The Sara Errani story – or how to get to the top with a horrible serve

Busted Racquet

PARIS – In a way, it's a tremendous tribute to Sara Errani the athlete that she has had such a great career – with a hot mess of a serve that defies description, and logic.

The thing tops out at 85 mph - on the first serve. Let's not even talk about the second serve. While the veteran Italian is definitely height-impaired in terms of getting the trajectory taller players enjoy, there have been plenty of short players throughout the history of tennis who had very good serves.

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And Lord knows there is plenty of poor serving technique on the women's side of the game these days – inexplicably, since it's pretty easy to calculate the benefits of having a good one. But Errani's is notable precisely because of what she has achieved.

That gruesome delivery really hurt her during her quarter-final loss to No. 28 seed Andrea Petkovic of Germany Wednesday. The 6-2, 6-2 beatdown featured Petkovic munching on Errani's serve – first serve, second serve, Petkovic didn't really discriminate – numerous times for clean winners, or balls Errani couldn't find an answer for.

We were trying to think of what her serve technique reminded us of, and all we could come up with was this:

Curiouser still, it appears during this clay-court season that Errani has actually been tinkering with her service motion.

She has been using an abbreviated motion, starting with her racket in the back-scratch position behind her right shoulder, and going after the ball from there. You would think that any technical changes she'd bring to her game at this point would have as their purpose to increase the mphs on it.

But it hasn't done a thing in that area. If anything, it's slower than ever.

Errani seemed to have other issues during the loss to Petkovic; she certainly wasn't striking the ball well, seemed a little out of synch overall. But at Indian wells in March, the very aggressive Genie Bouchard feasted on it in much the same way and trounced her 6-1, 6-3 and had her by turns angry, in tears and otherwise perturbed.

Despite that, and despite not having done too much of note this season, Errani defeated Li Na and Jelena Jankovic on her way to the Rome final a few weeks ago, where Serena Williams crushed her.

She's still No. 11 in the world, although she should drop about three spots after the French Open is over.

It is one of the great mysteries of the tennis universe.

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