INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - A knee injury may have kept her out this year, but the memories Serena Williams has made at Indian Wells will live forever, including the one she made here 18 years ago on March 13, 1999, beating Steffi Graf in an absolute thriller for the first big breakthrough of her career.
Having just won her first career title at the indoor event in Paris, Serena came into Indian Wells that year in top form, and she carried it through to another final in the desert, not dropping a set en route.
But while she had taken out Grand Slam champions along the way - Lindsay Davenport in the second round, Mary Pierce in the quarterfinals - Graf had the most daunting resume of them all. At the time she had 21 Grand Slam titles to her name, the most of any player in the Open Era, male or female.
At the time, Serena had never even been past the fourth round of a Grand Slam.
And after losing the first set, 6-3, Graf’s big match experience seemed to come into play - she took the second set, 6-3, and built a 4-2 lead in the third. But the big match player in Serena truly emerged that day - she clawed back, winning five of the last six games to squeak the final out, 6-3 3-6 7-5.
“This win means a lot to me because Steffi is a great champion. I had a tough match with her earlier this year in Sydney and I knew it would be tough today, too,” Serena said after the match.
“This is the biggest tournament I’ve ever won. I know that I can win the big ones now.”
Serena’s gone on to win 23 Grand Slam titles in her career so far, which is the new Open Era record, and she also went on to win another Indian Wells crown in 2001, beating Kim Clijsters in that final.
But the current World No.1’s first big breakthrough came right here at Indian Wells 18 years ago.
Here’s a snapshot of what the world was like on March 13, 1999:
- Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis were the World No.1s
- Roger Federer hadn’t played a Grand Slam yet
- CiCi Bellis wasn’t born yet
- Wayne Gretzky was still playing in the NHL
- Movies that weren’t out yet: Austin Powers, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, American Pie, any of the Star Wars prequels…
- Songs that weren’t out yet: Genie In A Bottle by Christina Aguilera, Livin’ La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin, If You Had My Love by Jennifer Lopez…
- And this was the No.1 song in the US: