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The Williams Sisters Olympic Doubles Domination Began 20 Years Ago At The 2000 Sydney Games

By Peggy Shinn | Sept. 28, 2020, 12:44 p.m. (ET)

Serena and Venus Williams celebrate gold after winning the Womens Doubles Tennis Final at Olympic Games Sydney 2000 on Sept. 28, 2000 in Sydney.


It was late September 2000, and The New York Times declared it the “Summer of Venus.” Venus Williams had just capped 32 straight wins in tennis with an Olympic gold medal in singles, her smile as big as her forehand. 

The next day, after the Olympic doubles tournament concluded with Venus and Serena Williams atop the podium, The Times stated that the Williams sisters had overwhelmed the Olympic medal mix “like a dye drop in a pool.”

Little did newspaper’s editors know then that these descriptors could be used again and again over the next 20 years as Venus and Serena Williams collectively racked up 30 Grand Slam singles titles. 

What is mentioned less often is the Williams sisters’ dominance of the doubles game. 

Together, they have won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles—two shy of the Bryan brothers, who only played doubles. Nine of these titles were earned at the same Grand Slam tournament where one of them won the singles title as well, and two after they played each other in the final.

The Olympic Games are where the Williams sisters have really made their mark in doubles. While they each hold an Olympic gold medal in singles—Venus from 2000, Serena from the Olympic Games London 2012—they have together won three Olympic doubles tournaments. 

This doubles dominance has helped Venus collect five Olympic medals total (four golds, one silver in mixed doubles)—tying her with Britain’s Kitty McKane Godfree for most Olympic medals won by a tennis player, male or female. And Serena is a four-time Olympic gold medalist.

They aren’t done yet. Venus, now 40, has said that she would like to compete in her sixth Olympic Games next summer. Barring injury or retirement, Serena, who just turned 39, is a lead candidate to compete in Tokyo, too.

Here’s a look back at the Williams’ sisters’ Olympic doubles legacy.


Queens of Doubles
The Williams sisters’ talent in the doubles games first became evident (to the public, at least) in 1998—back when the two women were bubbly, brash teenagers. Neither had won a Grand Slam singles title yet, although the previous year, Venus was the first unseeded player to reach a final at the 1997 U.S. Open (falling to Martina Hingis 6-0 6-4).

Then in 1998, the Williams sisters swept the Grand Slam mixed doubles titles—Venus taking the Australian and French Open with American Justin Gimelstob, and Serena collecting the Wimbledon and U.S. Open crowns with Belarusian Max Mirnyi. 

Their first doubles Grand Slam title together came in the following spring when they won the 1999 French Open. It was only some consolation after neither teen advanced to the singles final.

“I would have for sure preferred to have won a singles title,” 17-year-old Serena told reporters. “I’m sure anyone who says they would prefer to win the doubles title, they would have to be mentally unsound.”

Over the next 17 years, they came to appreciate their doubles titles. They relished playing together, two siblings who were literally born to be doubles partners, and they have said as much. Doubles also improved their singles play—giving each an opportunity to work on their all-court game, with their crisp volleys as much of a weapon as their devastating ground strokes.

With 14 Grand Slam doubles titles to date, the Williams sisters stand tied for second in the Open era with Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva. Only Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver hold more (20).

Starting In Sydney
The world was just getting to know Venus and Serena Williams when the Olympic Games Sydney 2000 rolled around. The previous fall, Serena had won her first Grand Slam singles title—the 1999 U.S. Open, and the sisters added another doubles title there too.

Then, in the three months leading up to the Games, 20-year-old Venus exploded onto the tennis scene, beating America’s highest ranked player, Lindsay Davenport at Wimbledon, 6-3 7-6 (3)—becoming the first Black woman to win Wimbledon since Althea Gibson in 1958.

A few hours later, Venus won the Wimbledon doubles title with Serena.

“In just a handful of years, the Williams sisters have stirred up the tennis scene,” noted The New York Times’s coverage Wimbledon that year. “Side by side, Venus and Serena have opened eyes with their colorful style, charismatic personalities and foot-to-the-pedal power.”

At the 2000 U.S. Open, Venus beat Davenport again. She might have won doubles too, but Serena withdrew from the tournament with inflammation in her left foot.

From New York, the Williams sisters headed to the Sydney Olympic Games, where the U.S. women’s tennis team was heavily favored. The defending Olympic gold medalist, Davenport was seeded first, with Venus and Monica Seles (who became a U.S. citizen in 1994) second and third, respectively. Serena and Venus were slated to play doubles.

The dream team, some called it.

“There’s no reason in the world we shouldn’t sweep all the medals,” coach Billie Jean King told reporters.

The full sweep did not come to pass. Davenport withdrew in the second round with a foot injury. 

But Venus and Seles both stood on the Olympic podium. In the bronze medal match, Seles beat Australia’s Jelena Dokic, 6-1 6-4. Then Venus dominated Russia’s Elena Dementieva, 6-2 6-4, for gold. 

Venus grabbed an American flag in one hand and held her racquet in the other—displaying her usual flash and dash. But the Olympic medal ceremony was a rare humble moment for Venus, who had the tennis world in her grasp.

“This is much more meaningful than I thought,” she told reporters after receiving her Olympic medal. “I felt really emotional. I felt really excited. It was just really one moment in time, because you see it on TV, how the competitor bows their head, and they put the medal on. It was really great. It was me.”

The next day, Venus paired with Serena in doubles, and the two dispatched a Dutch duo in 50 minutes, 6-1 6-1.

“For me, this is almost bigger than singles,” Venus told reporters. “It’s right up there because I had this victory with Serena, my sister, my family member, my best friend.”

At the 2000 Olympic Games, Venus became the first woman since Helen Wills in 1924 to win gold in singles and doubles in the same Olympiad. And it began Venus’s long love of the Olympic Games.

In a schedule packed with tennis tournaments, the Williams sisters always found time to compete in the Olympic Games. 

Olympic Dominance In Doubles
Both Venus and Serena were named to the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team. But hours before their flight left for Athens, Serena withdrew, citing a knee injury. Both sisters were disappointed.

“Just the elation of last time, of winning gold in the doubles with her,” Venus told reporters. “How often do you get to do that with your sister? I miss her.”

Instead, Venus paired with Chandra Rubin in doubles. They lost in the first round. In singles, Venus was defeated in the third round. It was the only time she ever came away from an Olympiad without a medal.

In 2008, at the Beijing Games, the Williams sisters reclaimed the Olympic doubles title, routing a Spanish duo in about an hour, 6-2 6-0. With well-placed shots in the alleys and overhead slams, the sisters seemed to be having as much fun as the cheering Spaniards in the stands.

Four years later, at the Olympic Games London 2012, Serena won singles—her first individual Olympic gold medal. The next day, she and Venus beat a Czech team, 6-4 6-4, for their third Olympic gold medal together.

This time, the Olympic doubles title seemed to mean more to both women. Venus had recently been diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that caused fatigue and joint pain, and both had struggled on and off with injuries for years. 

“Venus has been going through so much, and she’s so strong and so amazing,” said Serena after the match. “My goal all year was to get to the Olympics and win doubles gold. I wanted to win singles, but my main goal was to win doubles, and I said that in every press conference. It really is a dream come true.”

Asked which Olympic medal meant the most, Venus replied: “The first one I didn’t realize what was happening. The second one, I realized what was happening. But this one it was definitely a fight. I can’t wait to touch the medal and put it around my neck.”

Then came the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Their surprise loss in the first round of doubles was their first defeat as a team at the Olympic Games. And neither woman advanced to the medal round in singles.

But Venus kept her medal streak alive in mixed doubles. Paired with Rajeev Ram, they made it to the gold-medal match, losing to U.S. teammates Bethany Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock. Still, they won silver—Venus’s fifth Olympic medal.

“It’s been an amazing experience, five Olympics for me,” Venus said in Rio. “It’s surreal every time I think about that I was able to come out with any hardware at all. It has been beyond my dreams.”

Tokyo Games In Sight
In January 2019, Venus told reporters that she planned to play at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 if she qualified—citing the Games as a motivator keeping her on the court at age 40.

“I play because I love the Olympics, and I play because I guess I still can,” she said.

When asked if that meant she would be competing at the Tokyo Olympics, Venus promptly responded, “Yes. And 2024. And 2022. I'm going to be on the bobsleigh team. I love playing at the Olympics for sure.”

But American women’s tennis is stacked with talent. Venus is currently ranked 70th with 13 other American women ahead of her, including Serena (ranked ninth) and many women whom the Williams sisters inspired, including Sloane Stephens (33rd) and Coco Gauff (53rd).

Serena—now a 39-year-old mother—recently battled Stephens in the third round at the 2020 U.S. Open, winning in three sets. It was, as The New York Times pointed out, “a timely reminder of how many Black players have flowed into tennis in the age of the Williams sisters.”

Should one of these American women win in Tokyo next summer—singles or doubles, or mixed doubles—it would be an appropriate changing of the guard.

Then again, it could be another Summer of Venus. Or Serena.


Peggy Shinn

An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.

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