Serena Williams is undoubtedly one of the greatest tennis players of all time, male or female. For 20 years she has been a dominant force and is now the record holder for the most Grand Slam Tournament Wins in the open era after defeating her sister Venus Williams to take her 23rd Grand Slam victory at this year’s Australian Open. That win also saw her return to the number one position on the rankings of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). A spot she has now held for 309 weeks during her career (third on the all-time women’s list.). She has also won 14 doubles and 2 mixed doubles Grand Slam titles to make her the most decorated Grand Slam player in the open era. Just one more statistic that highlights her overall versatility as a tennis player. But what is it about that techniques and tactics Serena Williams uses that has made her so dominant as a pro tennis player? There are many aspects of her game, techniques and tactics that make her a great player, but today we will look at the four main strengths that have helped to her to dominate and reshape the game of women’s tennis forever.
There are two words that every Serena Williams opponent dreads hearing. “Service Williams” Serena’s serve has been a major weapon for her throughout her career. And she is one of the first female players to really develop it into a tool that can completely dominate a game. For example, in her 2012 Wimbledon campaign she hit 85 aces on her way to the final. This is pure domination and allows her to win so many free points on serve, often leaving opponents feeling deflated and hopeless. But what is it about her serve that makes it so great? Obviously, we have to look at the power. Serena is blessed with a naturally powerful physique that gives her a clear advantage in that area against any female players she faces. (She currently sits at third on all time fastest women’s’ serve with 206.9 kmh). But it’s not just the power of her serve that makes it so potent. Serena serves with great precision. Williams’s ability to pinpoint her serves makes her 3 times more likely to serve an ace than the average women’s professional player and a large factor in this ability to hit such accurate serves is her simple ball toss. Serena’s ball toss is mechanical and looks exactly the same no matter where she plans on placing here serve. This not only helps her hit accurate serves but also disguises whether she will hit to her opponents forehand, backhand or even at the body. They never know until the ball is already on its way. All these elements combine to make Serena Williams serve the most potent stroke in the women’s game.
In this modern day and age of heavy topspin and more radical styles of forehand grips, Serena Williams has stayed with a more traditional grip and it obviously works very well for her. Serena’s classic forehand stroke generally starts low, hits through the ball heavily and finishes with her racquet arm up over her opposite shoulder after the stroke. It’s through this traditional forehand grip and swing that Serena derives most of her power allowing her to hit deep returns that take her opponents way out of position on both sides of the court.
When it comes to the backhand Serena adopts the modern approach used by many of today’s professional men’s players. This approach begins with an open stance where her shoulders are parallel to net and uses two hands to swing through the ball. Although this shot is used quite extensively on the men’s tour, Serena is one of the only women who uses this shot effectively due to her ability to generate a lot of power through her trunk rotation. This unique stance also allows Serena to open up the court and hit inside out backhand shots where the ball goes to the same side of the opponent’s court from where she hit the ball originally. This gives her a great advantage and really helps her disguise her backhands during the backswing.
The previous three Serena strengths we have touched on have all been technical, but this last and probably the most important strength focuses on the mental aspect of her game, and it’s the reason she has been able to stay at the top of women’s tennis for two decades. Serena is a fierce competitor. She never gives up and even when players think they have her beat, if they let their guard down for a second she is ready to pounce. And watching Serena grow in confidence over the other side of the net is surely an intimidating site for any opponent. Whilst some players are born with this natural aggression and competitive spirit, it is still a skill just like any other, and with determination and commitment can be learned by any player to improve their game. We have been blessed to watch such a great player in her prime and we can only hope that there is still more to come from the greatest women’s tennis player of all time.
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