Serena Williams a superhuman

«It’s in the serve. Serena Williams may have won 30 Grand Slam titles, 46 women’s singles titles and four Olympic gold medals, but if you want to understand why she stands head and shoulders above her rivals in tennis, just watch the explosive moment at the start of a point as she propels the ball towards her opponent at up to 109mph.

To Williams, it’s a mystery to her how she generates such incomparable power. “Actually,” she remembers, suddenly, “when I was younger Billie Jean King said, ‘You have a great serve, it’s so natural,’ and I thought, ‘Really? Cool.’” Williams’s serve has since become the most talked-about part of her game, and the most feared by her opponents. This year at Wimbledon she broke the record for the number of aces in a tournament (102), and put a record 24 past the world No 1 Victoria Azarenka when they met in the semi-final. “Yeah, I feel like that kinda just started,” she says. “But I never hit my serves very hard. Like, I can hit it hard, but I don’t normally hit it super hard.”

You wonder what would happen if Williams did hit it hard. Her serve is already as fast as the average serve on the men’s tour and her second serve is regularly quicker than Andy Murray’s. Coaches and experts concur that it is the best serve the women’s game has ever seen, and Pete Sampras, who Williams modelled herself on when younger, has described it as “flawless”.

Most astonishing is that Williams’s raw strength is all natural, and not the result of hours in the gym. “No, honestly, I was born like this,” she says, in a laidback drawl. “To this day I don’t lift weights and I never have. I probably never will.” She thinks she inherited good genes from her parents – they’re both tall – but her physique has developed in a very different way from her sister Venus. In fact, Serena says she used to be the less powerful of the two. “When I was younger, I honestly would hit so soft,” she says, recalling the days she and Venus honed their skills on the cracked courts of LA’s unsavoury outskirts. “I was really small for my age, and it took me a long time to grow big and to grow strong. I think that’s kinda helped me learn to fight, you know what I mean? I learned to fight and be mentally stronger.”

Williams is happy to be seen as a “power player”, although she doesn’t think her own game is that different from that of her sister. “I’m more stubborn,” she admits. “If you have a great shot then I want to hit to your great shot. So Venus is… eesh… a little smarter.”

So will we see her recreate the famous Battle of the Sexes, when Billie Jean King took on Bobby Riggs (and won)? “Maybe one day,” she smiles. “But I don’t think I’m ready yet!”»

(article by Emma John,


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