20-year rewind: Serena tops Venus for maiden RG crown

Out of nine Williams sisters Grand Slam finals, this was the only one in Paris

 - Chris Oddo

In 2002, just prior to Roland-Garros and not long after sweeping past Justine Henin en route to her maiden clay title in Rome, Serena Williams was asked if she considered herself the favourite in Paris. 

“I just consider myself as a competitor,” she deadpanned.

Two and a half years after claiming her maiden major singles title as a 17-year-old in New York City, the 1999 US Open champion was still searching for an elusive second Slam.

A loss to her big sister Venus in the US Open final in 2001 only seemed to make her more determined.

Already a theme was in place for the legend to be: that which did not kill her would only make her stronger. 

Serena Williams, Roland Garros 2002, Simple Dames, Finale, Christophe Saidi / FFT

A promise fulfilled

With her unquenchable desire to prove herself switched on, the younger Williams sister was now a runaway train in Paris.

She would punch through the draw, defeating future and former Grand Slam champions - Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round, Mary Pierce in the quarter-finals and top-seeded Jennifer Capriati in the semis - to reach her first Roland-Garros final. 

Her sister Venus, seeded second, followed suit. She had won Wimbledon and the US Open in each of the last two seasons, and like Serena, was looking to expand her empire to the clay. 

She hadn't dropped a set before the final, a torrid stretch that included a decisive thumping of Monica Seles, 6-4, 6-3, in the quarter-finals.

Serena Williams, Roland Garros 2002, Simple Dames, Finale, Christophe Saidi / FFT

The final would be a spectacle, the second of nine Grand Slam finals played between the two siblings, but the first – and only – on the Parisian clay. 

By reaching the final, the sisters had already assured that they would finish the tournament No.1 and No.2 in the rankings for the first time, confirming a prediction made many years prior by their coach and father, Richard Williams. 

That milestone did not satisfy Serena; 20 years later, hindsight teaches us that nothing would.

The elder Venus had a more casual relationship with the sport at times (and with her biggest rival, Serena), but when it came to lusting after trophies, Serena would prove to be ruthless. 

Serena Williams, Roland Garros 2002, Simple Dames, Remise de Prix, FFT

A turning point in Serena's career

The contest itself was similar to past Williams affairs – this was their ninth meeting and fourth final.

The final in Paris was characterised by jangly nerves interspersed with the vintage jaw-dropping tennis they both produced in spurts.

It would conclude anticlimactically, with Serena rallying from 5-3 down in the opening set to win ten of the final 13 games. 

All three of their previous meetings at Slams had ended in straight sets as well.

They were tense affairs, characterised more by inner conflict – the turmoil of having to fight with a loved one for glory that ideally would have been shared. 

The second of 23

 "I was really fighting for this for so long,'' Serena said after the final.

"At one point, I wouldn't get past the quarters, then I got to the final, maybe a semi here and there. But it was just kind of discouraging. I didn't want to be a one-hit wonder.''

The title would mark the beginning of a sea change in the women’s game.

Like a metro slipping out of Gare du Nord in the early hours of the morning, Serena’s train had left the station.

Williams would win four straight majors – the 'Serena Slam' – and come two victories from a fifth, before being stopped by Justine Henin in the 2003 semi-finals in Paris. 

Far from a one-hit wonder, Williams would go on to capture 23 Grand Slams, setting the record for most major singles titles in the Open Era.

At Roland-Garros she would claim her second and third titles in 2013 and 2015. 

Serena Williams, Roland Garros 2002, Simple Dames, Finale, Christophe Saidi / FFT