The Best First Serves in Women’s Tennis
Most players on the WTA Tour would rank their own serves well below their forehands and backhands as their best weapons, but a few players have great serves that give them a distinct advantage. The qualities essential to a great first serve are somewhat different from those for a second serve. A first serve depends on the several attributes.
Power in a Serve
Of all of a serve’s qualities, power gets by far the most attention, so much so that many tournaments display the speed of each serve as soon as the radar gun measures it. Sheer power alone can make a serve difficult to return, because it reduces the receiver’s time to prepare a swing and coordinate clean contact with the ball. Combined with even moderately good placement, a hugely powerful serve can easily become unreturnable.
The best serves are not always the most powerful. Outstanding placement can make a serve with only moderate power extremely effective, in part because the contact point for a serve is high enough to allow sharper angles than are possible on groundstrokes at similar speeds.
Disguising Your Serve
Accuracy is much more effective if the receiver can’t read where the serve is going. Some players inadvertently signal where they intend to aim their serves, such as by looking at those spots as they prepare or by tossing differently depending on their intended direction.
A few players hit kick first serves, but by far the most common spin on first serves is a mixture of topspin and slice commonly (and misleadingly) just called “slice.” Topspin is actually the more important component because it’s essential to getting the serve to drop in at higher speeds. Slice can increase the difficulty of returning a serve by making the ball curve either into or away from the receiver, but it doesn’t help the ball drop, and that’s why a pure slice serve, which curves quite dramatically, is rarely seen in the pros; it would go in only at too low a speed.
#1: Serena Williams
Williams has the best first serve of any female tennis player ever. It regularly clocks in at well over 100 miles per hour, and she’s third in the all-time list of fastest serves, having cranked one at 128.6 miles per hour at the 2013 Australian Open. Serena places her serves exceptionally well, especially on the most important points. She has a reliable toss and a very fluid, natural swing.
#2: Sabine Lisicki
Lisicki owns the fastest serve ever recorded on the WTA Tour, a 131 mile per hour smoker she let loose at the Bank of the West Classic in 2014. Sabine’s first serve is always a major weapon even though it doesn’t respond to pressure nearly as well as Serena’s.
#3: Venus Williams
Williams’ 129 mile per hour serve at the 2007 US Open held the record for all-time fastest serve by a woman until Lisicki topped it. Venus’s first serve always comes in with a ton of power, but that power is derived somewhat more from her height and strength than the perfect form her sister enjoys, and as a result, it’s not quite as reliable. Venus also feels more pressure to land her first serve, because her second serve is her biggest liability.
#4: Samantha Stosur
Stosur’s first serve hasn’t quite made the all-time fastest list, but it has outstanding average power and very good placement. Sam’s first serves have distinctly better and worse days, but she has by far the best twist serve to rely upon as a second serve or to throw in as an occasional first serve if her power serves aren’t landing or if she just wants to mix things up.
#5: Tie Among Current WTA Players
The last spot in this top five has several contenders, none of whom is a clear enough favorite to exclude mention of the others. Coco Vandeweghe owns one of the ten fastest women’s serves ever hit, at 124 miles per hour, and racks up impressive ace totals, but she doesn’t face as many top returners as her higher-ranked rivals. Julia Goerges is a similar case, with the fastest serve of 126.1 miles per hour and a lot of aces against returners who are usually not among the top players. Madison Keys may be a stronger contender, as she has produced 123 miles per hour and great ace totals, and her serve has proven to give even some of the best returners trouble. Petra Kvitova’s top speed isn’t quite as high, but when her serve is in great form, it’s one of the toughest on the tour, and when the rest of her game rises along with her serve, she can overwhelm anyone.