Serena Williams equalled the 22 Grand Slam titles won by Stefanie Graf - only two behind Margaret Court’s all-time record. Impressive statistics, but they only tell half the story behind this exceptional champion. The American is so much more than the sum of her titles – she has become an icon who goes beyond the world of sport and who is responsible, in her own way, for the way society is advancing.
The strength and the symbolism behind Serena Williams
Roland-Garros is perhaps the tournament which best encapsulates the achievements of Serena Williams. It was the first time, back in June 2002, that "Venus’s little sister" stepped out of the shadow to win her first Grand Slam final against her elder sibling and her second major overall, nearly three years after the first. It also set in motion the "Serena Slam" – a full set of consecutive Grand Slam titles over two seasons. This feat is so rare that only Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova and Stefanie Graf had managed it before.
The French Open also best embodies the perseverance, quest for self-improvement and work ethic of the American. Not to mention her ability to rise, again and again, from the ashes. As tennis fans well remember, it was the shock defeat which she suffered to Virginie Razzano in the first round of the 2012 French Open that saw Serena re-launch her career, going on an incredible run of 33 wins and just one defeat for the rest of the year, bagging five titles in the process including Wimbledon, the Olympics, the US Open and the WTA Masters.
"11 years ago, I never thought I’d play past the age of 28"
It is also the tournament which perfectly illustrates the impressive longevity of the world No.1, who seemed to peak again once she was in her 30s, as well as her incessant attempts to improve her game and aspire to perfection, even though she has already won everything there is to win and also had more than her fair share of setbacks (including injuries, the murder of one of her sisters and even a pulmonary embolism). Roland-Garros is also the Grand Slam tournament where Serena had the most difficulty in adding to her tally of majors. Clay is not her favourite surface, and it took her 11 years to finally hoist the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen aloft for a second time, in 2013. "I so wanted to win," she said after the final. "It’s incredible, 11 years on… 11 years ago, I never thought I’d play past the age of 28. This really is a victory to savour."
And finally, after the third victory of the world No.1 last year, Roland-Garros is the tournament which bears witness to what Serena has become over the years – the Parisian crowd has watched her evolve from a teenager into a woman, from a champion into an icon. To pay a fitting tribute to such a huge personality, Roland-Garros Magazine decided to delve deeper into who Serena Williams is and what has made her such an incredible phenomenon, getting eye-witness accounts from a whole host of people who know her better than most.
Eva Longoria - actress and producer, friend of Serena Williams
"Serena Williams. Without another word, adjective or introduction, her name alone is a declarative sentence. It's a statement of power. It conveys persistence. It inspires passion not just in a sport, but in pursuit of the impossible. For Serena, there is no impossible. She is a champion in more ways than a scoreboard could do justice to. When I sit in the stands and cheer on Serena, I am not applauding her strong serve or amazing backhand, I am applauding the woman she is and has become. She is a symbol for something that has transcended the sport and teaches us all that navigating life takes more than skill. It takes character, charm and a limitless desire to break boundaries. With every point, game, set and match won, it’s another win for her not only in tennis, but in the game of life."