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Serena Williams’ year at a glance — short and sweet moments

The Queen of the Court kept striving for greatness despite a few setbacks

Monday marks Serena Williams’ 35th birthday and she’s had one heck of a year.

After nearly a year since her loss to Roberta Vinci in last year’s US Open women’s semifinal, Williams returned to Flushing, New York, looking for redemption. On Thursday she was ousted by the 24-year-old No. 10 seed Karolina Pliskova, who became only the fourth singles player to beat both Serena and Venus Williams in the same Grand Slam event.

“America probably hates me because I beat Venus and Serena,” Pliskova said after the match.

We don’t hate you Karolina. But we love Serena.

In a year that has seen her fight back through two Grand Slam losses, a record-tying win at Wimbledon, and a starring role in Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, the No. 1 seed set her sights on breaking Steffi Graf’s Open era records.

In one of the most notable upsets in tennis history, Williams saw the chance to make history in the 2015 US Open by becoming the first American to win the calendar year Grand Slam bounce away. Favored to win by 30-1, her shocking loss to Vinci in the semifinals seemed to defeat her mentally and physically. She subsequently pulled the plug on the remaining 2015 season and canceled her appearance at the China Open and the WTA Finals.

Serena Williams had a record-setting win on route to the US Open quarterfinals on Sunday. While her sister Venus Williams fell to Karolina Pliskova in a third-set tiebreak, top-seeded Serena took out Yaroslava Shvedova 6-2, 6-3 in one hour and eight minutes.

Serena Williams’ victory gives her 308 match wins in Grand Slam match victories in tennis’ Open era, one more than Roger Federer for the all-time lead. She now has the most Grand Slam singles wins, more than any man or woman.

“I’m a fierce competitor. And I want to compete as well as I can, for as long as I can,” Williams said. “So I am taking a proactive step and withdrawing from tournaments in Beijing and Singapore to properly address my health and take the time to heal.”

Although it seemed as if her 2015 career was at a standstill, Williams continued to win off the court. Shortly after her US Open exit, under Conde Nast artistic director Anna Wintour’s tutelage she unveiled her HSN Signature Collection at New York Fashion Week to rave reviews. She was voted WTA Player of the Year for the seventh time in her 20-plus year career and Female Athlete of the Year as voted by the Associated Press. The accolades didn’t stop there. She then became only the third woman in history to be named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year.

Returning to the court in 2016 and her quest for that 23rd Grand Slam, while still in a league of her own, it seemed as if everyone had her number. The Australian Open defending champ was routed by first-time major finalist Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open. Not one to be done, she then set her sights on Indian Wells. After boycotting the tournament for 15 years, she returned hoping to win and put her troubled past there to rest. Unfortunately, in the finals she lost straight sets to Victoria Azarenka, with similar results for the Miami Open and the French Open.

“The tennis player was there, but Serena as a person wasn’t really herself. So she was beatable. Not to say that she was unbeatable before, but she was much more beatable,” said longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

Enter Beyoncé visual album Lemonade. In April, Williams joined the pop icon and can be seen unapologetically twerking in the video for the song Sorry.

“I have known the director [Dikal Rimmasch] since I was like 9 years old. I know Beyoncé pretty well, so they were like, ‘We would love for you to be in this particular song. It’s about strength and it’s about courage and that’s what we see you as,’ ” Williams said in an interview about her decision to participate.

In June, Williams launched Serena, an EPIX original documentary narrated by Williams and directed by Ryan White. Viewers witnessed the external pressures and vulnerabilities Williams faced in her quest to achieve four Grand Slam titles in a row and her losses at the 2015 US Open and 2016 Australian Open. The film takes a look at Williams’ life off the court, capturing moments with her family, coaches, trainers and friends.

After appearing in the video and the documentary, the “Queen of the Court” returned to Wimbledon with a newfound confidence and strength. Williams dropped only one set in her quest for victory, then she faced Kerber once again. Not to be defeated a second time, Williams routed Kerber in straight sets in spectacular fashion. With the win, Williams earned her 22nd Grand Slam, tying with Steffi Graf. She then partnered with her sister to win their sixth doubles title. The No. 1 seed was on her way back to the winner’s circle.

“We didn’t realize how much time she needed to recover from the [disappointment] of the loss at the US Open. It took time. That’s what I feel,” said Mouratoglou.

On the road to 23, Williams donning her “Wonder Woman” sleeves and Beyoncé in the stands has dominated in the first three rounds of the US Open. She has earned her 308th victory in Grand Slam singles, breaking Martina Navratilova’s record for most wins by a woman and surpassing Roger Federer for the most by any player.

What we do know is, win or lose, Williams is still undeniably the best in the game.

Toiaya Crawford is writer, public relations guru and a proud Tampa native who is unapologetic about her love of Beyonce, sports and a good book.