Serena’s Not-So-Secret Weapon

To win one Grand Slam requires absolute commitment and sound mentality at all times.

To win three Grand Slam takes belief, grit, determination, fight, commitment, courage, and a heck of an ability to play tennis.

Having said all that, to win five or six Grand Slams can only be considered an awesome achievement.

So, if winning five or six is an awesome achievement.. what does that make winning nineteen Grand Slams?

It’s stunning. Staggering. Phenomenal. Incredible.

…Unbelievable?

If the last adjective is true of you, then you had better start believing it’s possible, right now. Because two days ago, in Melbourne, Australia, 33-year-old world number one Serena Williams achieved that feat. She claimed her nineteenth Grand Slam title.

And one thing is apparent for the umpteenth time: She has no intention of stopping here.

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Huge fans of Serena Williams should really have no problem in talking about the spectacularly decorated champion – the woman who is widely considered the greatest female tennis player of all time.

And yet, time and again, the dominant number one rips something new out of the bag. Something that leaves you with no words… simply because there are far too many.

The aforementioned scenario being the case, there’s no way that this post is going to be a tribute to the many accomplishments of Serena Jameka Williams. You would never find a solid ending.

Instead, we will inspect the element of Serena’s game that, on this legendary day, propelled her through a tough final, to her sixth Australian Open crown.

SERENA’S NOT-SO-SECRET WEAPON: How the Aussie Open final was won.

The facts are, any match that includes Serena Williams is always going to be riding on the American’s racquet. With the possible exception of her net play – in which category the award would go to her sister, Venus – Serena excels all her ‘rivals’ in every aspect of her game. Serve or return, forehand or backhand… Serena’s better is better than your better, and that’s all there is to it.

How else do you explain this statistic?: In the Australian Open fourth round, Maria Sharapova made a lowly fifteen unforced errors, and consequently annihilated US Open semi-finalist Shuai Peng. The final score was 6-3 6-0. In Saturday’s final, Sharapova also made just fifteen unforced errors – but lost, 6-3 7-6, to Serena Williams.

Serena’s best is unbeatable. You can’t deny the facts.

But you can still look deeper, and try and pry into what makes her such an incredible force to be reckoned with. You can attempt to pinpoint what has dipped below its level on her off days. Try to see which things aid her the most.

From her vast array of battle weapons, Serena can take her pick of anything she wishes to sail her through her next match – from sharp angled forehands and booming backhands, to the defensive play she rarely has to resort to.

Maria Sharapova’s irreversible problem two days ago was that Serena was very near to her best. To some extent, Serena had produced every implement from her torture chamber (except, I believe, the drop shot), and played both attack and defence with equal commitment.

Sharapova, to her credit, played a great match. She went strike for strike with the woman who had beaten her fifteen straight times over a period of ten years, and was particularly impressive as she played nerveless tennis to save two championship points. One blazing shot – a ferociously deep forehand – drew applause from Serena herself.

But even if her groundstrokes were not always as sharp as they can be, and even when she missed some great opportunities, Serena Williams – whether consciously or unwittingly – chose to major in two qualities in this final. And they ultimately delivered her a nineteenth Grand Slam title.

One of these qualities was the product of an inner journey. The other was her not-so-secret weapon.

ON THE INSIDE

Over the years, Serena’s name has been almost ironic. Throughout her career, she has always worn her trademark, fiercely calm game face.

However, on several occasions that she would rather forget, she has proved to be anything but serene. Think her match versus Capriati at the US Open in 2004, her US Open final versus Stosur in 2011, and that awful, awful second set tiebreak against Virginie Razzano, in the first round of the 2012 French Open.

In each match, there were sudden incidents that got to Serena, and cost her dearly. Little things that niggled away at her, and consequently made a huge difference.

Saturday was a testament to how much things have changed. How nineteen time Slam champion Serena has learned to overcome her emotions.

There were so many things that Serena had going against her in this year’s Australian Open final. A virus she had been carrying all week. A rain delay occurring as she was up 3-2, 30-30. Sickness during that rain delay. Getting broken while serving for the first set. A hindrance call against her on an important service game (uh oh, bad memories!) Her Championship Point ace called as a let, when she was up 6-5 in the tiebreak. And Sharapova playing some pretty decent tennis.

But how did she deal with all of those challenges?

Well, she ignored the virus, despising the coughs it caused her. After the rain delay, she won six straight points as she held serve, then broke Sharapova to love. No one even knew that she had been sick until the end of the match, and she certainly didn’t let on that anything had happened. She responded to being broken at 5-2 by breaking to love for the set. Never once did she panic after the hindrance call, smartly winning the game.

And that ace called a let? Whatever. She served a real one straight afterward, and it was game, set, match and championship. Plus a new 17-2 head to head record against the world number two.

It all channels down to one thing.

You see, two days ago, Serena showed a calmness and serenity that went beyond admirable, to heroic. Incidents that would have thrown her, that would have cast doubts into her mind not many years ago, she pushed firmly aside. After that rain delay, an evil voice in her head could have been yelling that Maria would take the momentum now, and she, Serena, would lose it.

But if it did, then Serena wouldn’t listen.

Then there was that hindrance call. In her controversial (and poorly judged) episode against Capriati, Serena admitted to have been rueing the lost point, and thinking to herself, “I could have won this game by now!” Not this time. Shrugging it off, she got down to business, and triumphed – as she did in every other potential danger zone of this final.

Visibly at times, with closed eyes and downward motions of her hands, Serena composed herself. She breathed deep, and blew her errors and missed opportunities away. She maintained a mental focus that never let her down. Yes, she allowed herself small reactions – but she never let things get out of control.

Mental strength. It’s half the game of tennis: Knowing you can win, and letting nothing get in your way. And two days ago in Melbourne, Serena Williams near-perfected it.

But there’s one more key tool that won her a sixth Aussie Open title.

ON THE OUTSIDE

Her serve.

It’s one of the most renowned in the game of tennis in general. It’s one of the best ever. Even some of the men have said they would happily swap their own serve for that of Serena Williams, and it’s hardly surprising.

But sometimes, if something is spoken of too much, then some of the value, the awe and meaning, is taken out of the words. It’s as applicable to the number of Slams Serena now possesses, as to the way her serve is commonly lauded.

If you had forgotten what a weapon Serena’s serve is, then the weekend’s final was a sharp reminder of how devastating it can be.

With her supreme calmness a firm foundation for its performance, Serena used her serve to pick up free points, and dig her out of the few holes she fell into during the title match.

Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe, Karolina Pliskova… All are women with a bomb of a serve. Sabine Lisicki of Germany has served the fastest recorded serve on the women’s tour, clocked at 131 miles per hour. But there is something that sets apart the serves of the next two women on that list: Venus and Serena. Something that Serena demonstrated on Saturday.

Serena has more than just a bomb to kick off her service games. She may have hit an incredible 18 aces during her two set victory, but that came down to much more than speed.

It was also accuracy. Sheer placement. And spin that left Sharapova flailing helplessly at the whirling ball.

There were two points in the second set where Maria had a chance to take some form of lead over her conqueror, as twice she found herself 0-30 up on the Serena serve. Both times the question was, would Serena freeze up? Would she hold back? Would she crumble?

And both times, the same thing happened. Serena took one of her wonderful , deep breaths of composure, slowed down… and went on to serve aces, unreturnable serves, or amazing set-ups for a winning point. Her serve came to her rescue – with second serve aces, and disguises that had Sharapova moving in the complete wrong direction – in such a way, that you wondered how other players survived, without a serve like hers to help them.

The fact is, they often don’t.

It was only fitting that Serena finished off the match entwining her two key assets of the day, as she shrugged off a let call on her match point ace, to immediately serve a clean one.

Nineteen Grand Slams. Not bad, Serena Williams. We look forward to number twenty.

*** *** ***

Thank you for reading again!!

Sorry it was late up. I stayed awake as long as possible trying to finish it on Saturday, but eventually I was too shattered and had to give up! Hope you found it a good read, anyway. You can leave a comment if you want to share your opinion – and remember, you can follow The Tennis Obsessed on twitter @tennisobsessed_.

It’s been quite an Australian Open. Look out for more posts here soon!

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