French farce to golden glory: How Serena turned disaster into triumph

Story highlights

  • Serena Williams tells CNN how her 2012 season went from disaster to triumph
  • The 31-year-old didn't leave the house for two days after first round French Open defeat
  • Williams roared back winning Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and two Olympic golds
  • Serena says she is in awe of sister Venus, who also had health problems in 2012

Just 38 days separated the lowest moment in Serena Williams' 2012 season, and the undisputed highlight.

After a crushing first round defeat at the French Open to world No. 111 Virginie Razzano in May the 31-year-old was so distraught she didn't leave the house for two days.

But just over a month later Williams was hoisting her fifth Wimbledon title -- her 14th grand slam singles win -- a triumph she hadn't thought possible after a blood clot on her lung nearly ended her career prematurely.

It proved the catalyst for an all conquering end to the season, as Serena won every major title on offer, including two Olympic gold medals, in the singles and in the doubles with sister Venus, the U.S. Open and the season-ending WTA championships.

Read: How tennis aced austerity

Serena Williams' rise to greatness
Serena Williams' rise to greatness

    JUST WATCHED

    Serena Williams' rise to greatness

MUST WATCH

Serena Williams' rise to greatness 07:37
Serena: Venus was a great role model
Serena: Venus was a great role model

    JUST WATCHED

    Serena: Venus was a great role model

MUST WATCH

Serena: Venus was a great role model 01:55
Williams sisters show off dancing skills
Williams sisters show off dancing skills

    JUST WATCHED

    Williams sisters show off dancing skills

MUST WATCH

Williams sisters show off dancing skills 01:54

It prompted many to isolate that decimating defeat in Paris as the kick start her season needed but speaking to CNN's Open Court show, Serena offered a different explanation.

"I think that for me the turning point was in April," she said.

"I had decided that I wanted to play better, and I told my dad, 'I want to play, for the rest of my career, I want to play better, I want to be focused and what are we going to do about it?'

"Then for me to lose in Paris was completely disappointing. I was completely shattered, I was really sad, and I didn't leave my house for two days."

That self doubt resurfaced during the final at Wimbledon, in front of a packed Centre Court.

Having breezed through the opening set against Agnieszka Radwanska, competing in her maiden grand slam final, the Pole fought back to take the second set 7-5, sparking a mini meltdown in Williams.

"I lost the second set, I panicked and then after that I thought, 'I'm never going to win another grand slam, I'm going to be stuck at 13 for the rest of my life'," she said.

Serena Williams: 'I'm in awe' of Venus
Serena Williams: 'I'm in awe' of Venus

    JUST WATCHED

    Serena Williams: 'I'm in awe' of Venus

MUST WATCH

Serena Williams: 'I'm in awe' of Venus 02:06
Serena Williams: Never quit
Serena Williams: Never quit

    JUST WATCHED

    Serena Williams: Never quit

MUST WATCH

Serena Williams: Never quit 00:59

"I should have been happy the last time I won Wimbledon, and then when I was in the hospital I thought I wouldn't even play tennis again, so to have that opportunity from going from that low, from the bottom to the top, it was probably the highlight of my year."

Li Na recently compared taking on Serena to playing a wall -- everything comes back.

But Serena concedes her outward demeanor -- stalking the court in such intimidating, predatory fashion -- is sometimes a shield to what is really going on inside.

"I don't look at me being great or me being good," she explained. "I just am a player and I know I'm good at tennis. And I get nervous, I get apprehensive, I have all those feelings.

"I do (hide them). I'm a good actress. But I have all those emotions and feelings, which I think is completely normal. And then sometimes, I think really what helps me is I'm really strong mentally, so it helps me get through it."

If that was Serena's individual highlight of the year there is no doubt as to the collective one.

After a long absence from the women's Tour due to a foot injury and the subsequent blood clot on her lung, Serena returned to action for the first time in nearly a year at Eastbourne in June 2011.

But within three months of her comeback there was more bad news for the Williams sisters as Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome -- an autoimmune disorder that causes joint pain and can deplete energy levels.

It would be February before she returned to the Tour full time but, just like Serena, her form was patchy -- until Wimbledon arrived.

Undeniably, the famous environs of SW19 propel both Venus and Serena to a higher plane.

On the same day Serena secured the singles title, the Williams sisters took their fifth doubles crown at the All England Club -- a sign their stranglehold on the women's game is far from over.

But it was the success they shared just a few weeks later at the Olympics on the same showpiece court that meant most to Serena.

"Venus and I went through so much, her finding out about her Sjogren's disease and myself with my near-death experience in the hospital, and to share that moment on the podium and holding that gold medal was, was amazing."

The pair enjoyed their most recent Games experience so much they confirmed to CNN they'd be sticking around to defend their title at Rio in 2016.

And when they both say they enjoy each other's success as much as their own it isn't hard to believe, especially when Serena talks of her sister's first Tour victory in two years at the Luxembourg Open in October.

"Venus winning after two years is great," Serena said. "She's been through even more than I've been through.

"And so she's been working really hard, and I see it, I see her work really hard, and go through things that no athlete should go through and continue to play professional sport. I'm in awe of her, really."

Just as both sisters revel in the delight when the other wins, so they share the despair when the other loses.

Serena added: "I can watch her in person, but I can't watch (on television). When she played her semifinal (in Luxembourg) I was so nervous, she lost the first set and she was up, and I felt like she should have won.

"I was angry, I was angry at everybody around me, I couldn't be normal. So yeah, like when she wins, I win, I feel the same way, and when she loses, oh, I lose. I feel that loss."

Though there are 15 months between the sisters there is no doubt their watertight relationship has helped them as players throughout their career. Serena likens their bond to that of twins.

"She's done so much for me. I think one of the hardest jobs in the world is to be an older sister. And I think Venus is an amazing older sister, she was a great role model for me, and we feel each other -- I can talk to her.

"She knows exactly how I feel about so many different issues, and I love it. I love having that relationship."

        Tennis

      • Rafael Nadal of Spain watches the ball in his match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia during during day seven of the China Open at the National Tennis Center on October 3, 2014 in Beijing, China.

        What does 2015 hold for Rafa?

        Rafael Nadal's body might be giving him a few problems, but his mind remains as strong as ever. Will the Spaniard add to his haul of 14 grand slam titles?
      • LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and his long time girlfriend Kim Sears arrive at Buckingham Palace on October 17, in London, England. Murray will become an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and receive his medal from the Duke of Cambridge. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

        Love game: Andy Murray to tie knot

        The Scot has served up a few changes to his support team in 2014 but there's one person who isn't going anywhere -- his new fiancée Kim Sears.
      • Despite being forced to retire at the age of 24 due to health problems, Lacoste remained in the game and went on start the "Lacoste" brand in 1933, which specialised in tennis products. The inspiration for the company's logo came from his nickname as a player, "le crocodile."

        'Crocodile' who broke all the rules

        His distinctive crocodile logo is seen on clothing all over the world, but Rene Lacoste also left a lasting legacy in the development of tennis.
      • Serena Williams of the US holds the US Open trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their US Open 2014 women's singles finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 7, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

        Serena savors U.S. Open win

        Serena Williams is without peer in the modern women's game and now she is on a par with two American tennis legends from the past.
      • American tennis player and golfer Althea Gibson (right) receives a kiss from compatriot Darlene Hard, whom she beat in two sets to become the first black woman to win the Women's Singles Finals at Wimbledon.

        The amazing life of Althea Gibson

        Over the course of her remarkable life, Althea Gibson was many things to many people -- but it was tennis where she really left her mark.
      • Courting couple at match point

        "I didn't cry once when I practiced in front of the mirror," says Martin Emmrich. But the nerves kicked in when he got down on one knee on court.
      • LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 03: Tennis / Frauen: Wimbledon 2004, London; Finale; Siegerin Maria SHARAPOVA / RUS 03.07.04. (Photo by Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images)

        'Baby' Sharapova's big moment

        It's 10 years since a teenage Maria Sharapova became the darling of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, launching herself as a star.
      • 'Swiss Miss' follows mom's lead

        Five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis has followed her mom into a coaching role, setting up a new tennis academy in Barcelona, Spain.