NEW YORK—You had to figure, given Venus Williams’ exit from the U.S. Open just minutes before Serena Williams took the court on Arthur Ashe Stadium, that the 22-time Grand Slam champion with nothing left to prove would come out with something to prove. And on the very first point of her fourth-round match against Yaroslava Shvedova, Williams swatted an ace that brought the optic-yellow tennis ball and the royal-blue back wall together. She’s had a way of playing matchmaker with those two.
By the end of the younger Williams’ 6-2, 6-3 victory, it was less about what Serena may or may not have done for Venus, and more about what she did to her opponent. Consider that Williams won 19 of 20 first-serve points and through four rounds in Flushing Meadows has yet to drop a service game. Her second serve was very nearly as effective early on; she lost just three such points in the first set.
The serve is the one shot in which the player has complete command of the ball, but when Williams is playing well, it appears that she has the same relationship with her forehand. Shvedova’s shots needed to be struck deep and wide to have any effect on Williams, for when they landed in the middle of the court, the American’s reply was often the point’s final strike.
But if Williams can make serving look so easy, why can’t Shvedova, a fine player who once won a golden set at Wimbledon? On that pristine day, she did, but against Williams, serving was not so routine. The world No. 1 can effectively hit aces with some of her stinging returns. Williams’ best serve is a graceful and powerful motion, and her best returns are a two-handed tour de force. The stat “return aces” does not exist, if only because Williams has largely monopolized the shot.
As for stats that do exist, Williams finished with a 93 percent conversion rate on first serves, hit 27 winners against 13 unforced errors and nailed 11 aces.
“I really can’t believe it,” said Williams, who has faced one break point all tournament. “I’ve never really served this consistently.”
Pressed to give the crowd some advice on tennis’ most mental shot, Williams offered this pearl of wisdom: “I always say, don’t think about it. When you’re not thinking about it, everything’s a lot easier.”
Leave the thinking, writing and fawning to us, Serena.