April 30, 2008

Serena's service return game's most dangerous weapon

By James Beck
The Post and Courier /
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Serena Williams has a secret weapon on backhand service returns. She shoots straight from the hip. It's almost impossible to jam Serena with a serve into her backhand because of this shoot-from-the-hip technique.

Watching several of Serena's Family Circle Cup matches from the baseline from near courtside while concentrating on her service returns shed new light for me on why she is so dangerous on service returns.

Opponents surely recognized that danger during her march to the championship. Serena doesn't step back with her left foot or attempt to turn sideways on serves directed into the left side of her body. She simply flexes her wrists to her left, a move that places the racket on her hip. She combines her incredible upper-body and arm strength with the power of the serve to drive service returns toward the server, often with near-unreturnable pace. The bullets sometimes arrive near the middle of the opposite baseline before her opponent can make a move for them.

She seems to have more trouble with serves into the "routine" backhand area that force her to extend her racket out from the power pocket of her hip. Yet, serves a little wider and out of the routine backhand area on the "ad" side fall back into the danger zone for servers because Serena tends to power these balls cross-court, or maybe even down the line.

Because of her service returns, especially from the "ad" side, Serena has the most dangerous weapon in women's tennis on the decisive point of a receiving game that goes to six or more points.

Combining the threat of her service return with her ability to serve aces so routinely should make Serena Williams nearly unbeatable. If she can stay healthy, and maintain her physical fitness and focus, the rest of women's tennis may be in trouble for several more years.

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