By Richard Pagliaro
Serena Williams calls older sister and devoted doubles partner Venus Williams her toughest rival.
The 39-year-old superstar has conquered a constellation of champions nearly as vast as her expansive trophy collection.
During her storied two-decade career Williams has defeated some of the game’s greatest champions, including Steffi Graf, her childhood hero, Monica Seles, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Lindsay Davenport.
So which rival does Serena miss most—and least—among the retired iconic champions she’s faced?
Martina Hingis, one of a handful of champions to hold the world No. 1 ranking in singles and doubles simultaneously, is Serena’s selection.
Posed the question in her post-match presser following her 6-3, 6-0 Australian Open second-round win, Serena cited Martina as her choice.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Oh, that’s a two-fold question, potentially with the same answer. You know, Hingis was here, right? She was always an interesting opponent for me. I don’t know. So many people are retired, so…
Q. Hingis was one that you missed or didn’t miss?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I can’t say I miss her, because she always gave me a tough match. We always were involved in some long battles and long games. Nothing personal though, because she was — after like year one we got on great. So I really ended up liking her a lot. It’s a good question. I have no idea. I mean, I don’t know. I’m trying to think of people I played in the past, it’s all a blur. Those are good ones. You said Henin?
The Compton Queen vs. the Swiss Miss was truly one of the most intriguing rivalries pitting Williams power vs. Hingis’ precision.
The woman widely regarded as the greatest server in WTA history against of the one most accurate returners in Open Era history and two supremely confident and charismatic champions who weren’t afraid of trash-talking each other in their younger years.
Overall, Serena held a 7-6 edge over Martina Hingis in their head-to-head series.
At the age of 17, the seventh-seeded Serena became the first African-American woman since Althea Gibson in 1958 to capture a major singles championship when she toppled world No. 1 Hingis 6-3, 7-6(6) in the 1999 US Open final.
Interestingly, Hall of Famer Hingis concurs with Williams. When we asked Hingis her toughest rival and favorite rival she named the Williams sisters.
“I liked playing Venus. I think it always brought out the best in both of us,” Hingis said. “Serena is one of the only top rivals of my time that I don’t have a winning record against. She was toughest. We had some great matches.
“Lindsay is another one where I started off pretty well against her and then she started beating up on me—she’s four years older than me—(laughs) and then it got kind of even at the end.
“I would say the toughest rivals for me were players who had big serves and could hit winning shots off the first ball. Those were the type of players I can honestly say I really don’t like facing. You have to be 100 percent at all times to deal with those kind of players.”
In a past interview with Tennis Now, Venus said she regards Serena, Hingis and Davenport as her greatest rivals.
“You know what? I think that I played Martina and Serena and Lindsay the most so those were my greatest rivals,” Venus told Tennis Now.
Hingis’ creative court sense, flair for finesse and ability to create absurd angles were elements of the distinctive style that made her the youngest world No. 1 in tennis history.
Though Serena and Martina play decidedly different styles, both are emotionally expressive players with a shared intensity that fueled their rivalry.
“Well, I was very emotional and I laughed on court because I loved playing,” Hingis said. “Tennis can test you on a lot of levels and you can get very emotional about it out there. As a competitor, obviously you hate losing and you do anything and everything you possibly can to walk off the court as a winner.
“Yeah, I got emotional. When I was winning I was happy and when I wasn’t winning I wasn’t happy. And I was showing that on the court. Maybe at times, I was showing it too much (laughs). But I think that’s what people liked about me: that I showed you how I felt. Today, when you see all of these same, steady faces, I think it’s almost boring (laughs).”
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