NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Serena Williams of the United States celebrates match point after defeatig Victoria Azarenka of Belarus to win the women's singles final match on Day Fourteen of the 2012 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Serena Williams at the US Open: A Photographer's Favorite Shots

Photographer Al Bello relives Serena's two decades of US Open greatness.

"The emotions on her face, the intensity in her eyes, her powerful strokes, the way she moves her body — there's no player more fun to shoot than Serena."

So says celebrated sports photographer Al Bello, who has been a fixture at Flushing Meadows Tennis Center for more than two decades. Over the years, Bello has shot many of the storied tournament's biggest players and most memorable moments — including one late-summer day in 1998 when he captured Serena Williams’ sparkling US Open debut. Since then, he’s followed Williams to multiple continents, covering dozens of her record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, including all six US Open victories. As Serena returns to Flushing Meadows for the first time since her remarkable comeback from complications due to pregnancy, FOTO asked Bello to look through thousands upon thousands of his images and share his favorite shots of the sports icon.

10 Sep 1998: Serena Williams of the USA at the Unisphere during the US Open at Flushing Meadow in New York. \ Mandatory Credit: Al Bello /Allsport Al Bello/Getty Images QUEENS LANDING "I remember her father, Richard Williams saying that Serena was going to be even better than older sister Venus, a 1997 US Open finalist." says Bello. "I wasn't so sure — he'd always been an eccentric guy and fathers like to brag about their kids." But Bello became a believer when he saw her play for the first time. 31 Aug 1998: Serena Williams of the USA in action during the US Open at Flushing Meadow in New York. \ Mandatory Credit: Al Bello /Allsport Al Bello/Getty Images OPENING ACT "There was an excitement in the air surrounding Serena's US Open debut on August 31, 1998," Bello remembered. "This shot is from her first-ever match, a three-set victory over Australia's Nicole Pratt. It was clear she was on a different level physically than other players, including a powerful and camera-friendly backhand like you see here. It’s incredible to think about how much stronger she got through the years." 11 Sep 1999: Serena Williams celebrates her win over Martina Hingis of Switzerland after the singles final of the US Open at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello/ALLSPORT Al Bello/Getty Images THE BIGGEST STAGE While 1998 was her introduction to the US Open, 1999 was her arrival, beating world No. 1 Martina Hingis in the final to capture her first Grand Slam singles title.

"Even though it was such a massive moment, her reaction was more subdued than you’re used to today," Bello explains. “Even from my position up high, I could sense a combination of shock and relief — finally able to catch her breath and enjoy herself after years of expectation and sacrifice. The eyes of the tennis world were firmly fixed on her, and this scene-setting shot was able to capture the enormity of the moment on tennis' biggest stage."
FLUSHING, NY - SEPTEMBER 7: Serena Williams of the USA chases down a ball while playing her sister Venus Williams of the USA during the women's final of the US Open at the USTA National Tennis Center on September 7, 2002 in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images ON THE RUN "Serena was a combination of focus, intensity, power, and grace — and this shows it all in one frame," says Bello of this 2002 photo. "She was chasing down a drop shot, eyes locked on the ball, arms and legs full of power and fury. Yeah, she's amazing — just amazing to photograph." NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 31: Serena Williams of United States of America speaks with her partner Venus Williams of the United States of America during their women's doubles second round match against Raquel Kops-Jones of the United States of America and Abigail Spears of the United States of America on Day Six of the 2013 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 31, 2013 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images SISTER ACT "Serena and Venus always seemed to have so much fun together on the doubles court," says Bello. "And they were great at it — even more remarkable when you consider that both of them were usually in the hunt for a singles title and had to work extra hard, playing on what would usually be their off days. This shot always reminds me of the special language they seemed to have. I always thought that it was nice that they got to do something together that they loved." NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Serena Williams of the United States lifts the championship trophy after defeating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus to win the women's singles final match on Day Fourteen of the 2012 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images TROPHY TIME "Out of all the trophy shots — and there have been a lot — this is one of my favorites," explains Bello of this 2012 photo, taken after Serena won her fourth US Open singles title. "The expression on her face, her pose, the flags — it all just works."
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Serena Williams of the United States celebrates a point during the women's singles final match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Day Fourteen of the 2012 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Serena Williams of the United States celebrates match point after defeating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus to win the women's singles final match on Day Fourteen of the 2012 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 04: Serena Williams throws her racquet during her match againt Venus Williams during the US Open at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on September 4, 2005 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. Venus won 7-6 (7-5), 6-2. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images MIND GAMES "Tennis can be a very lonely and mentally-taxing game," says Bello. "It’s kind of like boxing, except you’re not getting punched in the face. It’s the struggle that all players endure during a match. Serena was no exception and this picture from 2005 is a perfect example. She’s never been one to hide her emotions — if she’s pissed-off you’re gonna know about it." NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 06: Serena Williams of United States of America serves during her women's singles semifinal match against Na Li of China on Day Twelve of the 2013 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 6, 2013 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images RED LIGHT "When it's right, there's nothing like the afternoon light at the US Open." says Bello. "I’m not the first or the last guy to do this type of shot, but it's all about recognizing situations — the light, the colors, the player. The reason this one works so well is because Serena, with that memorable red dress, even when half-obscured by the shadows, is so unmistakably recognizable." NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 1: The boots of Serena Williams on the court in warm up prior to her match against Lindsay Lee-Waters during the US Open September 1, 2004 at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images FASHION STATEMENT "Who can forget the knee-high boots? They were a huge deal In 2004," says Bello. "She would wear them during warm-ups and the fans loved them. It was just another bold and beautiful example of Serena being Serena." NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Serena Williams of the United States of America celebrates winning her women's singles final match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Day Fourteen of the 2013 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2013 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images FLYING HIGH "I still can't believe how high she jumped," says Bello of Williams' leap following her victory in the women's singles final in 2013. "I'll always remember this celebration — looking to her family as she skies into the air. It looks like she's 6-feet high. The craziest thing is that she did it three or four consecutive times." NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Serena Williams (L) of the United States hugs Venus Williams of the United States after defeating her during their Women's Singles Quarterfinals match on Day Nine of the 2015 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images FAMILY AFFAIR "I never enjoyed photographing them playing each other," Bello admits. "When it happened the first time I was ‘Ooh’ but it was all just very awkward and I don’t think they liked it either. They’re very close, so they were conscious of being reserved and not getting too emotional or celebratory. As a parent of siblings, I always liked this one from their quarter-final match in 2015 because it shows a sense of relief that it’s over and they can go back to being each other’s biggest supporters." NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 30: Serena Williams of the United States looks on against Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain during their women's singles second round match on Day Four of the 2012 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 30, 2012 in the Flushing neigborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images PERFECTION "I love this shot from 2012, because it speaks to that additional layer of Serena’s greatness," says Bello. "Besides being the greatest player to ever pick up a racket, everything she does is impeccable. The way she handles herself, her fashion, her hair, her nails — it’s all planned out and executed perfectly. As a photographer you notice everything. Her style is as much a part of her as her groundstrokes, and I like to capture it. She’s an iconic athlete and strong, confident woman who continues to be a role model and trend-setter."
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Serena Williams of the United States returns a shot to Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan during her fourth round Women's Singles match on Day Eight of the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 5, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Serena Williams of the United States reacts against Venus Williams of the United States during their Women's Singles Quarterfinals match on Day Nine of the 2015 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Serena Williams of the United States reacts against Venus Williams of the United States during their Women's Singles Quarterfinals match on Day Nine of the 2015 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images BUILT TO LAST "Serena's fitness is as much a part of her as any other aspect of her game and this shot speaks volumes about the off-court work she does," says Bello. "I love the way she's holding the racket as the light is hitting her muscles, giving almost a simultaneous sense of both her power and exhaustion in the moment." NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: Serena Williams of the United States reacts after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark to win their women's singles final match on Day fourteen of the 2014 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 7, 2014 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. Williams defeated Wozniacki in two sets by a score of 6-3, 6-3. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Al Bello/Getty Images TRIUMPH "This picture tells the entire story perfectly," says Bello. “Usually the celebration shots are tight but this one captured the full emotional scene all at once from an angle that you don’t normally see. It’s from a court-level hole behind the service line and it’s one of those images that I worked for — it’s a tight spot that we have to squeeze into and I had to run back and forth, trying to time which side she was going to be on for match point." "I didn’t know she was going to do that because I’ve never seen her throw herself on the court but I was just in the perfect spot for the reaction,” Bello explains. "I shot the whole sequence, but this frame, just as she’s about to hit the floor, is my favorite."

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