Serena Williams is a three-time Rogers Cup champion in Canada, but this country was not a hospitable setting for her first-ever professional match back when she was only 14 and unsure of herself or her destiny in the game.
Williams, who begins the hardcourt season in Toronto on Wednesday as the No. 8 seed, had a humble start to her tennis career. Her first-ever match was in October of 1995 at the Bell Challenge in Quebec City as a raw and untested teenager.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 4, 2019
Williams lost in the first round of qualifying to world No. 149 Annie Miller 6-1, 6-1, in less than an hour and took home $240 in prize money. She did not play her second match until over a year later.
At the time, her older sister Venus was the one everyone was talking about.
“All I remember is that I was incredibly nervous,” Williams told reporters Sunday in Toronto. “I couldn’t believe I was playing. I just couldn’t deal with the nerves. It was a lot for me. I just needed to go home and get a lot better, and then when I came back I was more ready to be able to play on the professional circuit.”
Miller, the first person ever to beat Serena as a professional as an 18-year-old, told espnW.com back in 2015 that she felt she should beat Serena because of her experience.
“Truth be told, even though Serena Williams would go on to be the best of all time, I was like, ‘I should definitely beat her because I’ve been doing this for a while,’ ” said Miller, who became Annie Borus after marriage.
Williams has since grown into a 37-year-old superstar and mother whose legacy as the greatest women singles tennis player ever is secure in most critics’ books. Not only has she won 23 Grand Slam titles, but she has 72 overall singles titles and has won over $90 million in prize money.
Williams has come so far that she was ranked 63rd on Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid athletes with $29.2 million in earnings in 2019. Williams also became the first athlete to make Forbes annual list of the richest self-made women, ranking No. 80 with an estimated fortune of $225 million.
Williams is using the Toronto tournament as a springboard to the U.S. Open later this month, when she will renew her quest to tie Margaret Court for the most career Grand Slam titles ever with 24.
Williams’ path to that milestone was blocked twice with defeats in the U.S. Open final to Naomi Osaka last year and her 6-2, 6-2 loss in the Wimbledon final to Simona Halep last month.
Williams said her knee is feeling better after hurting it before Wimbledon, and she is ready to compete to win the Rogers Cup title for the fourth time.
Williams, who has a bye in the first round, is slated to meet Halep in the quarterfinals on Friday.
From Toronto, Williams will travel to Cincinnati next week to compete in the Western & Southern Open as her build-up to the U.S. Open continues.
Williams was asked how she copes with the pressures off the court when she is in constant demand by the media and the public.
“I’ve learned it’s just most important to be yourself as best as you can,” Williams said. “And that’s all you can know and that’s what I try to do. Just be myself.”
Being herself has turned out well for her after that first humbling experience when she made her inglorious professional debut in Canada back as a young teenager.