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Serena Williams

Great Champions

By 2003 members of the tennis community would have been forgiven for thinking they'd seen every possible permutation of the Grand Slam. Over the years fans had witnessed a double Slam (Rod Laver), doubles Slams (Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver), non-calendar year Slams (Navratilova) and Golden Slams (Steffi Graf). Then Serena found a new way to rock the majors.

Backing up 2002 victories at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, she secured her first Australian Open in 2003 for a set of four she dubbed the 'Serena Slam'.

"Really only a handful of people have been able to do it, I guess it's a really special feeling," said Serena after defeating her older sister Venus in the final, insisting a non-calendar Slam carried as much credibility as a calendar one. "In order to win four in a row…you have to be pretty serious. I think that anyone would want to say they were (holder of a Grand Slam) if they won four in a row."

Born in Saginaw, Michigan on 26 September 1981, Serena was 22 years-old when she won the fifth major of her career in Melbourne, but amazingly her version of the sport's greatest achievement wasn't her biggest claim to Australian Open fame.

That came four years later in 2007 when, unseeded, ranked No.81 in the world and way off peak fitness, she steamrolled six seeds to become the third-lowest ranked player in history to win a Grand Slam title. Twice, against Nadia Petrova and Shahar Peer, Serena stood just points from defeat only to battle through, ultimately crushing world No.1 Maria Sharapova 6-1 6-2 in the final, shocking all but the champion herself.

"Like I always say, if I'm playing good, it's hard for anyone. Doesn't matter what they're ranked," she said of the victory that catapulted her back up the rankings to No.14 and re-established her as a title contender.

The 2009 tournament saw Serena continue her streak of winning the Australian Open in odd-numbered years, following her victories in 2003, 2005 and 2007. This time, as the No.2 seed, her dominant performance came as no surprise. Upon reaching the quarterfinals, Williams faced a Russian at each subsequent hurdle; after squeezing past Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets, the American waltzed through her semifinal, crushing Elena Dementieva 6-3 6-4. Pitted against No.1 seed Dinara Safina for the title, Williams produced a stunning display in conceding just three games to her bewildered opponent, taking her fourth Australian Open. In doing so, she joined Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Monica Seles and Steffi Graf as the only women to have lifted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy four times in the Open Era.

Serena defended her title in 2010, ending her pattern of winning in odd number years. It was her 12th Grand Slam title, which came with victory over arch rival Justine Henin in three tough sets. It was the first time the two had played against each other in a Grand Slam final. Five years later, Serena won her sixth title. A 6-3 7-6(5) victory over Maria Sharapova in the 2015 final made the American the most prolific women’s singles champion in the Open Era. It also formed part of a second Serena Slam, which Williams completed at Wimbledon 2015 to win her 21st Grand Slam.

Victory in 2017 would equal Williams with Margaret Court’s all-time tournament record of seven titles. She came close in 2016, but lost an enthralling three-set final against German Angelique Kerber.