Serena Williams has 23 Grand Slam titles and 72 WTA titles. It’s hard to imagine a time when she wasn’t a dominant force on the WTA Tour. But it was February 28th 1999 at the Open Gas de France when it all began.
Williams was 17 years old and taking on home favourite and fellow teenager Amelia Mauresmo in the final. Williams prevailed in a dramatic three sets 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(4).
"I decided if I want to win, if I wanted to be the best, I had better be able to close out the match,” Serena said at the time.
"This is a start for me. It's always good to get a smaller tournament under your belt so that by the time you get to the slams, you have a lot of experience. It was tough for me because the whole crowd wanted her to win.
"They were really for her and against me. I think I had so much fight in me, I was determined that I just couldn't lose. She hit a lot of unbelievable winners. I think what really turned it, I just wouldn't… I just had a lot of fight in me." Remarkably older sister Venus Williams also won a title hours later, at the IGA SuperThrift Tennis Classic in Oklahoma City, defeating Amanda Coetzer 6-4, 6-0.
And after 20 years it remains the only time the Williams’ sisters have won WTA tournaments in the same week. Of course it wasn’t Serena’s first taste of victory though. She had already won two doubles titles with Venus in Oklahoma and Zurich in 1998.
Not long after Serena would go on to win her maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open, knocking out defending champion Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals and going on to defeat World No. 1 Martina Hingis.