Legends Collide: Steffi Graf vs. Serena Williams in Sydney '99

17-year-old Serena Williams pushed Steffi Graf to the limits in their first duel in 1999

by Jovica Ilic
Legends Collide: Steffi Graf vs. Serena Williams in Sydney '99

Steffi Graf and Serena Williams are the most decorated players on the WTA Tour. Two legends met two times in 1999, delivering an exciting clash of youth and experience, and it all started in Sydney. Steffi Graf was a walking legend by the end of the 90s, standing as the most accomplished WTA player in history before her 30th birthday.

Steffi won three titles in 1998 but had to reduce her schedule due to injuries, competing at only 18 tournaments since the start of 1997. Graf wrapped up the 1998 season inside the top-10 for the 13th time in 1998 and called it a career a year later.

The German won the Roland Garros crown in June 1999 and reached the Wimbledon final a few weeks later. However, she announced her retirement in August, still ranked in the top-3. Simultaniously, another future all-time great, Serena Williams, was carving toward the top of women's tennis.

The explosive American entered the 1999 season just outside the top-20 at 17 and conquered her first Major title at the US Open in September. Steffi and Serena met for the first time in Sydney at the beginning of the year, with the more experienced player prevailing 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 for a place in the quarter-final.

A year earlier, Serena was the Sydney semi-finalist. She proved her class again against Steffi after forcing the great opponent to give her best, sending a clear message that it would not take long before she would become the leader of the Tour.

Williams opened the match with an ace but was yet to settle into a rhythm with her groundstrokes, spraying a forehand error and getting broken. Steffi confirmed it in game two after another Serena's mistake and built a double break advantage after taking the youngster's serve again in game three.

It was essential for Williams to find her range as soon as possible. She did that in the fourth game, breaking Graf to reduce the deficit to 3-1 before struggling behind the initial shot again in the next one.

Steffi Graf prevailed over Serena Williams in their first duel in Sydney 1999.

A teenager could not deal with Graf's slices, sending another backhand into the net in the fifth game to find herself 4-1 behind, getting broken for the third straight time.

Steffi held at love with a service winner to move 5-1 up, forcing Serena to serve to stay in the set. She did that easily, but Steffi was not to be denied, finishing the set with another comfortable hold and a service winner in game eight for 6-2 in just over 40 minutes.

The American made a better start in set number two. She broke the German in game two after Graf's forehand error and built a 3-0 advantage to control the scoreboard. The youngster had the upper hand from the baseline now. On the other hand, Graf lost momentum on the return, allowing Serena to hold in game five for 4-1 and again in the seventh game thanks to a service winner.

Steffi survived a challenging eighth game before Serena sealed the set with another good hold a few minutes later to introduce a decider. The final set kicked off with back-to-back breaks, and Steffi held at love in game three after an ace.

Serena was there to follow her, firing a forehand winner to make a hold in game four, staying in touch with her rival and waiting for a chance on the return. Steffi did not allow that in game five, bringing it home with a service winner and creating break points in the following game that could have pushed her closer to the finish line.

Serena survived that test to level the score at 3-3, gaining a boost and creating a couple of break points in game seven. Graf stayed composed and fended them off. The ultimate battle was raging on, with Serena landing a backhand down the line winner in game ten to level the score at 5-5.

The more experienced player held a few minutes later, and Serena served to stay in the match, hoping to force the deciding tie break and extend her chances. The American repelled two match points before facing the third. Steffi seized it after Serena's backhand error to celebrate the victory over an upcoming star.

Steffi Graf Serena Williams