By Randy Walker
Serena Williams sent shockwaves through women’s tennis with the relative ease in which she breezed through the field en route to winning the Olympic Games earlier this summer. In her six Olympic singles matches, she lost only 17 games, capped off with a 6-0, 6-1 destruction of Maria Sharapova in the gold medal match.
Will she be able to forcibly dominate the women’s field at the US Open like she did on the Olympic lawns at Wimbledon?
Williams is one of 18 women who have won the U.S. singles title without losing a set when she streaked to the title in 2008, the last time she won in Flushing Meadows, and in 2002 when she won her first second title in New York. She lost 29 games in her 2002 title run in Flushing and 40 games in 2008. Seeded No. 4 this year, Williams is in the same half of the draw as No. 2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, the woman she beat in the Wimbledon final in July who has since been hampered with a bad shoulder. Top seed Victoria Azarenka and No. 3 seed Sharapova, whom Williams lost a total of four games to combined in the semifinals and finals at the Olympics, are in the opposite half of the draw.
Williams will have to put forth a herculean effort to equal the most devastating run through a US women’s singles draw. Eighty-three years ago today, on August 24, 1929, Helen Wills completed one of the most devastating runs to a major singles title. As documented in my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY, ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), with a crowd of 9,000 fans watching, Wills won her sixth U.S. women’s singles title and her 11th major singles title, defeating Britain’s Phoebe Watson 6-4, 6-2 in the final at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. Wills devastated the women’s field, losing only eight games in six matches en route to the title. The fact that Watson won six of those eight games in the final, provided an indication of Wills’ dominance. In the semifinals, the Berkeley, Calif., native destroyed Molla Mallory, handing the eight-time champion a 6-0, 6-0 loss in just 21 minutes (eight minutes for the first set, and 13 for the second set.)
Incidentally, Wills won at Wimbledon and the French Championships that year, giving her the distinction of winning three major championships in one season for the second straight year after sweeping all three titles in 1928. Considering the transportation challenges of the day – and the fact that the Australian Championships was still in its infancy (and the fact that the “Grand Slam” was not even in the tennis vernacular for another four years when it was first coined with Australian Jack Crawford nearly turned the trick) – Wills’ efforts can be considered Grand Slam worthy. Only Margaret Smith Court (24) and Steffi Graf (21) have won more major singles titles than Wills, who won 19 without the luxury of playing the Australian championships. Williams has won 14 major singles titles, four shy of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who are tied for fourth place all-time with 18 each.