This is a guest post by Pablo Romero Yusta, Women’s Tennis Blog’s long-time reader. Pablo is a former professional tennis player, very passionate about the WTA. He worked as a sport journalist in Spain and at present he is pursuing a Master Degree in the US.
When someone hits straight at you, hit back harder.
This is what Richard Williams, father of the tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, used to tell his daughters more than a quarter-century ago when he began teaching them. The Williams sisters emerged on the scene when they were only teenagers, but they changed women’s game forever.
The revolutionary way of conceiving the game led Serena, outstanding and muscle bound, and Venus, svelte and athletic, to redefine women’s tennis around power and speed. When both began their stage of supremacy, top players like Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati or Conchita Martinez assumed that this way of understanding tennis was the new rule on court and, despite their attempt and others’, none survived the dictates of this new reality. The strategic ‘touch game’ from that time was not sufficient to be at the top the ranking.
Tennis started to change gradually towards this revolutionary concept of understanding the game in the following years with the emergence of players like Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina and Ana Ivanovic. They realized that power and strength had turned into an essential part in the game for every tennis player wishing to succeed: “When I started, all the top players thought the Grand Slams began in the quarterfinals, because the early rounds were so easy and we only had to give 50 percent to get through them. Now I have to be at least 85 to 90 percent at my best from the beginning of a tournament. Venus and Serena raised the bar for everyone. We all had to go back to the gym. Younger players saw that, and now they’re hitting harder and harder”, said Belgium’s tennis superstar Kim
Clijsters to The New York Times prior to her Wimbledon match.
Nowadays, the greatness and influence of the Williams sisters is even more pronounced and the game is all about aggressiveness: “Serena and I did change the game, and it’s interesting to see people on court now trying to do all our moves. To be that person, the one who changed the game, wow, that’s too good to be true”, said Venus.
Women have certainly never hit harder and new generation of players are more aggressive, stronger and faster than ever. Power tennis is the norm and big serves have become crucial. The German Sabine Lisicki broke the WTA record for the fastest serve this year, reaching the impressive speed 131 mph (212 Km/h). But Lisicki and the Williams sisters are not the exception; other players like Karolina Pliskova, Coco Vandeweghe, and Julia Georges make their fast serve also their best weapon, reaching peaks of more than 124 mph (200 Km/h) with exceptional ease.
This new conception of speed and power as the heart of the game has extended to all aspects of it. The rising star Madison Keys, whom many experts believe that she will be a Top 10 player soon, displays a very powerful game with little apparent effort. This Australian Open the young hard hitting crushed the ball with 75 mph average stroke, so much so the former seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander affirmed that “Madison Keys hits the ball harder than some ATP biggest hitters”.
The Italian Camila Giorgi is another rising star who demonstrates power. The potent player displays an arrhythmic play game that may get even reckless, but her aggressive first-strike tactic has allowed her to beat some of the top players like Maria Sharapova or Caroline Wozniacki.
Special mention must be made to the talented Garbine Muguruza, who has made her aggressive and brave tennis the perfect weapon for her rapid ascent. The 22-year-old Spaniard is tall, muscular and athletic, and uses every part of her frame to impale the ball and keep opponents on the defensive. She is called to become the future of tennis and many experts believe she will occupy Serena’s podium once she retires: “If I have to name one player who could worry Serena, it would be Muguruza. She is a very dangerous player who hits the ball really hard”, told Serena’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, to French media at Roland Garros.
These are just some of the most prominent examples, but the list goes on with players like Sloane Stephens, the above-mentioned Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Garcia and many others.
It is a fact that players are now stronger, faster and better trained and pushed above all by the example of the Williams sisters. The questions that arise are: Where are the boundaries of power in the game? Does knocking harder necessarily increase the level of tennis? Is there still room on the elite for diminutive players like Carla Suarez Navarro or Sara Errani? Only time will tell. (photos: Jimmie48)
Great article!!! Garbine is without a doubt the number one challenger to Serena, Do not forget Belinda Bencic . I saw her Toronto tournament. Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard was the first to fall. Fourth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki was next, followed by Sabine Lisicki, fifth-seeded Ana Ivanovic, the top-ranked Williams — who lost for just the second time all year — and finally the second-seeded Halep. Belinda beat four of the players mentioned plus the troubled Bouchard and the #2 player of 2015.
JohnnyB, excellent note! Belinda’s Toronto run is one of the most remarkable ever, as all the six players she beat were in the Top 25, while four of them were Top 10.
Thanks for this piece! The impact the Williams sisters has had on this game is tremendous and it is nice to see it acknowledged this way.
Great article and tribute to the Williams sisters legacy. Not only did they influence the way the game is played, but Venus also helped in getting equal prize money to men at Wimbledon, being inspired by Billie Jean King. They also will inspire many young girls in the U.S. and across the world, to take up the beautiful sport of tennis.
I mostly agree with the article, but this power-oriented game is a double edged sword. Serena and Venus are very complete players, knowing when to hit hard, but also able to shorten the point by going to the net, playing slices, drop shots and so on. But many young players concentrate only on their baseline strokes, hitting hard, fast and flat. Which is good if you’re able to finish the point quickly, but gets more dangerous the longer the point is played. Because lets face it, more agressive you play, more unforced errors you will commit. Which is partially how Radwanska is able to keep wining – often you just need to keep your opponent playing and give him the opportunity to make an error. And also, on the long run it is very taxing on the body. You can hit hard like this for hours, day in day out, when you’re 18, 20, 22, 24… But how much longer? There is a reason why older and more experienced players try to shorten the points. And Maria Sharapova’s case shows just how important it is: would anyone thought few years ago that Masha would play slices, drop shots and even go to the net? And we see this more and more from others players, both on men and women side.
Anyway, I have yet to truly see all those young players to prove themselves. So far, all of them play well one tournament or at best part of the season and then it’s a disaster. Stephens, Bouchard, Giorgi, Garcia, Pliskova… They all shot to the top for a short moment, but so far didn’t confirm. Yes, they’re still young, but I’m afraid in many cases they might stay those young and promising who never got to fullfill their potential. And this is exactly because they’re only able to play hard and fast, so when facing a player who’s either playing faster and harder (Sharapova, Williams) or who’s sending everything back at them and using their own power against them (Radwanska), they’re powerless and getting more and more frustrated… And then the faults happens and then you lose the game 🙂 Out of all of them, Muguruza and Bencic seems the most promising, but we need 2 or 3 seasons at least to see if they’re not another Cornet…