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Serena Williams’ Grand Slam history: How she got to 23 and what’s at stake in US Open final

Serena Williams has a chance to make history on Saturday at the US Open. A win over Naomi Osaka in the women’s singles final would give Serena her 24th career Grand Slam singles title — tying the all-time record held by Australia’s Margaret Court.

Williams, 36, had a chance to tie that record earlier this year when she reached the Wimbledon final in July, but she ultimately lost to Angelique Kerber. Instead, she’ll have a chance to secure the monumental victory in her home country against the 20-year-old Osaka. The win would come in Williams’ 32nd Grand slam final.

It also would serve as a major personal achievement for Williams in the sense that it would be her first Grand Slam title since giving birth to her first child — daughter Olympia — about a year ago.

But to fully comprehend the magnitude of Williams’ accomplishment, it’s important to understand how she got here. The road to the brink of 24 Grand Slam titles has been a long one, with decades of Williams’ dominant presence owning the tennis circuit. Let’s go back to the beginning.

Serena Williams lifts her first singles Grand Slam Title at Flushing Meadows. (Photo by Jon Buckle/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Williams’ first-ever Grand Slam singles title also came at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Just 18 years old at the time, Williams defeated world No. 1 Martina Hingis 6-3, 7-6 in the final. Not only was it the first major individual win for Williams, but it was also a major milestone for the sport, as she became the first African American woman to win a Grand Slam in the Open Era.

Williams added five more titles at the US Open in 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014. She’ll be going for her sixth on Saturday.

PARIS, FRANCE: US Serena Williams (L) and her sister and opponent Venus Williams (R) hold Roland Garros French Open trophies, 08 June 2002 in Paris, at the end of the Roland Garros French Open women’s final match. Serena won 7-5, 6-3. At center is the president of the French tennis federation Christian Bimes. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Serena’s first singles win at the French Open came in 2002. She went through defending champion Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals, then defeated her sister Venus in the final. The younger Williams won in two sets (7-5, 6-3) and took her first step toward completing the first “Serena Slam” — aka holding all Grand Slam titles simultaneously. (She would go on to win at Wimbledon and the US Open that year, then the Australian Open in 2003.) She became the fifth woman to accomplish the feat.

In reaching the final, Venus and Serena also achieved the No. 1 and No. 2 world rankings, respectively. The pair also won the doubles title at the tournament that year. Serena went on to win on the clay at Roland-Garros in 2013 and 2015.

Serena Williams poses with her trophy for winning the womens singles (Photo by Phil Walter/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Months after defeating her sister in the final to capture the French Open, Serena did the same for her first Wimbledon title. Serena took down Venus — the two-time defending champion — in two sets, making it the first Grand Slam title in which she didn’t lose a single set.

Following the victory, the Williams sisters swapped places on the world leaderboard, marking the first time that Serena had achieved world No. 1 status. She would go on to win the event in 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015, and 2016.

Serena Williams with the winners trophy after winning the Womens Singles Final against Venus Williams (Photo by Phil Walter/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Williams capped her first “Serena Slam” with a victory in the 2003 Australian Open final against — you guessed it — her sister Venus. It wasn’t an easy path to the title, as Serena clinched the final with a three-set win, but also had trouble in the semifinal against Kim Clijsters. Williams found herself down 1-5 in the third set and faced two match points against Clijsters, but she showed fierce determination to rally and surge back to victory.

Williams also went on to take home Australian Open titles in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2017.

Jul 9 2016; London, United Kingdom; Serena Williams (USA) lifts her trophy after her match against Angelique Kerber (GER) on day 13 of the 2016 The Championships Wimbledon. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

In capturing her seventh Wimbledon title in 2016, Williams also matched Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slams in the Open Era. The victory also helped propel her to her 186th consecutive week ranked No. 1, which matched Graf’s all-time record for the longest such run in WTA history.

However, Williams was upset by Karolína Pliskova in the semifinals of the US Open that week. With Angelique Kerber going on to win the US Open, she overtook Williams as the world No. 1, ending Williams’ streak at 186 and preventing her from topping Graf’s record.

Jan 28, 2017; Melbourne, Australia; Serena Williams celebrates with her trophy after defeating her sister Venus Williams and winning the Australian Open. Mandatory credit: Martin Richard/Presse Sports via USA TODAY NETWORK

After matching Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles with her 2016 win at Wimbledon, Williams was able to break the record with a victory at the Australian Open in 2017. Williams defeated her sister Venus in the final — the first time the sisters met in a Grand Slam final since 2009 at Wimbledon.

Williams’ victory was not only historic, but it was dominant. She didn’t lose a single set during the tournament. The win helped her reclaim the world No. 1 ranking from Kerber, and it became even more impressive when it was later revealed that Williams was eight to nine weeks pregnant when she captured the title. It was Williams’ last victory before taking time off for her pregnancy.


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