense. — Selena Roberts

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2003 Australian Open

Defeated Venus Williams, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4

Credit…Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

Less than a year ago, after she had to withdraw from the Australian Open with a sprained ankle, she was still trying to catch up with her big sister. But in a breathtaking, fist-pumping, title-gobbling hurry, Serena Williams has become one of the greats.

She confirmed it at Rod Laver Arena, maintaining her edge over her older sibling Venus by a much slimmer margin than usual to win this year’s Australian Open, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4, and become only the fifth woman to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles at once.

“It’s really special to have come such a long way,” she said.

It was not quite a true Grand Slam, which requires winning the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the United States Open in the same calendar year. That feat was achieved by Maureen Connolly in 1953, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988. Instead, Serena has chosen to dub her run the Serena Slam, an allusion to Tiger Woods’s similar achievement in golf. — Christopher Clarey

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2003 Wimbledon

Defeated Venus Williams, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2

Once again, Serena Williams won a Grand Slam singles title with mixed emotions.

In ordinary circumstances, defending a Wimbledon title would be, at the least, cause for a whoop of delight and the broadest of grins, but there is nothing ordinary about the story of the Williams sisters. When the latest, plot-enriching chapter came to a close with Venus Williams’s forehand return flying wide, Serena’s reaction was muted as she jogged to the net.

It might be getting easier for Serena to play her older sister, but it is still not nearly the same as matching huge ground strokes and healthy egos with an outsider. Playing Venus when she was injured only added a layer of complexity.

“I just had to tell myself to look at the ball and nothing else,” Serena told the crowd on Center Court after a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory gave her a sixth Grand Slam singles title. — Christopher Clarey

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2005 Australian Open

Defeated Lindsay Davenport, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0

Credit…Nick Laham/Getty Images

There were no match points to be saved, no steady accumulation of suspense, no gravity-defying series of leaps when victory was secure.

But it was a surprising turnabout just the same, and though Williams was walking and serving gingerly in the early stages of this Australian Open final, she was soon swinging freely and watching Lindsay Davenport’s errant groundstrokes and second serves fly by at a great, anticlimactic rate.

Midway through the lopsided third set, it appeared obvious to everyone under the closed roof in Rod Laver Arena, including Davenport, that Williams was on her way to her second Australian Open title and seventh Grand Slam singles title. — Christopher Clarey

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2007 Australian Open

Defeated Maria Sharapova, 6-1, 6-2

It has been two weeks of turning back the clock for Serena Williams, and under a closed roof during the Australian Open women’s final Saturday, she completed her astoundingly quick trip back to dominance against the top-seeded Maria Sharapova.

Under the lights, she was the relentless Williams of yore: crushing returns and first serves, casting ominous glances across the net and showing not the slightest hint of vulnerability as she raced to a 6-1, 6-2 victory.

The rout, which required just one hour and three minutes, capped one of the most remarkable comebacks in tennis history, and it came against the young, confident woman who will regain the No. 1 ranking on Monday.

But there could be no doubt about who was No. 1 Saturday, as Williams applied enormous pressure from the start and methodically extracted all the suspense to win her eighth Grand Slam singles title and third Australian Open title. — Christopher Clarey

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2008 U.S. Open

Defeated Jelena Jankovic, 6-4, 7-5

Credit…Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

No world No. 1 in women’s tennis has slogged through so desolate a valley between peaks than Serena Williams. After relinquishing the top spot in August 2003, Williams fell so far that she wasn’t within echoing distance of the summit two years ago.

Outside the top 125 at this time in 2006, Williams completed her climb back to No. 1 Sunday night with a 6-4, 7-5 victory against Jelena Jankovic to claim her third United States Open title. — Karen Crouse

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2009 Australian Open

Defeated Dinara Safina, 6-0, 6-3

The women’s final had finished in less than an hour, and Serena Williams was walking down the hall in Melbourne Park lined with photos of past Australian Open champions, including herself.

In her arms, held tightly to her chest, was the large Daphne Akhurst Trophy that goes to the women’s champion.

“It’s mine again,” Williams said in a lilting voice.

Williams got no argument from Dinara Safina on Saturday night. After two weeks of uncertainty about the true state of Williams’s form, suddenly there was nothing but brutal clarity. — Christopher Clarey

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2009 Wimbledon

Defeated Venus Williams, 7-6 (3), 6-2

Credit…Hamish Blair/Getty Images

Wimbledon has long been the Williams sisters’ territory, but it was Venus, not Serena, who had the biggest stake in the place. It was Venus who had won five singles titles, including the last two. It was Venus who had won 20 straight singles matches and 34 straight sets.

Despite few hints of regime change in the early rounds, this did not turn out to be her year. Instead, it was younger sister Serena’s turn to keep the Wimbledon inscribers busy. She broke open this often-edgy final midway through the second set and then secured her third Wimbledon singles title by breaking Venus’s serve in a tight final game to win. — Christopher Clarey

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2010 Australian Open

Defeated Justine Henin, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2

As Serena Williams collapsed on the court, weary and elated after capturing her fifth Australian Open title, those who follow tennis, or perhaps sports of any kind, knew they had witnessed the performance of a great champion. She had turned back a pretty good champion in Justine Henin for a hard-fought victory.

Williams, 28, fought through pain to earn it — her right thigh and left knee and wrist were wrapped, as they have been for the past two weeks. And her grimaces and hobbled steps as she battled Henin further betrayed her distress.

Williams’s ability to endure is one of her vital intangibles, as is her ardor for the competitive part of the game. — Joe Drape

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2010 Wimbledon

Defeated Vera Zvonareva, 6-3, 6-2

Credit…Alastair Grant/Associated Press

At the end of the Wimbledon women’s singles final, Serena Williams turned toward her family in the stands. She flashed 10 fingers, then 3 fingers, for a total of 13 — her updated tally of Grand Slam singles titles.

With her demolition of Vera Zvonareva, Williams accumulated another avalanche of aces, hoisted another trophy and took another step forward among tennis’s greats. Afterward, she confirmed what once seemed obvious, another otherworldly performance notwithstanding.

“I’m totally human,” Williams said.

The latest trophy marked her fourth Wimbledon singles title and allowed her to pass Billie Jean King for sixth place on the women’s career major singles championships list. In an on-court interview, her smile as wide as the English Channel, Williams said, “Hey, Billie, I got you.” — Greg Bishop

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2012 Wimbledon

Defeated Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2

For Serena Williams, the tears came slowly, a release of all the emotions that had accumulated over the last two weeks, the last two months, the last two years.

There was the euphoria of winning her fifth singles title at Wimbledon, tying her older sister Venus, and her 14th in a Grand Slam tournament. The satisfaction of purging a shocking French Open implosion and the aura of vulnerability that followed. The relief that comes with reviving a career on the brink, from cheating death, from outlasting a patient and persistent adversary who threatened with a comeback nearly as stirring as Williams’s.

Her appreciation of these moments is greater than it was 13 years ago, when at age 17 she announced her presence at the 1999 United States Open. There is an element of selflessness, of humility, that comes, perhaps, with age and maturity. Now 30, Williams is the first woman in her 30s to capture a Grand Slam since Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon in 1990 at age 33.

“Oh my God, I can’t even describe it,” Williams said during an on-court interview on a blustery and chilly Centre Court. — Ben Shpigel

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2012 U.S. Open

Defeated Victoria Azarenka, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

After a set, a fourth United States Open title for Serena Williams looked like a foregone conclusion as she ripped serves and ground strokes at Arthur Ashe with the same intimidating blend of power and precision that has defined her summer.

Who could have imagined then that by the end of this evening, victory would come as a surprise, leaving Williams with her eyes wide and her hands to her head?

“I was preparing my runners-up speech,” Williams said.

She would have been obliged to deliver it if the world’s No. 1-ranked player, Victoria Azarenka, had seized her opportunity when serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set. Although Azarenka had done an often-admirable job of coping with Williams’s first-strike pressure in this big-swinging final, she could not quite handle the chance to win her first United States Open.

Williams, whose form and body language had fluctuated wildly after the opening set, would not lose her way again, putting an exclamation point on the feel-good story of her summer of tennis by closing out a victory that will rank among her most memorable. — Christopher Clarey

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2013 French Open

Defeated Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 6-4

Credit…Kenzo Triboulliard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Serena Williams has tried to master French, as she has finally mastered the French Open again. So after she had served five aces in her last seven service points to beat Maria Sharapova, and had gone down on her knees and put her head to the clay in celebration, Williams kept up her recent habit of making her postmatch remarks to the crowd in the local language.

“I’m incredible,” she said in French.

That is probably not what she meant to say. But for accuracy, if not for her command of a second language, it is hard to argue with the sentiment. And it is now possible to make the case that she has a chance to become the greatest women’s player in tennis history.

Williams seized one of the few achievements that had eluded her — a second French Open, to match the one she won in 2002, a tennis lifetime ago. At 31, she has won 16 Grand Slam singles events, and appears nowhere near finished. — Judy Battista

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2013 U.S. Open

Defeated Victoria Azarenka, 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1

As it turned out, after 2 hours 45 minutes of raw emotion and territorial tennis, Serena Williams really could play in the wind, just as she has played and prevailed in so many conditions and circumstances through the years.

With her 32nd birthday approaching, Williams is in increasingly rare company as the major titles continue to pile up. Although she certainly wobbled in Sunday’s United States Open final — the longest recorded women’s Open final — and although Victoria Azarenka applied plenty of intense, next-generation pressure, there was ultimately no depriving Williams of another major celebration on a court where she has experienced plenty of disaster to go with her triumphs through the years.

A less resilient champion might have continued to fall apart after collapsing in the second set. Instead, Williams exhaled and willed herself into a more peaceful and less conflicted place: one where neither Azarenka nor the wind, that cursed wind, could knock her down. — Christopher Clarey

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2014 U.S. Open

Defeated Caroline Wozniacki, 6-3, 6-3

Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Serena Williams was asked what the number 18 meant to her.

“It means legal to do some things,” she said, laughing.

But she knew what the reporter was getting at.

“It also means legendary,” she added more seriously.

She would not go so far as to call herself legendary — “I’m just Serena,” she said — but she joined some elite company Sunday, when she tied Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with her 18th Grand Slam singles title.

Williams had not advanced past the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament this year, and over the last two weeks she had expressed relief and excitement at her success at the U.S. Open. When Wozniacki’s final stroke went long, Williams collapsed on her back and started to cry. In a postmatch interview, she choked up saying the word 18. — Naila-Jean Meyers

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2015 Australian Open

Defeated Maria Sharapova, 6-3, 7-6 (5)

The record still shows that Maria Sharapova is a pushover for Serena Williams: her muse, her matchup made in tennis heaven.

Williams’s victory in the Australian Open final extended her winning streak against Sharapova to 16 matches, despite all the velocity and volume that Sharapova has mustered over the last decade.

Forget head-to-head. This is off with her head.

Yet Williams, who said she had a severe cold for much of this tournament, encountered some headwinds. She left the court during a rain delay in the first set and, for the first time in her nearly 20 years as a professional, threw up during a match. — Christopher Clarey

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2015 French Open

Defeated Lucie Safarova, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2

Credit…Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Serena Williams was too ill to get out of bed for most of Friday. She was too tightly wound to close out what would have been a routine straight-set victory against Lucie Safarova on Saturday.

But as Williams’s increasingly remarkable tennis career has made clear, she is never more dangerous than when cornered.

This obstacle course of a French Open provided reminders in nearly every round as Williams hit, shrieked, swore and coughed her way through all kinds of trouble, including five three-set matches and a nasty case of the flu.

Saturday’s 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 victory over Safarova was a fitting finale to what might have been Williams’s most challenging run to a Grand Slam singles title. — Christopher Clarey

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2015 Wimbledon

Defeated Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-4, 6-4

Three years had passed since the Wimbledon champion’s trophy was last in her possession, so Serena Williams had some fun with it.

She held it high on Centre Court with both strong arms (classic). She balanced it on her head like a book in a 1950s charm school and walked with it (unconventional). At one stage, she even playfully declined to hand it back to a Wimbledon official (understandable).

“At the beginning of the year, this is the one I really wanted to win,” Williams said. “So that was the first thing and the main thing on my mind.” — Christopher Clarey

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2016 Wimbledon

Defeated Angelique Kerber, 7-5, 6-3

Credit…Glyn Kirk/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On the first point of the women’s final at Wimbledon, Angelique Kerber ended a rally with a forehand winner down the line.

On the next, a Serena Williams backhand winner scorched the baseline.

Yes, it was going to be one of those matches. But in contrast with the outcome of their duel in the Australian Open final in January, Williams came out as the winner.

Williams tied Steffi Graf’s Open-era record for Grand Slam singles titles, gaining her 22nd. The win left her two short of Margaret Court’s overall record of 24 Grand Slam titles from 1960 to 1973.

Williams, 34, had not won a major championship since last year’s Wimbledon, losing in the semifinals at the 2015 United States Open and the finals at the Australian and French Opens this year.

Although she had tried to play down the importance of No. 22, she acknowledged that it was a “relief” to get there, and that there had been “some sleepless nights” after her recent Grand Slam losses. — Naila-Jean Meyers

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2017 Australian Open

Defeated Venus Williams, 6-4, 6-4

Credit…Michael Dodge/Getty Images

The tennis circuit can be an echo chamber where the same questions and themes reverberate from week to week as the locations change, but the protagonists do not.

So even if Serena Williams refused to entertain questions during the tournament about the possibility of winning her 23rd Grand Slam singles title and breaking her tie for the Open-era record with Steffi Graf, there was no dodging that number in her own head.

Now, after her 6-4, 6-4 victory over her sister, she can celebrate No. 23 instead of fret over it.

“I’ve been chasing it for a really long time,” Williams said. “When it got on my radar, I knew I had an opportunity to get there, and I’m here. It’s a great feeling. No better place to do it than Melbourne.” — Christopher Clarey

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