August 3, 2008

Learning from Serena Williams' Determination

Serena is featured in the COMPLETE PLAYER section (page 58) of the August 2008 TENNIS Magazine (w/ Pete Sampras on the cover). (Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images).

1. Intimidate with attitude
Since winning the 2007 Australian Open, Serena Williams has improved her conditioning and returned to the top of the game. But the most important part of her resurgence, I believe, is the confi dence she regained in Melbourne last year. For a while, Williams seemed dejected on the court and didn’t get the most out of her game. In Australia, she might not have been in the best shape of her career, but she believed she would win. No matter how fi t you are or how much practice you’ve had, you need to make sure you produce your best tennis despite your limitations. This begins and ends with your attitude. Compete in a positive way and don’t beat yourself up when the slightest thing goes wrong. These days, Williams doesn’t display negative emotions as often, and her opponents notice.

2. Return offensively
Does anyone in tennis enjoy returning serve as much as Serena Williams? She can’t wait to take a cut at the ball. Williams hits all of her returns early rather than letting the ball bounce high as the server resets her feet. On first serves, she stands on the baseline; on second serves, she steps well inside it. No doubt Williams’ opponents get worried just seeing her across the net with that determined look on her face as she creeps farther inside the baseline. Williams has impeccable timing and quick hands, and I don’t expect club players to match those skills. But the lesson here is, don’t ignore your return of serve or treat it like a defensive shot. You shouldn’t be content just putting the ball back in play, especially if your opponent has a weak serve. Step into the court and take a few chances. Odds are that if you show your opponent you mean business when you return, her serve will deteriorate further. Pressure is an important tool in anyone’s arsenal, and you should apply it when you’re returning, too, not just when you’re serving.

3. Battle your nerves
Don’t believe that everyone gets nervous on court? Watch a replay of Williams as she tried to close out the Sony Ericsson Open final this year against Jelena Jankovic. Williams established a big lead in the third set and suddenly became tight. She didn’t move between shots and her strokes were uncharacteristically stiff. She made poor decisions and began to look tired (nerves use up a lot of energy). But in the end, she fought through the jitters. If Serena Williams gets nervous, you’re going to get nervous, too. So will your opponent. I like the way Williams managed her crisis in those last few games. She took a little more time between points and steadied herself with a few safe rallies before regaining her aggressiveness. She also prevented her emotions—namely, frustration—from getting the better of her. The next time you fi nd yourself feeling the pressure, don’t ask, “Why me?” Instead say, “It happens to everyone. I’ll get through it.” You’ll improve your chances of success.

4. Choose your weapon
Williams switched to a smaller, more traditional racquet before the 2007 Australian Open. In doing so, she emphasized the importance of control and feel. Regular players often fall in love with the power of big frames but don’t think about consistency. More power isn’t always better.

Article by Paul Annacone. Paul is Britain’s Davis Cup coach and the head men’s coach for the Lawn Tennis Association.

No comments: