By Randy Walker
From a near embarrassing pro debut to the greatest of all time?
Serena Williams completed about as devastating six-month run through the WTA tour as seen, perhaps, ever with her 6-3, 6-4 win over Maria Sharapova in the final of the year-end WTA Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. She won her fifth Wimbledon singles title (and her fifth Wimbledon doubles title) in July, won singles and doubles gold at the Olympic Games in early August, and won her fourth US Open singles title – and her 15th major singles title – in September.
This summer and autumn run for Williams has many anointing her the greatest woman player of all time.
That makes it even more incredible to recall the humbling – to put it lightly – pro debut that Serena experienced 17 years ago on October 29, 1995 in Quebec City, as excerpted below from my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY (www.TennisHistoryBook.com).
October 29, 1995 – Fourteen-year-old future world No. 1 Serena Williams makes an auspicious, humbling professional debut, losing in the first round of qualifying of the Bell Challenge in Quebec City, Canada to 18-year-old, Anne Miller 6-1, 6-1. The match is played at Club Advantage, a private tennis club in Quebec with little fanfare. Writes Robin Finn of the New York Times, ”Instead of a stadium showcase, she competed on a regulation practice court at a tennis club in suburban Vanier, side by side with another qualifying match. There were no spotlights, no introductions, not even any fans. Her court was set a level below a smoky lounge that held a bar, a big-screen television, an ice cream cart and 50 or so onlookers with varying stages of interest in her fate.” Says Williams, “I felt bad out there because I lost. I didn’t play like I meant to play. I played kind of like an amateur.” Says Miller, “I guess I played a celebrity…She has as much power as anybody around, but maybe she needs to play some junior events the way Anna Kournikova has to learn how to become match-tough. There really is no substitute for the real thing. I felt like a complete veteran compared to her.”
Miller would go on to a career that was so obscure that only a shell of a bio appears on her on the WTA’s website, but she did achieve a top 50 ranking.