Most tennis fans would agree that the most coveted shot in women's tennis is the serve of Serena Williams.
The 30-year-old has served her way to 14 major championships, most recently at Wimbledon, where she smacked an All England Club-record of 102 aces in seven matches that included a record-tying 24 in her semifinal win over Victoria Azarenka. Incredibly, Williams' serve seems to be getting better with age.
"The older I get, the better I serve," she said this summer.
Her father Richard attributes it to teaching her to throw like a boy as a child. Her mother, Oracene Price, said Williams tried to copy Pete Sampras and it had always been a natural shot that she and her former husband decided not to bother with.
And there's no reason to. When Serena serves well, her game flourishes.
"If the serve is good, she's good," her mother said.
Williams' serving motion is very simple. She is calm at the line, her toss regular, her windup smooth, her leg thrust powerful, and her swing compact.
"There are no hitches," Sampras said. "It's all one smooth, continuous, motion. It's natural progression and a big snap at the end. The motion itself is flawless."
At 5-9, Williams is not as tall as many big servers. But she makes up for it with her incredible leg strength, which is the source of her 120-mph-plus first serve power. Few players use their lower-trunk muscles with such effectiveness. She has one of the best top-spin serves in the game, rivaling the likes of Sam Stosur. Her racket-head speed means she can hit her second serve with margin and precision, and she seldom double faults.
A big server must have power and accuracy. Williams has both. And she has the ability to deliver the big serve or paint the lines under pressure, a true sign of an excellent server. "Even when it's not over 100 mph, she's got it with her location," says No. 1 ranked doubles player Liezel Huber, who has spent time watching YouTube videos to emulate the technique.
Williams has total confidence in her serve. When her overall game is not at its best, she knows she can count on her serve to keep her in the match.
"It's a mental thing," American doubles specialist Bob Bryan says. "She thinks that's her shot. It's her MO. And she serves well under pressure."
Huber's doubles partner, Lisa Raymond, says, "It's the best serve from A to Z – whether it's technique, placement, power – that the game's ever seen."