Picture(s) of Excellence at the Open

It was hard not to watch Serena Williams. And who would want to look away? Since she played her first U.S. Open, in 1998, she played with athleticism and emotion that quickly drew in even the most casual spectator. She married sport and entertainment in a way few other athletes have. Even when she was not moving, she was far from still.

New York Times photographers had their eyes, and lenses, on Williams since that first Open, when she lost to Irina Spirlea in the third round. It did not take long for Williams to figure out how to navigate the tournament: A year later, she won the title with a straight-sets victory against Martina Hingis.

Photographers captured Williams’s highs and lows from crowded courtside seating to the upper nosebleed seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium. They had cropped in close and had discovered unique vantage points to create images that spoke to her power and grace.

Williams played her first U.S. Open when she was 16 and walked off the court on Friday a few weeks from turning 41. There are countless images of her over the years, but when you look at images of her playing over the course of 25 years, her athleticism, intensity and sparkle are always in the frame.

1998: Serena Williams lost in the third round to Irina Spirlea. The previous year, Venus Williams beat Spirlea in a dramatic semifinal match.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
1999: The second year Serena Williams played at the U.S. Open, she won it, defeating Martina Hingis in the final.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

2000: Serena Williams hitting a backhand during a third-round match. For the second straight year a Williams won the U.S. Open. In 2000, it was Venus as Serena lost to a finalist, Lindsay Davenport, in the quarterfinals.Credit…Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

2001: Serena Williams watched Venus Williams defeat Jennifer Capriati in a semifinal match. She lost to Venus in the final.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
2004: Serena Williams wore a biker outfit at the 2004 U.S. Open, but her quarterfinal loss to Jennifer Capriati, marred by bad calls, made the biggest impact.Credit…Uli Seit for The New York Times
The next year, Hawk-Eye review technology was introduced.Credit…Uli Seit for The New York Times
2005: Serena Williams, above, lost to Venus in the fourth round. Credit…John Dunn for The New York Times
2006: After defeating Ana Ivanovic in the third round. For the second straight year, Serena Williams lost in the fourth round, this time to Amélie Mauresmo.Credit…Andrew Gombert for The New York Times
2007: During a third round match. For the third consecutive major in 2007, Serena lost to Justine Henin in the quarterfinals.Credit…Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
2008: In a fourth-round match. Williams defeated Jelena Jankovic in the final.Credit…Uli Seit for The New York Times
2009: Serena and Venus won the U.S. Open women’s doubles championship, a decade after they won their first one.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
2011: Doing the splits during a third-round encounter against Victoria Azarenka. The Australian Samantha Stosur defeated Serena Williams in the final.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
2012: For the first of two consecutive years, Serena and Victoria Azarenka played competitive championship matches. Serena won the 2012 final, 7-5, in the third set. Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
2013: Azarenka again took Williams to a third set in the championship match, but came up short as Williams won her 17th major singles title.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
2014: Hitting a forehand during a second-round match. Williams won her third consecutive U.S. Open title, defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the final.Credit…Barton Silverman/The New York Times
2015: Two matches from achieving a Grand Slam, Williams fell to Italy’s Roberta Vinci in a semifinal match. Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times
2016: Going after a lob during a second-round match. The Czech Karolina Pliskova knocked Williams out of the U.S. Open in the semifinals. Credit…Santiago Mejia/The New York Times
2018: Williams made another U.S. Open final, but lost to Naomi Osaka in a highly controversial final.Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times
2019: Defeating her rival Maria Sharapova in the first round. Williams lost the final to Bianca Andreescu of Canada.Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times
2020: With no fans in the stands due to Covid-19, Williams lost to Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
2022: In a match that felt more like a final, Williams lost in the third round to the Australian Ajla Tomljanovic. Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times
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