LONDON -- These days, when you mention the name Serena Williams and her dazzling 21 Grand Slam singles titles, you will in no time at all find yourself talking about her serve. The one thing all observers seem to agree upon, and the most inarguable element in her statistical record, is the superiority of that serve. It's an open and shut case. Williams has the best and most effective serve ever seen in women's tennis.
But let's look at five other not-always-conspicuous elements that have helped Williams make her case as the greatest female tennis player of all time:
1. The open-stance two-handed backhand: Both Serena and her sister Venus have embraced this shot, which would have been considered an unthinkable departure from proper technique as little as a decade or so ago. But as former pro and ESPN commentator Pam Shriver says, "It works extremely well because she needs her hips to be open to generate maximum power, and the stance also allows her to get back into position quickly after she hits the shot."
2. Her service return: Williams' return is an all-out attack on the ball. She's never looking to merely start the point or probing to see what an opponent might have in mind. She brings the same degree of aggression and command to her receiving game as players generally bring to the serving game. It's special.
3. Efficiency of motion: You hear it all the time: How can Williams get to so many of those balls when it doesn't really look like she's that quick on her feet? The answer is twofold: She has excellent anticipation, and she has great economy of motion. "Part of it is her technique," ESPN's Patrick McEnroe says. "It's so good that she's better positioned to recover and move on to the next shot."
4. The short-angle shots: Even with her surfeit of power, Williams has very soft hands, which she uses expertly to create sharply angled shots, sometimes from fairly deep in her own court. It gives her game another dimension that wasn't always there. "She's learned to roll it, how to move an opponent off the court with finesse, topspin and angles," Shriver said. "Then, unless her opponent comes up with something special around or outside the doubles alley, Williams has her in deep trouble."
5. Pressure situations: It's said over and over, but it bears repeating over and over: When it comes to big points, most players experience some hesitation. It's the opposite with Williams, as if all the points that come before the critical ones are mere prelude. Williams' ability to thrive during these cherished opportunities is why she's the greatest of all players.