Serena Williams on Thursday turns 32, which happens to be the same number of Grand Slam titles she’s won when combining singles and doubles. Isn’t symmetry grand?
Because our invitation to her birthday bash was clearly lost in the mail (no hard feelings), consider this our virtual surprise celebration for the 17-time major singles champion. Our tribute features 32 of our favorite clips, photos, quotes and more from the 18-year tour veteran, who still rules the women’s game with an iron fist.
1. Serena trying to keep an amped-up Venus calm? She was doing irony before it was cool.
2. Serena’s irreverent trophy poses are the best in the business, whether she’s wearing the spoils on her head, striking a pose or, as she did last year at Wimbledon, acting like she just bought a Toyota in the ’80s:
3. Jamie Foxx’s inspired ode to Serena at the 2003 ESPY Awards — titled Can I Be Your Tennis Ball? — was his second-greatest contribution to music (his first being the hook he sings on another salute to Serena of sorts, Kanye West’s Gold Digger). What the French Open is going on?
4. That serve. It’s the best the women’s game has ever seen. Sports Illustrated‘s S.L. Price described it as “a serve so clean, direct and finely deployed that it feels sometimes like a kinetic contradiction to all we’re sure we know.”
Popping four aces in one game? You name the surface and Serena will throw it down.
5. Yes, her penchant for shouting “Come on!” prematurely has gotten her in trouble (more on that later), but it also led to this funny moment at the WTA Championships in 2009:
6. Serena won the singles tournament and teamed with Venus to win the doubles gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Who else would think of doing the Crip Walk on Centre Court after beating Maria Sharapova in the singles final?
7. Two African-American sisters from Compton, Calif., who trained on cracked public courts grow up to dominate the pristine grass of Wimbledon (they have 20 singles and doubles titles between them) and usher in the modern power game in women’s tennis. How is this not a Disney movie yet?
8. The Catsuit. Never forget.
9. Is there anyone as demonstrably intense as Serena? This iconic photo was taken during her amazing run at the 2007 Australian Open, where she came in ranked No. 81 and beat six seeded players, including the top-seeded Sharapova, en route to the title.
10. One of Serena’s most entertaining news conferences (and there are many) took place after she won Wimbledon in 2009. Serena remained No. 2 after the tournament despite holding three of the four Slam titles, a spot below Dinara Safina, who had never won a major. After a pretty funny discussion about her Nike T-shirt, Serena was asked about being No. 2.
“I think if you hold three Slam titles, maybe you should be No. 1, but not on the WTA Tour, obviously,” she said as the press room erupted in laughter. “My motivation is maybe just to win another Grand Slam and stay No. 2, I guess.”
But the kicker was this line: “I think Dinara did a great job to get to No. 1. She won Rome and Madrid,” Serena said with a faux-straight face before she burst out laughing.
11. Serena’s outburst toward umpire Eva Asderaki after being penalized a point for violating the hindrance rule during the final of the 2011 U.S. Open wasn’t one of her finest moments. But her running monologue during the changeover after the call was hilariously controlled and gave us such put-down gems as:
• “You’re a hater and you’re unattractive … inside.”
• “If you ever see me walking down the hallway, look the other way. Because you’re out of control.”
• “You get a code violation because I express who I am. We’re in America last I checked.”
• “Really, don’t even look at me. I promise you, don’t look at me, because I am not the one.”
12. She is also not Justine Henin. During a match at the Italian Open in 2010, Jelena Jankovic served an ace against Serena but the umpire ruled that Williams had had her hand up asking for time. Jankovic had to serve again. As the two shook hands after Jankovic’s victory, Serena is believed to have told her opponent, “I’m not Justine,” referring to the famous hand incident against Henin at the 2003 French Open.
13. But seriously, Serena is not the one. During the final of the Family Circle Cup this year, Serena and Jankovic exchanged words over Jankovic’s quick pace between points.
14. Serena appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 2003 and ’04. She was also one of six athletes to appear on the cover of ESPN The Magazine‘s first Body Issue, in 2009. Her cover was ESPN’s best seller.
15. Serena in 1998. The beads! The braces! The firepower!
16. With 55 titles, you’d think Serena would have mastered the champagne-popping celebration by now.
17. The 2001 U.S. Open final marked the first Grand Slam championship match between the Williams sisters and the first women’s final to be televised in prime time. The sisters elevated that match into an event; Venus’ 6-2, 6-4 victory on CBS attracted 23 million viewers, beating a college football game between nationally ranked Nebraska and Notre Dame on ABC and every other Saturday-night program in the ratings.
18. Serena has gotten a lot of undeserved flak for not always being fully focused on tennis. Of all her extracurricular activities — fashion designer, student, actress, karaoke queen — her pursuit of a nail technician’s certificate was the best. And, let’s be honest, her nails are always amazing.
19. Speaking of extracurriculars: Can we interest you in a necklace with extreme comfortability?
20. No one on the WTA Tour breaks a racket like Serena. No one.
21. Remember that time Serena used one of Roger Federer’s fancy Wimbledon cardigans as a Halloween costume?
22. Safina wasn’t the only player to get the sharp end of one of Serena’s press-room barbs. During a back-and-forth between Martina Hingis and the Williamses in 1999, Serena attributed Hingis’ lack of tact to “not having a formal education.”
23. A victory at the 2003 Australian Open completed the Serena Slam, in which Williams held all four Grand Slam trophies.
24. The evolution of Serena’s Slam celebrations: What began as shock and disbelief morphed into falling down on court and then spastic leaps of joy.
25. The first rule of Serena’s Fight Club is you don’t talk about Serena’s Fight Club. This gets my vote as the funniest Serena video on YouTube:
26. How many tennis players have dolls made in their likeness?
27. No salute to Serena is complete without a mention of her dogs, who have accompanied her all over the globe. There’s nothing like sitting in a news conference and seeing a little fluffy head wiggle out from Serena’s purse. That’s the newest addition to her crew, Chip. Serena says he’s the best behaved of the bunch, which is probably why he’s allowed on court.
28. Here’s a well-done set of videos documenting some of her most famous comebacks:
29. Williams paid the price for her shocking, ugly “foot fault” outburst at the 2009 U.S. Open semifinals, getting penalized a point on match point in a 6-4, 7-5 loss to Kim Clijsters. By 2011, enough time had passed that she was able to poke fun at her tantrum:
30. The Williams sisters have refused to play the mandatory BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., since the family was booed in what it believes to be a racially charged incident in 2001. Despite calls for the Williamses to put the incident behind them and play the event, Venus and Serena have stood firm in their boycott, giving up prize money and rankings points out of principle. How can you not respect that?
31. Write this down: He was right.
32. Happy Birthday, Serena! May your celebration be ferocious and unyielding.