Tennis

Work pays off for Serena at Wimbledon

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Matt Cronin

Matt Cronin is a senior editor at Inside Tennis magazine and the co-owner of the award-winning TennisReporters.net.

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WIMBLEDON, England

During hot and sweltering days in the California sun when they were kids, Serena and Venus Williams got up early, went to a cracked court and hit serve after serve, ground stroke after ground stroke until deep in the afternoon.

Those memories aren't exactly joyful ones for Serena, who picked apart Russia's Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-2 to win her fourth Wimbledon title on Saturday, but they are significant ones.

Even though she's a bit of diva, there's no doubt that the younger Williams put in the hard yards, which is why once again, she was untouchable in a major final.

“I hated the summers,” Serena recalled. “We'd go in the morning from 8 to 11 a.m. and then we have lunch at the park and right after that we'd go back to practice. It was tough. When you are that young you don't think about it. But it's those memories and all the hard work that you don't forget and eventually it pays off.”

Serena's father, Richard, recalls those days too. He drove his daughters hard, but not so hard that they would end up hating the sport and quitting. He had a vision that someday, they could become all-time greats, but he knew that if he didn't back off a bit and let his daughters be kids once in awhile, that they might choose another path.

STAY ON SERVE

 
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“I tried to not look at them too much and let them have some fun,” he said. “Because they were the only ones who were practicing in the ghetto, everyone else was going swimming or going to the ice cream truck. When I looked at them, they were supposed to be serious, but I didn't do it that much because they knew when I wasn't that they could have some fun and do what they wanted to do.”

Venus and Serena spent a lot of time talking, but also a ton of time trying to improve their serves, which Serena did to near perfection. Martina Navratilova, the most effective serve-and-volleyer ever, said that Serena has the best serve of all-time. While that's somewhat debatable, it's certain that no one has ever served with more force during a Wimbledon fortnight.

Serena can rifle flat serves down the T that can top 120 mph, harder than many men serve. She consistently hits slice serves out wide to the deuce court that are impossible to reach. Her kick serve can bounce up to the rooftops.

Serena thought she served terribly in her quarterfinal loss to Samantha Stosur in Paris and when she arrived back home, instead of taking a day off, she went to the practice court and hit dozens of serves.

“I said if I serve like that again, I don't know how much longer I'll be out here,” Serena said.

Due to that stroke, and her incredible composure, there was never a doubt during the final as to who would win because Serena is a substantially better player on turf. She ended the tournament with 89 aces, the most in the Open Era for a woman, and Zvonareva had zero break points in the match and very few deuces.

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As the Russian said, having such a huge weapon on a women's tour that features few big-time servers gives Serena a mental edge. Williams feels the same way.

“I know I'm going to hold, so it makes you play looser, because then with the return I have nothing to lose and I'm going to go for it,” Serena said.

Even though Zvonareva, a former top-five player was having the tournament of her life and is a threat to Serena on hard courts, on grass she would have had to do everything right and watch Serena have an uncharacteristically bad day to win the match.

Serena overmatches the Russian in the service department but returns just as well, is incredibly agile for her size, has more power off the ground and is a smarter player. All Serena needed to do was to keep cool and the victory was hers.

She broke the Russian at 5-3 in the first set with a brilliant forehand passing shot down the line and slid into a fist pump. She then casually held to win the first set, while Zvonareva began to press and the Russian was immediately broken to 2-0 in the second set after a string of unforced errors.

Zvonareva tried to step on the gas, but her engine kept misfiring. The Russian depressingly double faulted to make it 4-1 and then the match was gone. Serena finished it off with a booming overhead.

STUFF OF LEGENDS

 
Rafael Nadal
Nadal etching out a lofty place in tennis lore. Richard Evans
 

With the victory, Williams overtook Billie Jean King on the all-time list with her 13th Grand Slam singles title, which puts her behind three other Americans, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, both of whom have 18, and Helen Wills, who has 19. Sitting on top of the charts are Aussie Margaret Court with 24 and German Steffi Graf with 22.

“This one is very special. Billie, I got you," Serena said to her mentor with a smile, who was watching from the Royal Box. Later, after talking to King, Serena added, “She said she was proud of me and to go out and win some more.”

Whether the 28-year-old Serena is willing to play long enough, and stay healthy enough, to give herself a legitimate shot at tying Every and Navratilova is debatable, but there's no question that if she competes for the next three years, she has to be given a shot. She is that skilled, determined and completely ferocious.

Richard Williams would rather have his daughters retire today, saying that they have already played enough. He doesn't want them to grind on for another five years, but does believe that Serena has the determination to win more Slams.

And Serena? She doesn't pay attention to records much, but she's happy to be talked about in the same breath as the most hallowed legends of the game.

“It's cool,” she said.

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