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Brain Game: Serena Vs Li

Have a look back at the Sony Open Tennis final between the Top 2 players in the world, Serena Williams and Li Na, from a statistical perspective.

Published March 29, 2014 12:12

MIAMI, FL, USA - Serena Williams was slow to get going against Li Na but finished with all the force of a Miami hurricane to win a record seventh Sony Open title in Key Biscayne Saturday.

Williams was broken in her opening service game and then fell behind a double break 5-2 before storming back to win 11 of the last 12 games for an emphatic 75 61 victory.

In a hard-hitting battle of the Top 2-ranked women in the sport, Williams once again proved unstoppable when she locked onto her "A" game. An amazing SAP analytic from the match showed that out of 155 points only three lasted more than 10 shots. These two 32-year-old superstars of the sport are evolving the women's game right before our very eyes, providing unparalleled offense and shot making that keeps revolutionizing the game and driving its global appeal.

Williams was misfiring with all aspects of her game in the early stages as Li played smart, attacking tennis to take time away from Williams' shot preparation. Both players averaged 70mph with their groundstroke speed for the match with Li hugging the baseline more, hitting 32% of her groundstrokes inside the baseline compared to only 18% for Williams.

It was an excellent strategy to negate the American's power as hitting the ball earlier on the rise inherently delivers more power to the shot and gets it back quicker to the opponent, compromising their footwork, balance and backswing. Hunting the short ball got Li all the way to set point at 5-4 but as the tide of the match turned Williams was able to wrestle control of the first strike tennis by focusing on attacking Li's forehand wing.

Li has one of the best backhands on tour so Williams smarty directed 58% of all her baseline shots to Li's forehand, which produced seven winners and yielded 22 errors - the most mistakes of any groundstroke by either player. To achieve the tactic Williams actually hit more groundstrokes down the line (72 to 67) than crosscourt to get the match-up she desired.

Li tried to keep rallies going through the ad court where she directed 56% of her backhands but Williams countered by hitting a substantial 61% of her backhands down the line to diffuse Li's clever strategy. Li hit 96 forehands and 68 backhands for the match, which is testament that Williams was able to force her tactics on the World No.2. Williams hit 82 backhands to 69 forehands of which included 11 forehand and eight backhand groundstroke winners. Williams can play huge off either side.

Williams is so dominant and possesses several different weapons to beat you that if one goes missing she simply draws upon another. "My serve percentage was super, super low, I think in the 30s and I thought, okay, I can serve a little better, and I know I can return better," Williams said.

The power and depth of Williams' returns improved throughout the match, contributing six return winners (four forehand/two backhand) in this key battleground of who would gain initial control of the short rallies. Williams only made contact with five of Li's 54 first serves from barely behind the baseline - two in the deuce court and four in the ad court. All contact points on second serves were inside the baseline - some unbelievably so. Williams crushed her returns deep at Li with 57% landing closer to the baseline than the service line to immediately bring pressure to Li's service games.

Miami has a very special place in Williams' illustrious career, which including 17 Grand Slam titles. The Sony Open Tennis is her most successful event with more finals (nine) and more titles (seven) than at any other WTA event. The sport is in good hands.

Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) is the leading analyst for wtatennis.com throughout the 2014 season, utilizing SAP Data & Insights to uncover the patterns and percentages that dominate the game. Visit Craig's website at www.braingametennis.com for more expert strategy analysis.

SAP

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