Will Serena Williams' reign end?

In the second round, Davenport was toppled in straight sets. Mary Pierce went down in the quarterfinals. Her victim in the final was Graf, who would soon win her final Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. With a steely third set, Serena won 7-5.

"For me, Indian Wells was when she solidified into what everyone thought she could be," Davenport said. "She got one of those rolls there and was playing so well. I felt more tension about playing Serena than playing Venus. Serena was a much more difficult opponent for me with her slice serve and no glaring weakness in groundstrokes, unlike Venus and her indecisive forehand."

In a week's time, three top-10 players succumbed in Indian Wells. Serena reminisced about her Indian Wells coming-out at last year's US Open.

"I have been looking at film when I was 17," she said. "Gosh, I was good. I was really -- I had no idea."

"You can feel a strong energy and determination," Graf told The Associated Press in an interview in September. "That can be definitely intimidating playing against her. You know there's a force on the court.

"Even in her young age, she and her sister, they just had a really strong presence on the court."

Even so, at the US Open most folks were focused on Venus, who is 15 months older. Including that tournament, Venus had reached at least the quarterfinals of seven of the previous eight majors. The best Serena had done was a fourth-round appearance at the 1998 French Open. The 1999 event was only her second US Open.

After coasting through her first two matches, Serena needed three sets to vanquish future Grand Slam winner Kim Clijsters. Then she defeated Conchita Martinez in the fourth round and former world No. 1 Monica Seles in the quarterfinals. Davenport fell in the semifinals, and Serena found herself in the final opposite Martina Hingis, who had beaten Venus in the 1997 final and the semifinals a day earlier.

Williams smashed Hingis off the court 6-3, 7-6 (4) with eight aces (to none) and a 36-7 advantage in winners.

Afterward, Williams said the win was "too exciting to compute."

More than 14 years later, after this year's US Open, she said, "Gosh, it was amazing winning, like, at 17. For whatever reason, I never thought that I was going to lose that year. I just knew I was going to win it."

It took a while for that feeling to return.

Sister Venus won four majors in 2000 and 2001 before Serena won her second, the French Open in 2002. It was the first of four consecutive major titles, one of the great runs in history.

That was 11 years ago. Now, she has won four of the past six Grand Slam singles titles.

A rare opportunity

A few years ago, frustrated by Williams' seemingly cavalier attitude toward the sport, Chrissie Evert wrote her an open letter.

"Just remember," she noted, "that you have in front of you an opportunity of the rarest kind -- to become the greatest ever at something."

At an age when many players are contemplating retirement, Williams found a way to get better. She got in the best shape of her life. This allowed her to hit lower-risk shots on the run, which drastically cut down her unforced errors. She has always been at her best against the highest-ranked opponents, but with only two exceptions -- losing to Stephens in Australia and Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round at Wimbledon -- Williams did not take her eye off the ball.

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