Racquet Reaction

Australian Open: S. Williams d. Dolonc

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

Watching Serena Williams club Vesna Dolonc into submission at the Australian Open made me wish for a new statistical category: Ace percentage on first serves. An overall ace count is fine, but some players get chances to hit more aces than others simply because they don’t dominate opponents as thoroughly, break serve as often, or play at a consistently high level.  

It’s easy to overlook this issue because, frankly, there isn’t a female player who comes anywhere near challenging Williams in ace production (we’re excepting Venus Williams in her heyday). John Isner has Ivo Karlovic, Milos Raonic, Jerzy Janowicz, and others to contend with. Williams has nobody, so nobody pays much mind to such things.

Tonight, Williams won her match in 63 minutes. She won most of her service games with ease. She made 66 percent of her first serves—which means that she accumulated her 10 aces in just a little over half of her service opportunities. Given that she won 6-1, 6-2 (actually, stretching it beyond an hour was a moral victory of some kind for Dolonc), you have to appreciate the frequency with which Williams rains down the untouchables.

Or put it this way: You can hit a lot more aces in a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 win (that’s 15 or 16 service game opportunities) than in a match like tonight’s, in which Williams served just eight times. But this is the kind of match Williams plays almost every day. Had Dolonc made a match of this, that not-so-overwhelming count of 10 Williams aces might have been closer to an eye-popping 20.

I’m not sure what else I can say about this match, though. Given the intense heat, both women moved pretty well, and Dolonc had a few moments when she demonstrated why she’s been able to score the notable upset now and then (she had wins over Dominika Cibulkova and Jelena Jankovic last year). She hits a nice, heavy ball, but her own serve can be wobbly—she hit eight double faults—and she’s not the most fluid of movers.

Williams started strong, winning the first game with two aces and a game-ending unreturned serve. Dolonc had a point to hold the second game, but she made a backhand error on that critical third shot—the return of the return—and ultimately lost the game after another deuce with a backhand rally error.

Williams again hit two aces and an unreturned serve in the next game for 3-0, but Dolonc stopped the bleeding and survived two break points to hold for 1-3. In the blink of an eye, though, Willliams won another game—and the pressure was right back on Dolonc. From 30-all in the next game, Willliams hit a backhand winner and an unreturned forehand to add another break and build her lead to 5-1. She served out the set with no trouble.

Dolonc was unable to hit the reset button in the next game, and surrendered another break—this one via a double fault at 30-40. Williams won the next game, too, and it built her won-lost record on first-serve points in the match to 16-2. 

Dolonc managed a hold in the next game for 1-2, but Williams was ill-disposed to take her foot off the gas. Just as Williams whacked an ace to end the next game and take a 3-1 lead, Dolonc smacked yet another double fault at break point to lose the next one and fall behind 1-4.. 

When Williams held for 5-1, the clock was creeping toward the hour mark, but Dolonc managed to avoid a 59-minute loss with a hold. It was her greatest feat of the night, even though Williams closed out the match without the loss of another point, ending it with a prodigious drive volley off a weak service return.

Stat of the Match: Williams won 85 percent of the first serves she put into play (28 of 33).

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