Australian Open: Serena Williams is simply ace and her game is getting even better with practice

'Imagine how good I would be if we hadn’t been talking so much'

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Here is the news the rest of the women’s game might not want to hear: Serena Williams’ tennis is getting better.

After the world No 1 captured her 19th Grand Slam title by beating Maria Sharapova 6-3, 7-6 in the Australian Open final on Saturday, her coach revealed that her stunning serving performance as she hit 15 aces in the second set had been the product of a concentrated effort to improve that aspect of her game – even though her serve was already regarded as the best ever in women’s tennis.

“We paid extra attention to her serve in the pre-season,” Patrick Mouratoglou said. “When you go through difficult matches you need things you can rely on. Your fitness and your ability to get more balls back is one thing, but the ability to hit big serves when you need them is very important. It’s something that most of the top men have, but I would say Serena is the only woman who has that. I think it’s something that she needs to have constantly.

“I think the whole tournament here is the best she’s served since Wimbledon 2012, where she beat the record for the number of aces by a woman but also served more aces than the men during the tournament. This tournament she served at the same level.

Serena Williams celebrates a point in her Australian Open victory over Maria Sharapova

“She hit 18 aces tonight but she also hit 13 in the semi-final [against Madison Keys] and 15 in the quarter-final [against Dominika Cibulkova]. For me she served at the same level in the final.”

Nowhere was the value of Williams’ serving power more evident than when the players came back on court after a 12-minute rain delay midway through the first set, when Sharapova was threatening to retrieve an early break of serve. Williams, who had suffered with a virus all week and was feeling unwell again, had left the court during the break in order to be sick.


What had been going through her mind just before play resumed? “I was just thinking: ‘Ace.’ I had just thrown up and I had to run back on the court and I thought: ‘I’ve just got to hit an ace.’ For me there was no other option. That’s my game. That’s how I play. As long as I can remember, every serve I try to hit an ace. That’s just how it is for me.”

Williams puts her serving ability down to the time when her father taught the game to his daughters after school every day on public courts in the impoverished Los Angeles suburb of Compton, where their sessions were sometimes interrupted by the sound of gunshots from drive-by shootings.

“My dad had me and my sister serve a lot,” Williams said. She added with a smile: “Actually, while he wasn’t looking we would talk and chat. But we had this huge shopping-cart of balls that we would serve out of. I don’t know if a lot of girls at that time would have focused on the serve. My dad is amazing. He was really innovative with everything that he taught us. That was another great idea. He just always had us work on our serves. Imagine how good I would be if we hadn’t been talking so much.”

Maria Sharapova was unable to cope with Serena Williams' power

Williams now has only two players ahead of her in the all-time list of Grand Slam singles champions: Margaret Court (24 titles) and Steffi Graf (22). The 33-year-old American said she was ready for the challenge of reaching Graf’s total. “I’m not afraid of it,” she said. “I’m going for it. But at the same time there are a lot of other people who want to start winning Slams and start being champions and want to become the greatest.”

Starting the year with her sixth Australian Open title – but her first for five years – will put Williams in the best possible frame of mind for the challenges ahead. “It really feels great,” she said. “I haven’t won this title for a very long time. It feels good to be able to come back at the beginning of the year and play some good tennis and get off to a good start. No matter what happens for the rest of the year, I feel really good that I’ve already won a Grand Slam this year.”