Serena Williams’s Unimpeachable Serve | FiveThirtyEight


Serena Williams described her want to be “perfect.” “I know perfect doesn’t exist,” she wrote in Vogue earlier this month, saying her plans to depart skilled tennis. “But whatever my perfect was, I never wanted to stop until I got it right.” Williams’s serve — essentially the most elementally sound element of her recreation — may come as statistically near perfection as a tennis stroke can get.

This week, followers can recognize this masterstroke as she performs her final U.S. Open and takes another crack at tying Margaret Court’s all-time report of 24 Grand Slam titles.

Fluid like water however highly effective like a jackhammer, Williams’s serve has underpinned her 23 Grand Slam victories — greater than any participant within the Open Era. Her dominance started and ended with that signature stroke. The Grand Slam titles got here simply when she gained an astronomically excessive proportion of first serve factors, tougher when her first serve was marginally off.

Williams turned skilled in 1995 at age 14, following the lead of her older sister Venus. Unfortunately, the WTA didn’t begin preserving match statistics till 2008, which lops off the primary 13 years of her unimaginable profession — a interval during which she gained six majors. But since 2008, Serena’s monopolization of the serving classes has change into all of the extra obvious.

Williams’s serving dominance made it almost unimaginable for opponents to make headway in her service video games. If an opponent was fortunate sufficient to get a take a look at a second serve, they typically noticed a large kick serve. By altering the serve’s spin from slice to topspin, she would hamper her opponents’ skill to make a top quality return. While Williams isn’t the profession chief within the share of second serve factors gained, she’s nonetheless up there, hovering proper round 50 p.c, which is a mark of excellence in that stat class. Her excessive win charge on first serves compares favorably along with her male counterparts,  greats like Roger Federer at 77 p.c, Novak Djokovic at 74 p.c and Rafael Nadal at 72 p.c.

Her former coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, known as Williams’s serve the best ever. The statistics definitely recommend that her serve was the very best within the girls’s recreation. She averaged 106 mph and recorded the quickest at 128.6 mph in 2013. Williams’s serve pace typically exceeded that of her male counterparts. As just lately as 2021, her quickest serve on the Australian Open (125.5 mph) equaled Nadal’s quickest on the identical match and was quicker than that of 52 males within the occasion. 

But extra essential than possessing uncooked pace, her serve has been constant. Over 27 years, she executed a serve with an abidingly dependable movement tens of 1000’s of occasions. It’s a tribute to its effectivity that she’s nonetheless standing, knees intact, shoulder in a single piece.

“Serena has the unique ability to ace with a less than 90 mph slice serve with the same exact motion that she hits a 120 mph serve down the T from the exact position. This makes it virtually impossible for the returner, who can only guess,” stated Joseph Oyebog, a former hitting companion to the Williams sisters early of their profession.

Williams has attributed her serve’s consistency to the small print. In her pre-serve routine, she all the time bounces the ball 5 occasions earlier than first serves and twice earlier than second serves. She by no means stashes a second ball. Her iconic toss has been studied for its uncannily fixed placement — one thing associated to her use of a finger roll. Other highly effective servers within the girls’s recreation, like Ana Ivanović, by no means nailed the constant toss. Williams’s backswing — neither too lengthy nor brief — has all the time been hitch-free. Her arm extension and footwork have been studied by physicists searching for solutions about her serve’s effectivity. Most gamers use a continental grip on their racket, however she makes use of an Eastern forehand grip for extra energy. Her timing achieves the rhythm of a bowhunter: sluggish, sluggish, sluggish, quick.

Reflecting on her quickest, 128.6-mph serve on the 2013 Australian Open, Williams remarked that it was “my fastest that went in. I’ve hit some 150s, but of course, they’re, like, to the sky.” Of course.

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