Serena Williams grew up on the steaming asphalt public courts of Compton, California, but she has found a home on grass.
This year’s clay season left her hankering for the lush grounds of the All England Club. Serena lost two of three matches in Rome and Parma before putting together three wins at Roland Garros.
“I love the grass,” she said in Paris. “What I love most about it is just the cleanness of it. I just think it’s so chic and so crisp. That’s a good word: crisp.”
It’s also a good word for Serena’s efficiency on this slippery surface.
“I’m kind of excited to switch surfaces,” she added, “but historically I have done pretty well on grass.”
Here are some illuminating grass-centric Serena statistics:
- Owns personal best match-win percentage on grass (88.4%, 107-14), compared to clay (82.4%, 178-38) and hard (85.5%, 530-90).
- Has won eight titles on grass – Wimbledon seven times and 2012 Olympics gold medal.
- In 22 grass-court tournaments in her career, reached the final 12 times.
- Since 2008, when the Match Stats Era began, she owns the best career percentage for first-serve points won on grass (78.7%). Next best is Ashleigh Barty at 74.4%. The tour average is 65.7%.
In women’s tennis, Serena is truly unrivaled. There’s little question part of her motivation to keep going is in her quest to draw even with Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles. Heading into Wimbledon, which starts Monday, Serena is only one behind.
“It’s definitely on my shoulders and on my mind,” Serena said in February at the Australian Open. “I think it’s good to be on my mind. I think it’s a different burden, I should say, on my shoulders because I’m used to it now.”
Still believing, still working
Serena is 39 years old. She turns 40 in late September, and one suspects she is playing with a gathering sense of urgency. Her last major title came four years ago at the Australian Open, when she was already pregnant with her daughter, Olympia.
Petra Kvitova marvels at Serena’s continuing commitment.
“I think that her motivation is pretty clear,” Kvitova recently said. “She wants one more Grand Slam. One. It’s very clear.
“She’s been in the final a few times, but she didn’t make it. She’s a big fighter and big competitor. That’s why she is a great champion, because she is still there. She is still believing, still working hard.”
Since winning the 2017 Australian Open, Serena has lost four major finals (all in straight sets) and two semifinal matches.
She fell to Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon in 2018 and later that year to Naomi Osaka at the US Open. Simona Halep won in 2019 at Wimbledon, and then Bianca Andreescu beat Serena in straight sets at the US Open. In 2020, Azarenka prevailed in a three-set semifinal at the Australian Open, and earlier this year it was Osaka winning their semifinal meeting in Melbourne.
In retrospect, these near-misses will loom even larger, seem even more impressive. At an age when many players are retired, Serena keeps coming back.
She was asked at this year’s Australian Open how she’s avoided burnout.
“I never played like an ultimate full schedule,” she said. “I mean, I played a full schedule, but I don’t think I’ve ever played 30 tournaments in a year, which is typical, or even 28. I think I was closer to 24, maybe 25.
“I still went to college. I still did a lot of other things. I had other careers. It was impossible to burn out. I mean, I’ve taken some time off, had a few injuries, which were another mental break.”
Serena’s command of her would-be rivals extends over roughly three generations in the sport. She’s 19-12 against older sister Venus. Crucially, Serena won seven of their nine Grand Slam finals.
Her record against five-time major champion Martina Hingis, whom Serena caught in her prime, is 7-6. It’s 8-6 versus seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin, 10-7 against Jennifer Capriati and 10-4 over Lindsay Davenport. More recently, it hasn’t been close: Against Maria Sharapova, Serena is 20-2, and she’s 18-5 versus Victoria Azarenka.
Naomi Osaka does hold a 3-1 head-to-head edge, but Serena was 36 years old when they first met.
Another compelling chunk of context: By winning Auckland to open the 2020 season, Serena became the only male or female in the Open era to win a singles title in four different decades. No player in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB ever managed the equivalent of that.
Serena’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, has said he doesn’t think she will stop until she wins at least one more Grand Slam.
“I think a part of me loves being on the court because it’s free-flowing,” Serena said. “I like my job. I like what I do. It’s pretty special I get to come out and still get to do it. I don’t think I need any other inspiration behind that.”