The ultimate weapon in any tennis player's arsenal is an accurate, high-velocity serve. Long a mainstay of men's tennis, rocketing serves have been the foundation Venus Williams's dominance over the last decade. Venus and Serena Williams both register serves in the 120s and rank tops in the fastest serves ever recorded. Serena launched a 128.6-mile-per-hour serve at last year’s Australian Open, but Venus still holds the crown with her 129-mile-per-hour missile at the 2007 U.S. Open.
Though Venus, who has won seven Grand Slam titles and is currently promoting Jamba Juice's Million Free Smoothie giveaway, is past her prime at age 33 and trying to cope with Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that derailed her 2011 season, she enters the 2014 Australian Open ranked 38th in the world, a position she’s maintained almost solely on the strength of her service.
At 6-foot-1, Venus is aided by her natural length, but she believes her muscle memory has been the key to success. "I've seen matches [where] people's serves go on and off because it's just not guaranteed as much," she tells 'Men's Journal.' "It's about the rhythm. It’s about the timing."
Williams shared the keys to her serving game, but she admitted that the one thing she could provide was the opportunity to help tennis enthusiasts train hard and get some of what she has. "A serve is a complicated shot," she says. Good service demands both finesse and practice. Here's what Venus recommends.
Choose a serve type.
There are four types of serves in tennis: a flat serve (no spin on the ball), a slice serve (brush the ball on the side driving through the ball towards the court), a topspin serve (brush the ball from low to high), and a kick serve (brush the ball from low to high on a diagonal). There are also different targets: the middle of the T, an opponent’s body, and the outer corner.
Selecting the type of serve is based on many factors – the strong hand of the opponent, the score, the weather, and other factors – but whatever choice players make, Williams advises them to be certain about what they're doing before they reach the line. She prefers a flat serve into the body of her opponent, because it often results in weak returns.
"It's my best serve, I love it," she says. "Basically I'm handcuffing you. It goes straight into your body and it's so fast that you have no room. Either that or it's twisting into you. It slides into your body and you can't hit it back."
Still, any good player will adjust to even the hardest serve if you hit it twice. Williams says to mix it up and chamber your truly most powerful serves until you need them. "If you're up in the game, you'll serve maybe your least favorite. That way, when it's time to play the serious point, you can serve where you want, and your opponent's not saying, 'I know she's going there or he's going there.' "
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