Serena Williams’ 2014 US Open title was widely celebrated as the 18th Grand Slam singles victory and sixth US Open women's singles title of her career, matching legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for third all-time (behind Margaret Court and Steffi Graf) among Grand Slam titles and tying her with Evert for the most women's singles crowns in the Open era.
Lost amid the adulation, however, was that her 2014 title came 15 years after she won her first, in 1999 – a new record for the greatest number of years between first and last U.S. singles crowns.
It was a 44-year-old record many thought would not be broken. In 1970, Ken Rosewall won his second men’s singles title, a victory hailed as a triumph for age and endurance; Rosewall was 35 at the time and had captured his first men’s singles crown in 1956, 14 years earlier. That broke – by a healthy three years – the 11-year gap that had stood as the record since 1911, set by Bill Larned and matched in 1926 by Molla Mallory.
That Serena could top Rosewall is a testament to one of the most remarkable aspects of the American’s enduring tennis legacy – her longevity and ability to adapt her game to defeat rivals of all stripes. In 1999, Serena dispatched Hall of Famers Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles en route to the title; neither has played a competitive singles match in eight years. By contrast, Serena’s fellow 2014 US Open quarterfinalist, Belinda Bencic, was only 2 years old at the time of Serena’s initial Open triumph.
So can 15 be broken? It seems improbable, with fewer and fewer players claiming major titles at young ages these days. (The last teenager to win a Grand Slam singles title was Maria Sharapova at the 2006 US Open.) But then again, Serena will likely be the favorite to capture a record-breaking seventh women’s singles crown in 2016 – extending that nearly unbreakable mark from 15 years to an unassailable 17. Perhaps then, that new record will receive the admiration it deserves.