Is body type a factor? A glance at the WTA’s most dominant players

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black friday 2021

Tennis has long been a test of one’s athletic abilities, wits, and mental endurance, but to what extent does one’s body type affect the match outcome?

There’s no doubt, tennis is a sport that takes in many factors to come out on top, and all kinds of players have shown that they can dominate the court regardless of their body type. However, there is also no denying that many of the WTA’s most dominant players have some notable similarities in physique, such as height, size, and muscular percentage.

Serena Williams

Body type analysis: Margaret Court and Serena Williams

Margaret Court and Serena Williams may be from different eras, but both players have the commonality of being highly successful players often coined as “legends” or “GOATs” of the sport. The truth is there may be more to their similarities than their achievements and statuses. Both Court and Williams were known to have bigger builds compared to the average WTA player, though this never compromised their athletic abilities.

In tennis, generating power is just as important as being quick on your toes, especially at the elite level. Court was notorious for having both these attributes, as her big muscular build would combine with her phenomenal speed to overwhelm her opponents with powerful serves followed by a quick net approach for the volley put-away. Williams was no different, though. Since the serve-volley game died out, she would instead use these abilities for heavy baseline attack and speedy defence that would pile the pressure onto her opponents physically and mentally.

During her time on Tour, Margaret Court was known as the “Aussie Amazon” for her disciplined training regime and dedication to fitness. Likewise, Serena Williams’ training routine is also quite strenuous, incorporating weighted exercises for arms, legs, and core. Thus, it is evident that it certainly takes more than natural biological make-up and genetic gifts to excel in the sport.

Naomi Osaka

So, is body type a factor?

Well, from the examples mentioned, there is a good chance that body type does come into play to some degree, provided that it is backed up with enough strenuous training to not sacrifice one’s athletic abilities. To further explore the evidence, we have more recent players that support the case including Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, Coco Gauff, and many more.

Naomi Osaka and Ash Barty have both shown to be very dominant players on the court in terms of power and high winner-percentages and are both multiple Grand Slam champions and former or current world number ones. Coco Gauff is extremely early in her career and has already cracked open the WTA Top 20, even besting one of her idols Venus Williams through strong groundstrokes and aggressive gameplay.

Like Court and Williams, these players are also known to have larger body frames and muscular builds as a result of natural genetics combined with effective training routines. It would seem that at least one of the winning combinations to be a great tennis player comes down to powerful strokes that can be backed by quick movement to get to the ball.

Increasing one’s speed can always be built up, but for power, there may come a point where training can only do so much, and players with the bigger builds who have done the hard work will have the edge during match play.

Ashleigh Barty

How about height?

Indeed, not all the players mentioned thus far are necessarily the tallest, particularly world number one Ash Barty who comes in at 166 cm in height. While she may be tall compared to the average woman, she certainly falls short in the realm of women’s tennis players where the average height is somewhere between 170 to 180 cm tall. In this regard, we can say that height is not necessarily a crucial factor, but perhaps it is for those who aren’t gifted with bulky, muscular body types.

A classic example of this may be Maria Sharapova, who comes in at a staggering 188 cm, even proving to be taller than the average men’s tennis player. In spite of this, she remains rather slim in her build, and what she may lack in muscle she more than makes up for in reach. As a five-time Grand Slam winner and former world number one, Sharapova would dominate during the peak of her career with strong service games and superb defence, likely attributed to her extra reach resulting in higher ball tosses and an ability to return difficult shots out wide.

Maria Sharapova

Going back to the immense success of Margaret Court and Serena Williams, another critical factor to consider is that they were both 1.75 m tall. While this is a somewhat average height among WTA players, it proves to have all the more impact when combined with larger builds and body types as well as speed and stamina. There’s no doubt that the added height advantage provides, at the very least, a significant advantage in one’s service game, and you can also argue it makes for a formidable force at the net.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, a player’s success on the court can never be attributed to a single aspect of the game, such as body type or height. For perspective, just look at the success of Billie Jean King, the shortest tennis player to ever win a Grand Slam, and I guarantee you she did far more than just that. The true winners of tennis are those who are able to use the gifts that they were given to their advantage, no matter what they may be.

Thus, we can say that the factor of body type is indeed an indicator for success, especially if you make the most out of it. However, to say that body type is the only attribute or the most important of them all is ludicrous. Yes, we have seen the sport be dominated by bigger sized women, whether through larger builds or height advantages, but that is not to say the sport has never been dominated by the smaller players either.

To sum up this discussion, the reason that Margaret Court and Serena Williams experienced so much success in their careers was not a result of their given body types, but because of their ability and effort to work with their bodies and make the most out of them. The same can be said for Billie Jean King, who took advantage of her smaller size and weight to become one of the fastest players on court and even downing the great Margaret Court on multiple occasions.

On a final note, tennis is a sport that challenges you to make something of yourself, no matter who you are or what body type you’ve been given. There is no excuse for a poor performance that can be blamed on factors outside of your control, and it’s up to you to go out there and give it your best shot. Indeed, for this reason tennis may seem like a daunting sport to take on as a career, but this is also the reason why it is the greatest sport of all.

9 COMMENTS

  1. As far as I can recall, in her autobiography “Unstoppable”, Maria Sharapova explains that she was not so tall naturally, at least not at a young age. At the time she arrived in America, she was among smaller players and on the sidelines. To gain advantage, one of the things she did was stretch herself daily, in order to get taller. It was a long time ago when I read the book, so I hope I remember it well, but I’m pretty sure she said that.

  2. The GOAT is actually Steffi Graf. Any serious tennis player knows that. Compared her wins vs looses % against Court or Williams and she is way ahead. She played when the competition was much tougher and she also didn’t have the benefit of playing a sister that would help her make it to the finals of so many tournaments. She also retired much younger at the very top. From the age she walked out it took Serena, from that same age, close to 10 years to match steffi’s grand slams wins while having a lot more looses.

  3. Totally agree with Susie B… not sure why more people don’t see this! Graf was way better than Serena with more class too.

  4. I disagree with Susie B, any serious tennis player knows that prime Williams would trump prime Graf, but I understand Graf is often overlooked as well. Nevertheless, the fact that Williams stayed in the game longer than Graf is testimony to her dedication to the sport and her ability to play through her post-peak ages. Graf likely retired knowing she couldn’t keep it up for much longer.

  5. Interesting article. I’ve always thought body type plays a factor but in today’s day and age many are afraid to discuss the topic in fear it may offend some.

    Great analysis Yaseen!

  6. @Paul the only meaningless rambling I see on this pages is you. Maybe write something intelligent for once and actually contribute/engage in some logical argument on why you disagree with this article?

    Great article Yaseen! Body type is definitely something not spoken about enough in sport and is always interesting how it can compliment or hinder performance. I think as you summed up perfectly it comes back down to ‘how you use your gifts’. One may look at Tyson Fury and say he isn’t an athlete with how his body looks, no chiseled chest or rock hard abbs on show. Instead he has a big frame and long arms and a gift for speed which he uses to his advantage to be one of the greatest boxers today.
    Great topic keep it up!

  7. Great interesting topic. Definitely Steffi Graf needs to be included in the comparisons. She was 175cm with a relatively light build at 64kg.
    I’d like to hope that all kinds of body types can succeed in tennis. Unlike some other sports where a certain body type is almost a prerequisite for success.

  8. I believe that, without the stabbing of Monica Seles, Steffi Graf would not have won so many Slams. Clearly we will never know, but before the stabbing Graf was consistently loosing from Seles. Graf was really suffering Seles on a mental level

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