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Serena Williams' intensity is a big weapon

Serena Williams reacts after a point against Victoria

Serena Williams reacts after a point against Victoria Azarenka during the women's singles final of the 2013 U.S. Open. (Sept. 8, 2013) Credit: AP

Serena Williams' record on the tennis court is frightening enough to opponents. Seventeen career major-tournament titles, the most of any active player. The best serve and most complete game on the women's tour. No real rival capable of consistently standing up to Williams' quality -- especially in the big events.

Of the three women who have defeated Williams in a Grand Slam championship final over the past 15 years, none has a career winning record against her: Sister Venus, who beat her in the 2001 U.S. Open and 2008 Wimbledon, is 11-14 against Serena; Maria Sharapova, who won their showdown at the 2004 Wimbledon, is 2-16; Samantha Stosur, who edged Serena for the 2011 U.S. title in the midst of a controversial call, is 3-8.

Intimidated? Stosur insisted that she welcomes the challenge of dueling Williams, that she is energized by matches against the woman she called "the greatest player, probably, ever."

But there is this: "There are matches I have watched or even played her," Stosur said, "where you think you see a little bit of vulnerability there. You think, 'Oh, there is a chance there.' More often than not, she comes up with the goods to shut you down."

Victoria Azarenka, runner-up to Williams the past two U.S. Opens, has been cited by many tennis observers, including 18-time major champion Chris Evert, as "the one player who doesn't fear Serena." Yet Azarenka, whose chances at this year's Open have been diminished by a series of injuries, has a humble 3-14 career match record vs. Williams (0-8 in Slam events).

And, beyond Williams' scary-good tennis skill is what some might consider a psychological advantage that emanates from her menacing presence. She plays a physically aggressive game, accompanied by the occasional shout and frown.

Also, from her standpoint, Williams believes, "I haven't lost many matches where the player was playing unbelievably well. Usually, when I lose, it's because I'm playing unbelievably bad." She expects to win, and carries herself accordingly.

"Steffi was a little that way," Evert said of 22-time major-tournament champion Steffi Graf. "I think it's just a form of intensity and the player getting into a certain frame of mind, totally concentrating. It has nothing to do with the opponent; rather, getting themselves psyched up."

Evert compared Williams' tightly-wound demeanor to that of Sharapova, exhibited in an entirely different form. "If you watch Sharapova's fist," Evert said. "She never opens up her left hand; it's always a clenched fist. That's her exaggerated form of intensity."

Williams, on the one hand, argued that "I don't need to prove anything" in this year's Open, "and that's great. I think that's the advantage I have. Even if I lose -- of course, I'm going to be disappointed -- but at the end of the day, I've accomplished a lot of things that I wanted to accomplish."

Then again, she said that, once eliminated from any tournament, she only watches men's tennis "because I get jealous I'm not in the tournament with the ladies. I'm, like, waaaah, and I'm upset. I feel like I'm missing out and I'm angry."

It is that anger she brings with her to the court. And, her opponent notwithstanding, that fuels her effort.

"I do think that intensity is a huge advantage," said Patrick McEnroe, whose various tennis roles include directing the development of U.S. talent. "Serena, when she's intense, is at her best. But certainly, there are times when she's maybe gotten too uptight, that she walks the fine line of being intense and being relaxed, and that can work against her."

As if Williams' only fear is not reaching perfection.

New York Sports