WIMBLEDON, England (AP) —As a kid, 13 Grand Slam titles ago, Serena Williams tended to goof off when it came time to work on serves.
She was supposed to hit them at the end of practice sessions with her sister Venus.
“We always talked a lot,” Serena said. “I don't remember serving; I just remember talking. Lord knows what we were talking about, but we never stopped talking, unless my dad was looking at us. Then we would serve. Then when he wasn't looking, we would just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.”
Despite all the chitchat, Serena learned from her father the shot that served her well at Wimbledon. She hit a record 89 aces and won the title for the fourth time, beating Vera Zvonareva in Saturday's final.
Williams said she planned to award the trophy to her serve.
“It's well deserved,” she said. “I just really hope I can keep up serving like this. It's a new turn in my life. I would love to continue to do that.”
No. 1 in the rankings and No. 6 on the list for career Grand Slam titles, Williams is the most overpowering player on the women's tour, especially when she hits the first shot of a point. And Williams said she has never served so well as in the past two weeks.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “I always can rely on my serve, but I've never been able to rely on it so much. I feel really cool because I hit all these aces. It's awesome.”
When Williams double-faulted early in the final, she rolled her eyes as if reacting to a bad joke. Her next shot was a 115-mph ace. She never faced a break point as she beat Zvonareva 6-3, 6-2.
Williams lost serve only three times in seven matches. When her first serve was good, she won the point 88 percent of the time, including 31 of 33 points against Zvonareva.
With the title, the 28-year-old Williams moved ahead of Billie Jean King in career Grand Slam titles. She trails only five players – Margaret Smith Court (24), Steffi Graf (22), Helen Wills Moody (19), Martina Navratilova (18) and Chris Evert (18).
King and Navratilova watched the final from the Royal Box and said Williams' serve is the best in the history of the women’s game.
“She gets two free points a game on it. It's astonishing,” Navratilova said.
“Her second serve is attackable, but she doesn’t get in trouble that often. On big points she gets her first serve in, and the women do not attack the second serve that much. So she doesn't feel the pressure to get the first serve in. And her first serve is just amazing.”
Williams hits it at 120 mph or more – faster than many of Rafael Nadal’s first serves. And her location is pinpoint, with the ball often kicking up chalk as the opponent lunges in vain.
Williams said she scolded her serve after the French Open, where she lost in the quarterfinals. She practiced it diligently – no chitchatting – in preparation for Wimbledon.
The payoff: Her ace total broke the tournament record of 72 she set last year. It was all the more remarkable because she won every match in straight sets, minimizing the number of points.
In one match, 19 of the 43 points she served resulted in aces.
“It's not only a weapon like a shot weapon,” Zvonareva said. "It's also in a way a mental weapon. It's putting pressure on your serve because you know that, ‘Well, I better be winning this game. She's going to hold.’”
Williams said a similar thought process helps her return game.
“It makes you play looser and even better,” she said. “I know I’m going to hold, so I have nothing to lose on the return. Let me go for it.”
Williams’ father and coach taught her how to serve, and growing up she realized the advantages the shot had to offer.
“I’ve always admired Pete Sampras' serve,” she said. “I even liked his stroke, how he kind of always turned his hip into it. He used to serve so many aces. That was always so cool to me, and I always thought, ‘Wow, if I could have his serve, I’d be really good.’”
Years later, the serve Williams has makes her really good.
Photo: Serena Williams