2020 Black History Month Serena's first US Open title, 1999
The long and storied history of tennis in the U.S. features a multitude of significant chapters authored by African-Americans. From the sport’s earliest days through its modern era, countless contributions to tennis’ growth and success have been made by players, coaches and administrators of color. Some helped tear down barriers; some have torn up record books. Several have transcended the sport they helped to build to become true American icons. All have been an inspiration, providing this sport, those who play it and those who revel in it, with myriad memorable moments.
As we celebrate Black History Month throughout February, USTA.com recalls some of the most memorable of those important moments; milestones that helped to change the face of this sport—literally and figuratively—and inspire us all to raise our game. Today, we look at Serena Williams' first Grand Slam title run at the 1999 US Open.
Serena Williams has made history time and time again over the course of her Hall of Fame career. But few things were as historic as her 1999 US Open championship run.
Williams became the first African-American woman since Althea Gibson in 1958, and the first ever in the Open era, to win a Grand Slam singles title.
In the final, Williams emerged victorious over world No. 1 Martina Hingis with a 6-3, 7-6 win, ending a run of 31 years since Gibson’s fifth and final major title. Gibson won her first major trophy at the French Championships in 1956 before winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in both 1957 and 1958.
Gibson’s 1958 title run marked her ninth U.S. National Championship and the final major amateur event of her career. It was fitting that Williams’ win came in New York, where, in 1950, Gibson was the first African American player to receive an invite to play at the U.S. National Championships at Forest Hills.
Asked by reporters after her win about following the legacy of players like Gibson and Arthur Ashe, Williams said it was “really exciting.”
“I once heard Althea Gibson... one of her best friends told me she wanted to see another African-American win a Slam before her time is up,” said Williams. “I'm so excited I had a chance to accomplish that while she's still alive. It's just really great. It's really amazing. It's really amazing for me just to even have an opportunity to be compared [to someone] as great as Althea Gibson. She was a great player. It's pretty exciting for me.”
The 1999 US Open was Williams’ second time competing in New York and just the seventh major tournament of her career. She had been past the third round just once prior to her championship run at Flushing Meadows—she made the fourth round of the French Open in 1988—and she had missed Wimbledon two months earlier with injury.
Seeded No. 7, Williams cruised into the third round, dropping a combined seven games against countrywoman Kimberly Po and Jelena Kostanic of Croatia. She was forced to rally from a set down in her next three matches: against Kim Clijsters in the third round, against No. 16 seed Conchita Martinez in the Round of 16 and against fourth-seeded American Monica Seles in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, Williams edged No. 2 seed Lindsay Davenport, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, setting the stage for a final showdown with top seed Hingis, who had one day earlier dashed Williams’ father’s prediction of a Serena-Venus championship match with a three-set victory against Venus.
In the final, Williams hit 28 winners to Hingis’ seven, winning the 1-hour, 42-minute championship match despite recording 57 unforced errors. She broke Hingis four times in defeating the Swiss, who saved two match points in the second set before Williams finally powered her way to the victory.