WTA top-10 players of the decade: No. 1 – Serena Williams

Hannah Wilks:

To celebrate the 2010s coming to an end, our tennis editors have chosen their top-10 ATP and WTA Tour players of the decade. Today we profile our no. 1 WTA player of 2010-19, the legendary Serena Williams.

2010-19 fast facts

Grand Slam titles: 12
Grand Slam finals: 7
WTA Finals titles: 3
London 2012 Olympic gold medalist
World No. 1
Six-time Premier Mandatory champion
2012 & 2016 Wimbledon doubles champion
Three-time Laureus Sportswoman of the Year

As if it isn’t enough to simply play in four different decades, the legendary Serena Williams is a strong chance of doing the unthinkable and winning a Grand Slam title across each of them after winning her maiden major at the 1999 U.S. Open and adding another 22 throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Chasing an elusive 24th Grand Slam crown, which would equal Margaret Court’s all-time singles record, you’d be a brave person to bet against Serena from adding to her tally in the 2020s.

Not that it would diminish anything from Serena’s extraordinary career if she didn’t – she’s already put together a far more impressive career than Court’s, with the Australian winning a large chunk of her slams when players didn’t travel to the Australian Open. But this isn’t a GOAT debate (not that there really should be IMO) – this is about reflecting on Serena’s incredible decade, where she further enhanced her credentials when it comes to greatest of all time discussions.

After winning her 12th and 13th major titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon to launch the decade in style in 2010, Serena then experienced an almighty scare that if left untreated, not only could have changed the course of the entire decade of women’s tennis, but left her fighting for her life. The American cut her foot badly on broken glass in a Munich restaurant in July, shortly after her Wimbledon triumph. Serena underwent two surgeries on her foot, but complications from the procedure resulted in a hematoma and pulmonary embolism, which saw Serena rushed into a Los Angeles hospital in March 2011 for emergency treatment.

Serena missed three straight slams from the 2010 U.S. Open to the 2011 French Open, but it didn’t take long for her to return to her best tennis, finishing runner-up at the 2011 U.S. Open before winning the 2012 Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, along with Olympic Gold and the WTA Finals (as an undefeated champion) to improve her year-end ranking from No. 12 the previous year to No. 3.

Serena went on to finish as the year-end No. 1 in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the latter of which was her most dominant year of the decade – and if not for a shock semi-final loss at the U.S. Open to Roberta Vinci, would have seen her secure the Calendar Year Grand Slam. After triumphs earlier in the year at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Serena was on the verge of history in New York, two wins away from completing the CYGS, but she suffered a three-set defeat to Vinci – a result that has since been described as one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Despite that loss, Serena held the No. 1 ranking for the entire season – just as she did in 2014 – and was ultimately announced as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year, becoming the first woman since 1983 to receive the award.

2016 was a roller-coaster season for Serena – she suffered disappointing Grand Slam final defeats at the Australian Open and Roland Garros to Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza respectively, but she was able to avenge her loss to Kerber by defeating the German for the Wimbledon title, equalling Steffi Graf’s Open Era record for most major titles with 22 in the process. However, a shoulder injury would disrupt Serena’s back-half of the year, resulting in her first loss in Olympic singles since 2000 when she went down to Elina Svitolina in Rio, while she was also forced out of the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati. Serena decided to play the U.S. Open, which saw her equal Graf’s record for most consecutive weeks ranked at No. 1 with 186, but after losing in the semi-finals to Karolina Pliskova and Kerber beating the Czech to win the U.S. Open, the German climbed to No. 1 the next week, effectively ending Serena’s streak.

After pulling out of the WTA Finals that year to recover from her shoulder injury, Serena returned in January 2017 at the Auckland International, but suffered a shock loss to Madison Brengle in the second round. But that didn’t deter Serena in the slightest as she went on to win her 23rd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open later that month, defeating sister Venus in the final, surpassing Graf’s Open Era record as a result. We didn’t know it at the time, but that would be Serena’s last title of the decade, with the American announcing in April that she was three months pregnant at the time of her triumph – making it all the more extraordinary – and would be missing the remainder of the season in order to prepare for the birth of her first child. Alexis Olympia Ohanian was born on September 1, 2017 via a cesarean-section delivery due to Serena suffering another pulmonary embolism during labour, while yet another pulmonary embolism in the aftermath of the birth left her bedridden for almost two months.

Returning to competitive tennis in 2018, Serena has sensationally reached four Grand Slam finals over the last two years at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open (including her controversial loss to Naomi Osaka at the 2018 U.S. Open, where she blasted umpire Carlos Ramos and was ultimately docked a game penalty for repeated infringements), but she hasn’t been able to get over the line. Understandably, Serena has adopted a very limited schedule over the last two years, which one could argue is contributing to her nerves and tightness in Grand Slam finals, but you’ve got to think that if Serena keeps putting herself in these positions, she’s too much of a champion not to win one and equal Court’s record.

But, even if she doesn’t, Serena has solidified herself as the greatest tennis player in history in my eyes, especially after all she’s been through and returning to the tour as mother. Serena is one of those few athletes that completely transcends sport and tennis – think of names like Ronaldo, Messi, Lebron, Tiger Woods and Federer. She’s arguably the greatest female athlete in the history of sport. Watching her play at the peak of her powers is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in tennis. I don’t think I’ve ever been so confident of someone recovering from match point down than Serena – her ability to lock in and refuse to lose is unrivalled. We might not ever see Serena’s records broken in our lifetime and that’s reason enough for her to be crowned the dominant and undisputed WTA player of the decade.