04/11/2013 15:00

Serena Williams: the immovable No 1



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Williams v Kerber - click on the image to see other matches

Serena Williams’ record-breaking season has astonished the world of tennis, but stats from the recent season-ending championships in Istanbul show just why Serena is so much better than the rest.

Williams first broke into the WTA top 20 15 years ago but despite 57 singles titles, including 17 Grand Slam crowns, she had only finished number one in the world on two occasions before the end of this season. The first was in 2002 when she won three of the Grand Slams aged just 20, and the second was in 2009.

Barring that 2002 season where she won 57 matches, losing just five, this has been her most dominant season ever, with 11 title wins, 78 wins and four losses. She has been greatly helped by her coach of 18 months Patrick Mouratoglou, who has a ruthless attention to stats and detail and seems to have come up with a superb blueprint for success. But what is the secret to that success?

As any tennis pro, goalkeeper or financial trader will tell you, positioning, and keeping that position, is everything. Where Serena is head-and-shoulders above all her opponents is her ability to stay right in the centre of the court, exactly where she wants to be. From there she can hit wherever she wants to and keep her opponent guessing. Solidly sticking slap in the middle of the baseline makes her a very difficult person to get past and instantly has her on the front foot.

Obviously she is helped by her immense power. Getting in that first booming forehand to send her rival scurrying towards the advertising hoardings is a massive advantage because while her opponent is just lumping the ball back in play from a wide position, Williams can pick her spot.

These heat maps show just how dominant she is. Williams won all three games without dropping a set and as you can see, barely moved from the dead centre of the court. Angelique Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitová meanwhile, are much more spread out, with only Kvitová having a central position to nearly rival Serena’s, understandable as the Czech also possesses Williams-esque power.

Williams’ power and precision is instrumental in getting her opponents out of position and edging backwards, while her advanced, attacking position lets her take the ball early, giving the women over the other side of the net even less time to react.

The semi-final against Jelena Jankovic and the final against Li Na both went to three sets and you can see that the duo played much cannier games against Williams. Their heat maps are also all over the place, Jankovic's in particular, but they also managed to get Williams moving about too, even drawing her into the net on occasion. However, Williams still had that advantage of being further forward than her rivals, with that extra split second being the difference between victory and defeat.

Williams’ unique blend of strength and precision allows her to take the game to her opponents, who are often simply unable to do enough with the ball to make Williams work. Once she’s established a stronghold in a point, it’s usually an increasingly desperate attempt on the part of her opponent to stay afloat in rallies, meaning that barring an error or wonder shot, Williams will often end up on top.

Until someone can find a way to move Serena Williams away from the centre of the court, it will be impossible to shift her from the No 1 slot.

Stat attack

Mouratoglou pays fierce attention to the stats for his player and her opponents. Because a comprehensive database has never been available – something which the IT solutions company SAP is promising to deliver for 2014 – Mouratoglou has watched hundreds of games each season, tracking the points and first serve percentages in biro in an A3 notebook.

A separate pad – he reckons he gets through at least four a season – contains his subjective observations, which he condenses into fewer than 10 bullet points, scrawled across the page in his native French to deliver to Serena before each match.

“The statistics are crucial because they help you to see if you have made the correct decision,” he told MSN at the recent WTA Championships in Istanbul. “Because it’s a big deal when you ask a player to make a change, and you know in your heart that you’ve done the right thing but you need to see it in the stats to confirm it in your head.”

Serena barely moved from the centre of the court (© PA)

Serena barely moved from the centre of the court

7Comments
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Well I've noticed this very fact that she's No1 for only the 3rd time seems to be not news worthy by all British TV & Radio channels but I have been ever reminded the men's No!.

Very little shown of this great athlete in the run up to becoming No1 almost a non event unlike Rafa's amazing almost biblical come back from injury.

I am surprised by this piece by MSN!!!!!

 

 

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Serena has no  interest in being number one.she plays when she is bored

and she has been bored quite a lot lately,no one to touch her for now,not

unless she retires,and comes back unfit.

04/11/2013 21:01
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I am not a Serena fan or a fan of women's tennis. I far prefer Rafa and Roger !!
04/11/2013 18:14
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She is like a man she has immense strength no women is a match for her she should be playing men , joke of course.
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