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Cirstea on Raising Serving Standard

By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Wednesday, March 29, 2023

MIAMI—A nagging shoulder injury stifled Sorana Cirstea's serve last season.

These days, Cirstea's shoulder is sound and her serve is screaming.

Facing Tests: Miami Open Photo Gallery

The 74th-ranked Cirstea cranked seven aces against just two double faults stunning second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka 6-4, 6-4 to charge into her maiden Miami Open semifinal.

Contesting her 13th Miami Open, Cirstea scored her first career Top 2 victory advancing to a WTA 1000 semifinal for the first time since she was runner-up to Serena Williams at the 201 3Toronto.

Unable to swing fully on serve, Cirstea pulled the plug on her 2022 season last September.

Though her strained shoulder limited her serving practice, it launched a conversation with coach Thomas Johanasson about how to improve that stroke. 

The former French Open quarterfinalist said she's long believed her serve was not up to the high standard of the rest of her game. 

"I think the serve, it has been a big talk with my coach. Last year after US Open I stopped my season due to a shoulder injury," Cirstea told the media in Miami. "I had two months of rehab. Once that shoulder started to feel a little bit better, we started working on the serve.

"Of course we couldn't work as much as we wanted. Came into Australia with still a bit of pain. But we worked a lot, because I always felt that my serve is below my game."

Of course discussing improvement is one thing, actually applying change is an entirely different matter.

The 5'9" Cirstea said initially she focused on bring the heat and then prioritized placement over power. 

"I mean, I'm quite a tall girl. Okay, I'm not very big, I'm not built very big, but still with my height, I should be able to hit the serves a bit stronger," Cirstea said. "So we have been trying to improve a little bit the speed. It hasn't worked that much, so then we said, okay, let's try to improve the placement."

That target serving was crucial for Cirstea today as she dug out of break-point challenges sliding biting serves down the T. Sabalenka, whose serving transformation is one reason why she captured her maiden major at the Australian Open in January, double-faulted away breaks three times today.

During his playing days, the 5'11" Johansson, who beat Marat Safin to win the 2002 Australian Open, was widely regard (along with Johan Kriek) as one of the best sub 6-foot servers on the ATP Tour.

Today, Cirstea did a good job hitting her serve at the peak of its toss. She aims to pick up the pace on her serve even more.
"Of course we have been working a lot on that, and that was also on my mind, because as soon as I got the shoulder stronger, I said, Okay, we have to make my serve a weapon, because there is no way why my serve cannot be a weapon with my height," Cirstea said.

Reaping the rewards of the work she's done with her coach, Cirstea has won eight of her last nine matches, including beating three of the bigger serves on the WTA Tour—Sabalenka, Caroline Garcia (twice) and Madison Keys—during her successful Sunshine Double surge.

Photo credit: Robert Prange/Getty