First US Open since 2003 Without Venus or Serena Williams: What Effect Does That Have On The Tournament?

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2003 was the last year that a US Open was contested without a Williams in the women’s draw. Both Venus and Serena Williams have had to withdraw from this year’s event in New York, one that both of them cherish dearly.

The beginning of the Williams/US Open Story

Venus Williams first took to the Flushing Meadows courts in 1997. While still only 17 years old, there was excitement about seeing the youngster play. Venus had reached the Indian Wells quarterfinals earlier in the year, only losing to Lindsay Davenport in a third-set tiebreak. There were no expectations from the outside world that Venus would go on to win, but she remarkably did reach the final against Martina Hingis. This made Venus Williams the first unseeded player to reach the US Open final since 1958.

Serena Williams had to wait until the year after to make her US Open debut. Whilst Serena didn’t make the same impact on the singles court as Venus had, losing in the third round to Irina Spirlea, she actually walked away with a trophy. Serena Williams had an incredible 1998 in the mixed doubles Grand Slam events. She reached the final at Roland Garros, won Wimbledon, and also won the 1998 US Open Mixed Doubles title with Max Mirnyi. In fact, the Williams sisters won all the mixed titles that year, as Venus triumphed in Melbourne and Paris.

US Open Domination

It was the early 2000s that saw total domination in New York from the Williams sisters. Venus won the title in 2000 and 2001 with Serena taking the 2002 crown. The 2001 and 2002 finals were all-Williams affairs. Neither sister lost a match that wasn’t against each other for two years. They had also teamed up to take the doubles title in 1999, but, perhaps surprisingly, they did not win this title again until 2009.

The game at this stage was being taken aback by the new style of tennis the Williams sisters had brought to the table. To have women capable of consistent serving over 110mph and groundstrokes of immense weight was something that the sport hadn’t seen before, and very few players were able to compete. The early 2000s was the era that changed the game. Women across the world saw what the Williams sisters were doing and realized that they had to adapt to survive.

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Serena Goes On To Make History

The 2002 final is the last US Open singles final that Venus has reached. It was left to Serena to go on and make US Open history. She has gone on to reach the most singles finals by any player in the Open era (10), equal highest number of wins (six, with Chris Evert) and has produced some of the most memorable moments in the tournament’s history.

Only injury, and perhaps some pesky opponents, has prevented Serena Williams from taking all records outright, but she has still managed a very long career. The amazing comeback against Victoria Azarenka in 2012, from 3-5 in the deciding set, was the first of three US Open titles in a row. The “Serena Slam” followed the 2014 victory with the next three Slams going to Williams. Then Roberta Vinci had her say in the 2015 semifinals when Williams was going for the calendar Grand Slam.

In fact, the 2014 final win against Caroline Wozniacki remains Serena Williams’ last title at Flushing Meadows. It hasn’t always been plain sailing at her home Major for the younger sister. There was verbal abuse directed at the umpire in her 2011 final defeat against Samantha Stosur, more controversy and verbal abuse in the 2018 defeat to Naomi Osaka, and then another defeat in her last Grand Slam final to date against Bianca Andreescu in 2019. These incidents–added to ones in 2004 (vs Capriati) and 2009 (vs Clijsters) in which Williams also had heated discussions with officials–mean that Serena Williams will always have strong memories of this tournament, and, of course, be remembered by the viewing public.

This isn’t the end, at least for Venus Williams

Venus Williams in her statement of withdrawal stated clearly that she aimed to be back in 2022 for another US Open. By this stage Venus would be 42 and Serena 40. They have certainly earned their places to be in the US Open draw for however long they want to compete. Serena stopped short of an outright statement of intent to return, but did leave a cryptic “I’ll see you soon” in the message.

Venus said in her video that the US Open is her favorite Slam with many happy memories. Even without a final since 2002, it is clear that she loves competing in New York.

Serena will still see the US Open as a great chance for her to win another Grand Slam title. Though Wimbledon may well be her best shot, the fact remains that, when she has competed, she has reached the semifinals at Flushing Meadows every year since 2007.

The women’s game has moved on from those early 2000s days. The catalyst provided by the Williams sisters has produced more athletic and powerful hitters. However, the memories and the impact of these two women cannot be understated. The tournament will be a less exciting one without the presence of the great stars and their stories.

It is a great hope that the Williams sisters and US Open story has another chapter. Both women deserve a true send off on the courts that they have graced for so long. Indeed, we may even hope that it doesn’t come in 2022 but that their remarkable longevity continues.

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