Serena’s Dominance

Everyone talks about Serena’s dominance, but no one says, or seems to want to say, why.

At any women’s tourney, the first thing you might notice is that female tennis players look very different from the average woman their age, even college students, who may be into working out just to look good. And yet male players look no bigger than the average in-shape college male? Why is that?

Pro female tennis players have far larger calves, thighs, and glutes, plus, have larger upper arms and forearms, and some even have larger deltoids. On the other hand, male players, usually only have larger forearms, and very thick calves. Otherwise, they look like any other 20-something college male.



Looking at Serena, it is obvious that she has bigger deltoids, upper arms, and forearms than any other player except for Sam Stosur. And who are the two female players that everyone points out as having serves like men? Serena and Sam Stosur. But both are only 5’8”, yet they serve as big as most male players who are much taller. What they lack in leverage, they make-up for with awesome racquet head speed, great explosion off the ground, and massive wrist strength to pound the ball.

Sam Stosur Right Arm

Sam Stosur Right Arm

It’s obvious that Serena can do things that others can’t do. She serves bigger. She changes direction of the ball better. She volleys better. And….she almost exclusively hits open stance on both groundies and return of serve.

Serena has the best first serve in women’s tennis, and Stosur has the best second serve. Their racquet head speeds and ability to use their wrists to throw the racquet head at the ball or to grind the ball for spin, have no equal among other players. Serena has so much confidence while serving that she stated in her press conference after the finals, “I thought to myself, Look, Serena, you’ve just got to hit aces. That’s your only choice. I just had to hit aces. That’s just what I did.” No other champion, Evert, Navratilova, nor Graf ever made that statement!

Serena’s wrist strength is what allows her to change direction of the ball, and still hit with pace. Players who rally deep crosscourt, are invariably beaten down the line, and when she receives a down the line shot, a little flick and the ball is sent crosscourt out of her opponent’s reach. Since she hits open stance on both sides, she is rarely pulled outside the singles court, as she doesn’t lose two steps to set-up and two steps to recover. But she doesn’t get away with that simply because her legs are so strong; she just trains that way and has the coordination to do it on her backhand side while unweighting on her left leg. Most other players are closing their stance, putting themselves too far away from Serena’s down the line backhand shots, which are usually winners.

Lastly, Serena’s open stance return of serves allow her to be highly dynamic as she jumps off her outside leg, throws her shoulder forward, and rips the racquet through and up the back of the ball. Her returns frequently are just hit for winners, and since she so easily holds serve, she can be more aggressive, especially on important points as she did against Sharapova in the finals.

Now if some of the men took note of what Serena does, beefed-up their arms, shoulders, thighs, and glutes….just imagine…..

This first blog post is dedicated to media and public relations expert, Dr. Diane Dobry. I thank you for having my back in this endeavor! 


Da-lai Wu has been a professional tour coach, coaching both men and women, and a head collegiate coach, leading a men’s team to the NCAA DI Men’s National Championships. He has also been a partner, tennis director, or head professional at numerous indoor and outdoor facilities, and is currently working with a few very promising juniors and a couple of varsity collegiate players. A new company website is also currently being developed.

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11 thoughts on “Serena’s Dominance

    1. Shera

      If Serena was on steroids she would be cut; her arms, forearms and shoulders are muscular whereas the rest of her body has more fat and less muscle, so how is she on steroids? You can clearly tell that her legs and glutes have a considerable amount of fat on them for someone who is ‘taking steroids’. However, It is obvious that women do not have the testosterone to gain muscle in the same capacity that men can, but this does not mean that a muscular woman is taking steroids. Why does our skewed society believe that non-muscular, aka soft women are attractive? People, wake up! Muscles are far more attractive on both men and women. Flab and skinny fat are not attractive, so please stop assuming that muscular women are taking steroids.

  1. Diane Dobry

    The blog looks great! I know you are one of the best people to be blogging about tennis. Best of luck!

  2. Lisa Dodson

    I am so appreciative of the information that you posted on your blog. Serena and Stosur are prime examples of what women can do with their serves and upper body shots given development of the upper body. Most women are not naturally strong in the upper body and no matter what they do they do not “bulk up” like Serena. Like men, genetics drives body type. Some are more predisposed to larger and more defined muscle development. Given a weight regimen and proper diet all women can build muscle in the upper body and arms. It typically will not be as obvious but strength will be gained.
    Clearly this is a huge advantage for women and I wonder why more don’t seriously work on upper body strength.
    I have always wondered why the men players do not put more emphasis on upper body strength. Look at Nadal and what those shoulders and arms have done for him. That poses a big “what if” for the rest of the men on the tour. Remember McEnroe with his shirt off? He looked like the kid who got sand kicked in his face by the bully on the beach. Nowadays men players are certainly finely tuned physical machines if they want to be at the top but more developed upper bodies seem to be missing. Tipsarevic decided to get fit and broke into the top 10 after many years.
    So, why don’t men tennis players concentrate more on upper body strength? They are naturally strong in the upper body so perhaps they think they don’t need to? Do they neglect it because there is so much else to do? Do they do so much cardio that the muscle development doesn’t occur? Do they think it will inhibit flexibility? Remember genetics. Men don’t all develop big muscles with working out simply because they are men.
    Thanks for starting this new blog. It could be very interesting to follow.

    1. Da-lai Wu Post author

      Hi Lisa!

      I thank you for your very insightful comment, and I totally agree with you. I believe that the tennis culture of elite competitors is somewhat jaded, and starts as these players mature from high ranked, young juniors into competing on the pro circuit. Very few of these kids are able to absorb the pain of basic weight training, as many find light weight sport-specific training to be very demanding. I force all of my players to do basic weight training, and I am frequently criticized for making my players “too big”.

  3. Michael Hom

    There’s so much room for tennis players to develop physically. I’ve always thought that tennis players were behind the curve when it came to athletic training. Nice blog.

  4. David B

    Great initiative with the blog Da-Lai! You are however touching a sensitive issue….
    Serena hits not only bigger serves, but also bigger FH and BH than anyone.
    I am not sure however how muscular strength correlates to number of aces. I have
    often heard that in tennis large muscles are not necessarily an advantage because one
    may lose speed. I guess the equivalant of Serena on the men’s side is J-W Tsonga, who has
    recently trimmed down in weight and muscles, and who seem to have benefited by increased speed
    around the court with no loss of power. He is still BIG though.

  5. Robert Zinna (@rczinna)

    Tennis is not really an upper body sport and the new racket technology has given even small girls serves over 100 MPH. The 5 set format for the men in the majors has just about eliminated the chances of any male player over 200 lbs. Used to be in the wood racket era that you’d see the occasional bigger player excel, since you did need some strength to hit a big serve with a wood racket. Playing 5 sets over two weeks is easier for a shorter lighter weight player and so most male players already have enough strength to compete at a high level and any additional strength beyond that has to be carried onto the court and moved around for that same 5 sets. Since the women only play three sets and the matches take place on alternate days, a player like Stosur or Williams can get away with carrying around more weight than is really necessary to be a competitive tennis player but a male player can’t.

    1. Da-lai Wu Post author

      Hello Bob!

      You state a great point, but I believe that if male tennis players did more than train sport specific, and actually weight trained for basic strength as they do in every other sport, even golf–look at Tiger–that there would be a huge evolution in the game and that larger players would dominate, which is what has happened in every other sport over the past forty years. I used to know a couple of pros in the very early 80’s who lived in the gym when they weren’t out playing; one was about 6’4″ and 235 lbs, and the other was 5’8″ and 190 lbs, both of whom had only 6-8% body fat, and they could easily play a 3-4 hour match and be ready to play the next round the following day. They were way ahead of their time, doing free weight training, running sprints on the beach, daily swimming laps to stretch-out, using bands and tubing to supplement weight training, plus doing plyos on the track, all of which were hardly done by even NFL players back then. There are few tennis players today who would even think of training as they did back then while they played much of their tourneys on clay, and that’s really too bad!

      *Look for a future post regarding off-court training in men’s tennis.

  6. Adrian Chiang

    Increased physical strength definitely makes a difference. I compare the junior who is just about to enter college versus a player in college that is maybe not as skilled as the junior, but more athletic because of the college strength training programs. Working out not only makes you better in the short term, but it can probably push players to compete for additional years in the twilight of their careers. e.g. Andre Agassi, who was benching 300+ lbs. in his late 30s.


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