MIAMI—Serena Williams has an unusual but gloriously simple philosophy when it comes to deciding when to go for a service ace. “Every time I step up to serve I pretty much want to hit an ace. I always just feel like. . . ace . . . it's not anything. So, considering how many I serve in my mind, it's not nearly as many as I do on the court.”
Today, Williams hit 20 aces in her 7-5, 6-3 win over Slammin’ Samantha Stosur—a personal high. Imagine the number she might have racked up had the match gone three sets.
So, for at least a few hours here on Key Biscayne, it feels like old times again. That is, Venus Williams (who plays tonight) and Serena are stealing the show, upstaging everyone they can—including each other—something the sisters don’t especially want or like to do, but something that comes with the territory of being a tennis pro.
Venus, with her three-set conquests, has been doing a better job in the drama department, which is just fine with Serena. “I don't want to. I definitely don't want to (be that dramatic),” Serena said. “I watched her yesterday, and I honestly was dying. I went to bed after that. I went home, I ate, and I went to sleep and it was only like 8:00.”
Of course, when you rain down 20 aces in two sets, you tend to come up short in the sturm und drang department. You can get to bed as early as whomever has tuned in to watch you.
But despite that fearsome serving display and the two-set result, this match was of deceptively high quality, as befitting the first meeting between these two since Stosur upended Williams in last year's U.S. Open final.
Stosur, who’s widely known for the quality of her kick serve, had a so-so first-serve conversion percentage (63 percent) but she didn’t win significantly more points off the first serve than the second (56 percent to 46 percent, respectively). By contrast, Serena put only 52 percent of her first serves into play but won a whopping 85 percent of those points—more than double her success rate on second serves.
And that’s the difference between a serve that starts a point and one that ends one before it can properly start.
Stosur’s forehand can go wobbly under duress, but it held up well today. Time and again she ran around the backhand to smack whistling forehands, but Serena has a great knack for abrogating an opponent’s pace and using it for her own ends.
Serena was broken in the first game, and Stosur was able to retain that lead by taking care of her service games all the way until she served while leading, 4-3. In the next game, she hit three costly double faults, but still managed to fend off three break points and drag Serena through three deuces before she capitulated.
The next three games went on serve, but Serena won the set in the 12th game with a combination inside-out backhand winner and Stosur error, following a rocket of an inside-out backhand service return.
In the second set, at 2-2, Stosur forced Serena to seven deuces. Serena’s response to each of the first three was a crisp ace, and it was another ace that ultimately won the long game. Granted, Stosur had only two break points in the game, but failing to win the game seemed to break Stosur’s spirit. Serena broke her at love in the next game and Stosur was never a threat again.
Serena downplayed the obvious revenge motive that was such a tempting part of this scenario, bridling at the suggestion that Stosur “took away” one of her titles last year. She said:
“No, I don't think she took my title. She went out and won the title. I wasn't defending champ or anything. She played really well and she's a really good player. I just, you know, good players have to show up.”
A good player showed up in Crandon Park today, and she served up 20 aces—a number nearly unheard of in women’s tennis. Let’s see if Venus can come up with anything to match that.