Greatest Serves of All Time

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by NonP, Jan 14, 2010.

  1. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    I've noticed that among the zillion GOAT threads in this forum there isn't a single one ranking the greatest serves ever (for real), and since the serve is the shot least affected by outside variables (including racquets and strings) I've decided to create a new thread myself. Here's my preliminary ranking:

    1. Ivanisevic
    2. Karlovic
    3. Sampras
    4. Gonzales
    5. Krajicek
    6. Arthurs
    7. Roddick
    8. Newcombe
    9. Isner
    10. McEnroe
    11. Tanner
    12. Becker
    13. Philippoussis
    14. Stich
    15. Curren
    16. Zivojinovic
    17. Raonic
    18. Rusedski
    19. Federer
    20. Noah

    Honorary mentions:

    McLoughlin, Maurice - perhaps the first distinguished cannonball serve in tennis history
    Tilden - yet another storied power serve, which he bolstered with spin and accuracy
    Vines - by all accounts, the best and fastest serve of the pre-WWII era
    Kramer - in addition to a formidable first serve, perhaps the best second serve before Newcombe and Sampras
    Denton - his unusual service motion notwithstanding, could bring enormous heat
    Edberg - for his legendary kicker, arguably the best ever for serve-and-volley
    Johansson, Joachim - Denton of the 2000s

    Now a couple of things:

    1) The purpose of this thread is to rank the serve as a pure stand-alone shot mostly free of outside factors. That is, McEnroe's serve had top-notch disguise, variety and placement and, as pc1 pointed out, his great hook in the ad court won him many points, but would his serve be as effective for a non-S&Ver? That's an important question to ask, whether the player's serve would suit all playing styles. (I suppose we could create two separate rankings--one for net rushers and the other for baseliners--but that would make this discussion even more hopeless than it already is.) By the same token, Edberg and Rafter had great kick serves that they could follow up with their tried-and-true forays to the net, but I think we can agree that most players would pick Goran's or Karlovic's serve over that of these S&V masters.

    Similarly, Goran and Stich were headcases and as a result their whole game suffered on occasion, but not when they kept their head together. On the other hand Rusedski often had trouble getting a high 1st-serve % without sacrificing pace and power, which tells me the problem was more technical than mental. And my ranking is weighted more toward the 1st serve and based on serves as opposed to service games. Also a high % of unreturned serves certainly helps and is in fact a more accurate measure of a serve's potency than the more-oft consulted number of aces. These are the reasons why Sampras doesn't rank at the very top as some of you have fairly argued, though Pete certainly was no slouch in scoring freebies himself, in fact very much in the conversation with anyone on the list.

    2) Let's limit this list to the best of the best. Put more bluntly, we can talk about mere big servers like Safin and Tsonga on another thread.

    3) Given the lack of sufficient visual evidence and the different rules they had to serve under (like keeping one foot on the ground), I think it all but impossible to rank such old-timers as Tilden, Vines and Kramer with a fair degree of certainty. And players like Johansson had too brief a career for there to be meaningful comparisons between their serves and their more fortunate counterparts. Hence these guys' honorary mentions.

    Now it's your turn to sound off and tell us where these and other servers should rank. Just try to give some reasoning behind your rankings especially of the pre-1980s candidates. Much as I appreciate your input I can't take anyone's word on faith. So instead of just stating the obvious like "X could crank it up" or "Y had a great 2nd serve," say something more helpful like this (hat tip to poster encyclopedia): "[Noah] threw the ball fairly far forward (and later in his career way to the right)....this gave him a beautiful lean [motion], and allowed him to hit through the ball for absolutely blinding pace. I believe his fastest serves may have been up there with a Roddick/Rusedski....but it also made his serves fairly low margin...even being 6'4. That, along with an occasional tendency to drop his head made his flat serve percentage not so good as the best." You get the drift.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2015
    #1
  2. AndyArodRoddick

    AndyArodRoddick Professional

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2010
    Messages:
    1,068
    Location:
    Estonia
    what ? richard and michael above andy ??? you cannot be serious!..otherwise its OK.
     
    #2
  3. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,406
    If you're going to just include first serves than I guess we have to look at the effectiveness of the first serve and the percentage that they got it in. Goran to be had the best first serve if he got it in but guys like Roddick, while I don't think his first serve (when he got it in) is as effective as Ivanisevic gets it more often. It's not unusual for Roddick to get it in about 80% of the time.

    I'll go with Goran when he gets it in but I'm not sure about overall effectiveness.

    You really should include second serve in the equation because that's a very important part of the serving process.
     
    #3
  4. Smartbucks

    Smartbucks Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2009
    Messages:
    33
    Roscoe Tanner and Kevin Curren are vastly underrated servers imo.
     
    #4
  5. mtr1

    mtr1 Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2009
    Messages:
    1,386
    Location:
    England
    Karlovic. All the others had groundstrokes. Karlovic's serve has got him into the top 15, when the rest of his game is outside the top 100. Goran is a clear second, then you could group Sampras, Stich, Becker, Roddick etc as similar in standard.
     
    #5
  6. drakulie

    drakulie Talk Tennis Guru

    Joined:
    May 3, 2004
    Messages:
    24,466
    Location:
    FT. Lauderdale, Florida
    #6
  7. SirSweetSpot

    SirSweetSpot Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2009
    Messages:
    539
    ^^LMMFAO!!!

    Er...Sampras in a landslide, dude never even had to concentrate on serve LOL.
     
    #7
  8. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    Looks like I didn't put my point across very well. I didn't mean that I was excluding the 2nd serve entirely. My point was just that I gave a greater weight to the 1st serve. Maybe "heavily" was too strong a word.

    Also I did consider the percentages. That's why Rusedski is ranked rather low despite the serious mileage he put on his 1st serves.
     
    #8
  9. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,743
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    1. Ivanisevic
    2. Karlovic
    3. Krajicek
    4. Sampras
    5. Stich
    6. Roddick
    7. Becker
    8. Rusedski

    Is this your numerical order?
     
    #9
  10. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    For now. Like I said I'll be adding to and revising the list after hearing people's opinions, looking at the stats and watching more videos than my free time allows. :)
     
    #10
  11. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,743
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    Here's mine:

    1. Sampras
    2. Ivanisevic
    3. P. Gonzales
    4. Roddick
    5. Krajicek
    6. Stich
    7. Tanner
    8. Newcombe
    9. Tilden
    10. Curren
    11. Edberg
    12. Federer
    13. McEnroe
    14. Becker
    15. Dibley
    16. Karlovic
    17. Rusedski
    18. Kramer
    19. Fraser
    20. Denton
    21. Noah
    22. Borg
    23. D. Pate
    24. S. Smith
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2010
    #11
  12. World Beater

    World Beater Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2007
    Messages:
    2,751
    wow...roddick lower than stich

    ok. interesting choice.

    roddick wins more 1st serve % pts than stich and sampras i believe.
    that too in this reduced court speed era.
     
    #12
  13. Blade0324

    Blade0324 Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2007
    Messages:
    3,569
    I'm not going to say that he is the best server ever as that would simply not be true. However, IMO he should be mentioned as having one of the best serves out there even though the rest of his game was not as good as some others. Scott Warner held the record for fastest serve in competition at 147 until Roddick broke that. To go along with that he is 6'5" and the ball kicks extremely high off both first and second serves. This was good enough to get him into the top 100 in late 1989. You can watch some of his work by looking for the 1989 Sydney Indoor video's against Mark Kratz and Daren Cahill.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2010
    #13
  14. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    Thanks for your input, but I'd like to read your reasoning for some of these old-timers. Most of us have barely seen Gonzales and particularly Tilden play.

    And I must say I don't think Federer belongs on this list at all. In fact it's quite debatable he's the 3rd best server even now.
     
    #14
  15. Don't Let It Bounce

    Don't Let It Bounce Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2009
    Messages:
    1,617
    I also am underqualified to rank the old guys with any degree of certainty, but Colin Dibley may deserve the same pass on Condition 4 as Rusedski and Karlovic. Given how much is made of the difference equipment has made in the power level of the pro game (too much, maybe, but that's another thread), it's noteworthy that Dibley and his woodie (insert your own joke here) held the fast serve record for a long time after wood racquets were museum pieces.

    Like the above poster, I think it's hard to overrate the importance of Roddick's 1st serve %. That, along with the effectiveness of his 2nd serve, makes his the one I'd want, even over Sampras's and Karlovics, if I could have anyone's.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2010
    #15
  16. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    One thing I didn't stress in the OP was that I want to rank these serves as pure shots mostly free of outside factors. That is, Goran and Stich were headcases and as a result their whole game suffered on occasion, but not when they kept their head together. On the other hand Rusedski's 1st-serve percentage usually averaged around 50%, which tells me the problem was more than mental. I'll add this note to the OP.

    Unfortunately Warner is rather unrepresented on the Web (not even a short article on Wikipedia) so it'll be pretty hard to give the guy due consideration. Thanks for the shout-out anyway. Never heard of him before.
     
    #16
  17. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    I know Dibley used to hold the record, but as you say the guy's from the medieval times. That's why I'm asking people to weigh in with what they know and have seen.

    BTW the difference equipment makes in serve speed is negligible, for pros anyway. We're talking about 4-5 mph plus max with a proper technique.

    And I just addressed your point about Roddick above.
     
    #17
  18. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,743
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    I guess that would make Gonzales ancient, and Tilden prehistoric.
     
    #18
  19. mental midget

    mental midget Professional

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,434
    i'm going to narrow it to first serves, that i got to see on a consisent basis:

    1. goran, no question. he got the ball so far from guys, he may as well have been serving to the opposite service box.
    2. three way tie! stich, forget, krajicek.
    3. pete

    plenty of other great guys, but these are the ones that stand out in my mind.

    edit: just for the record, overall serve goes to pete. no big surprise, but when you factor in the 2nd, along with repeatability over time, and clutch moments, i don't know how i could pick anybody else.
     
    #19
  20. Changmaster

    Changmaster Rookie

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2009
    Messages:
    316
    You're forgetting Karlovic:)
     
    #20
  21. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    Yes. :) Seriously, that was just hyperbole. No slight intended.
     
    #21
  22. OHBH

    OHBH Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2009
    Messages:
    590

    I think Roddick should be bumped to 7. Not sure who Dibley is? Otherwise this is definitely the winning list thus far in my mind.
     
    #22
  23. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,743
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    Supposedly, Bill Tilden was clocked at hitting a serve 163 mph back in 1931, with a wooden racquet. But we know how inaccurate "radar-guns" were back then. :wink:
     
    #23
  24. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    Be careful, we don't want our favorite simpleton to come whining about us "historians." Or do we? :)
     
    #24
  25. OHBH

    OHBH Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2009
    Messages:
    590
    I could kinda believe it. looked at some photos and the dude is built for power serving
     
    #25
  26. rudester

    rudester Professional

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2009
    Messages:
    1,152
    Great List!
     
    #26
  27. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    Tilden did have a beautiful motion, but that particular measure, was, without going into detail, I assure you, not accurate! I am sure however, that Tilden was capable of crushing a serve by any standards.
     
    #27
  28. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    HUH? Can you tell us more about Scott Warner's record? Where? When? I have seen Warner previously with high 130mph readings attributed to him, but I wasn't aware of any 147mph reading. Please elaborate! I would genuinely like to know more!

    However, any record or claim to the record he might have had should have been doused by Rusedski's 149mph serve.
     
    #28
  29. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    Data, I know you aren't that old yourself, but do you have any observations you could share about these old-timers and lesser-known servers? One reason why I opened this thread was to get some detailed input from the more experienced posters so I could perhaps rank some of these players properly, and so far I haven't gotten it.
     
    #29
  30. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2008
    Messages:
    15,916
    Location:
    U.S
    If we're talking about the first serve only, karlovic hands down ! goran being second .....

    Overall, sampras
     
    #30
  31. papatenis

    papatenis Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2009
    Messages:
    526
    The serve is to complex to rank by itself alone. There are many factors that are taken into account when the pros serve, first or second. (court speed, wind, opponent, sunlight conditions, type of balls, etc.)

    I think you have to ask "who's serve was the most effective"
     
    #31
  32. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    The same holds true for pretty much all the shots, but the serve is the one shot over which players have almost complete control. I think that makes the serve a ripe subject for discussion, and I say this as someone who's generally wary of all these GOAT rankings.

    Not a big fan of this idea, I must say. Once you emphasize the "effective" factor people are undoubtedly going to bring up the percentages of service games held, which isn't what this thread is about. In this case I'm more interested in the serve as a stand-alone shot.
     
    #32
  33. World Beater

    World Beater Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2007
    Messages:
    2,751
    I think it is tough to isolate shots like this. To me its easier and more objective to analyze the overall effectiveness of a shot (even if this takes into account mental and physical).

    Becker's % is also generally lower than some of the other servers. Roddick can serve at an extremely high % for his pace (maybe his serving is "safer" because he doesnt go for the lines as much as say sampras or ivanisevic but his effectiveness in terms of % of pts won on the 1st serve is about the same if not better).

    Stich had an effective serve but it wasn't an all powerful weapon and wasn't really a match winning weapon to me. For stich, it was always about the overall game that would win matches. Stich wasn't really a guy who could rely on his serve to win matches when the rest of his game was malfunctioning. Some of the other guys could basically just live off their serve even if the were off in the rest of their games. Becker could do this but he would need to serve better than 50%.

    Rusedski could get by with his serve alone indoors but outdoors i would definitely not pick him.
     
    #33
  34. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    I know this isn't the most objective way, but then I think most of us agree that the vast majority of players would pick Goran's or Karlovic's serve over others, stats be damned. There's room for educated subjectivity in these kinds of rankings.

    I'm well aware that Roddick generally serves at a higher percentage than almost everyone else on the list. You say this strength of his serve compensates for the safety factor, but one can turn this around and argue that it actually shows his serve as a stand-alone shot isn't as potent as the others that can draw more aces and service winners at lower percentages.

    Well, Sampras would probably dispute you on Stich's serve not being a big weapon, but I take your and others' point about Roddick's high serve percentage. Will move him up a notch above Stich. And FYI Becker generally served well above 50%.

    Not sure why you mention Rusedski, 'cause I already have him at the bottom of the list. That said, his serve is a useful barometer in this case. As I said earlier his serve percentage regularly hovered around 50%. Stich's on the other hand fluctuated wildy, usually between 40% and 60+%. These stats suggest that the problem with Rusedski's subpar percentage was more than mental, while Stich's can be attributed to his mood swings.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2010
    #34
  35. SirSweetSpot

    SirSweetSpot Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2009
    Messages:
    539
    Can't BELIEVE noone is mentioning Stan Smith. Without his name and the likes of John Newcombe and Arthur Ashe, this list is irrelevant.
     
    #35
  36. AndyArodRoddick

    AndyArodRoddick Professional

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2010
    Messages:
    1,068
    Location:
    Estonia
    ohh, cmon you guys.. i know that speed isnt everything, but combo speed+persentage in andys case, it's a huge thing..

    so putting andy into 9th place, thats just ridicolous..just look at 09wimby..he mainly served his way out in sooooo many cases..espspecially in the 5th.. so yeah, 2 croats, sampras are better, i agree..but theres no way that stich and krajicek are better..
     
    #36
  37. Blade0324

    Blade0324 Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2007
    Messages:
    3,569
    So getting a bit more info on Warners serve of 147, it is an official record but was not hit during a match but in a fast serve competition. I think that this waters it down a bit but doesn't change the fact that he is one of the biggest servers that has played. I can tell you from first hand experience that at 44 he is still able to hit mid to high 130's pretty regular as I've been on the receiving end of them and held the gun in my hand to clock them as well.

    Like I mentioned originally he is not well known and didn't have a tremendous amount of success on the tour but to us average peeps the pace, spin, height of bounce, and placement are simply unbelievable.
     
    #37
  38. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    I've done some thinking, and now I think you guys are right to give Sampras extra credit for his matchless 2nd serve and great clutch. Pistol Pete ahead of Krajicek then. I've also added McEnroe and Edberg to the list.

    Also I'd like to see some reasoning behind your rankings especially of the old-timers. Much as I appreciate your input I can't take anyone's word on faith. So instead of just stating the obvious like "Tanner could crank it up" or "Newcombe had a great 2nd serve," say something more detailed like "Tanner's great disguise and swift delivery put him ahead of (fill in the blank)." Hope you get the drift.

    I know there are quite a few worthy names missing, including Kramer, Smith and Ashe. That's why I'm asking the more experienced posters to weigh in.

    In case you haven't noticed I've already put Roddick above Stich. But above Krajicek? No. You must understand that Krajicek at his peak probably served at comparable speeds to Roddick's or Karlovic's. This is because the radar guns back in the '90s (and the '80s) used to measure the speed of the ball near the net, but now they measure it as the ball leaves the racquet. So you can safely add 10-20 mph to the serve speeds registered in Krajicek's time, though it’s possible that a small number of those readings were "true." The difficulty is that radar gun systems have never been standardized, even to this day. I've already written about all this and more. Here are the links if you're interested:

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?p=4200485#post4200485
    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?p=4201586#post4201586
     
    #38
  39. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    Well nonp, not sure what to tell you. Tilden had a minimalist motion with a low toss, it was absolutely fluid however, and relaxed. One nice thing about it was that even though so simple, the linkage of his body-parts was perfect...and that is the key to power. Not wild knee bends, or back arches, or huge grunts. Tilden of course, had to leave one foot down, but he did get all his weight behind the serve, and even the best of jumps probably only add about 10mph max. (and I tend to think that generous) to the serve. (and in the case of many amateurs, probably causes a bit of loss from other links, that might even result in a wash!)

    Ellsworth Vines, the next big server after Tilden, thought Sampras (89,90ish Sampras....note this his motion did change a bit around 1991 and again, around 1994/5) motion was just like his. He thought the arm motion, body movement etc were the same! From the footage I've seen, it's not, but Tilden sees something, probaby in the looseness of the arms, and the rhythm, as well as their general build!

    In any case, I"ve studied all these servers to the best of my ability, but not sure that there is any way to place/rank them with any certainty.

    I would say, that their biomechanics, as well as the speed ratings we do have, and the fact that a good wood server can come within a few mph's of what he can do with graphite convinces me that, while they may not have had such an aggressive (ace on every first serve) mindset, they could bring the heat, in a way very comparable to today's players, when they wished. Don't let the hype about improvements in mechanics fool you. It's largely unscientific gibberish. The really important fundamentals haven't changed...they're a function of the human body....and the greatest servers always had them. In fact, if anything, I think efficiency has gone downwards, as we went towards more of a big knee bend, pause, big leap phase, rather the continuous, relaxed motion. The former is more efficient in terms of energy used, though ultimately the outcome is probably almost identical when maximized! Some players, like Vijay Amitraj, thought that players of his era, who tended towards low ball tosses with quicker motions were more deceptive (he compared it to Krajicek in one interview), and of course, Goran, arthurs, Tanner, Curren, and many others have been among the most difficult to read. I recall even Agassi saying Leconte's low ball toss, quick motion was hard to read. But again, I think ultimately a great outcome can be achieved with any of these styles....as the varied greats demonstrate!
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2010
    #39
  40. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    Hello, Blade. Thanks for replying, I'm not sure what you mean by "official"...there really isn't any official record...even thought that term is bandied about....even Roddick who may be declared the official record holder by the ATP, really should not be!

    In any case, as I mentioned, Rusedski hit 149mph in tournament play, before Roddick, and in fact, Colin Dibley hit 148mph in 1974 in a serve competition. So I don't think Warner could be said to hold the record. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that his serve was extremely fast, and I don't doubt that he may have hit 147mph. I am certainly familiar with his name, and knew that he had been attributed as at least reaching into the 130's. I have seen a bit of footage of his serve, but not much. If you know a way, I can see more, let me know! Yes, he falls into an area of many a journeyman with all-time fast serves.....like Dibley, Denton, Sadri, and others....I am particularly interested in them, since they are the players I've seen the least of!

    I take it that he lives near you. If you ever have the chance, please ask him for more details about his serve! Where was the competition? What measuring device was used? Where other pro servers there? Who were the other top servers? Feel free to email me if you find out any more info!

    PS. If you have the chance, also ask him about David Pate! I know they played doubles, and Pate, who was coached a bit by Gonzalez, also had a very big serve, even though he was not a big guy!
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2010
    #40
  41. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    Thanks for the informative response, Data. I was edging toward giving the pre-Gonzales greats honorary mentions, and now I believe that's the best way to give them their due without rampant speculation.

    And I really don't disagree with you one bit here:

    I tell ya, I can't help but chuckle when I see the ignorant (not just on this board, alas) go on and on about how the supposedly "advanced" training, technology and nutrition have made today's players superhuman athletes compared to yesterday's. It'd help a lot if some of the prominent journos and pundits started debunking or at least challenging this myth, but unfortunately they're often the very ones riding the bandwagon. Not an encouraging situation, I must say.

    Also speaking of Leconte, I can't believe I almost forgot about his fellow countryman Noah. Pretty surprising that no one has mentioned him yet. I'll definitely include his name in my next post.
     
    #41
  42. 35ft6

    35ft6 Legend

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2005
    Messages:
    6,557
    Sampras number one. Serve I would most like to have. Federer and Stich after that.
     
    #42
  43. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    Note to those who may be interested: I've made a few changes to the OP, the most important of which is the honorary mentions given to Tilden, Vines and Kramer. Considering the lack of sufficient visual evidence and, as Datacipher pointed out above, the different rules they had to serve under (like keeping one foot on the ground), I believe this is the best way to give the old-timers their due without rampant and potentially unfair speculation.

    So here's the list as it stands now:

    1. Ivanisevic
    2. Karlovic
    3. Sampras
    4. Krajicek
    5. Roddick
    6. Stich
    7. Becker
    8. McEnroe
    9. Rusedski
    10. Edberg

    Honorary mentions: Tilden, Vines, Kramer

    And here are the other players that have been mentioned so far: Gonzales, Ashe, Newcombe, Colin Dibley, Smith, Tanner, Vijay Amritraj, Steve Denton, John Sadri, Curren, Noah, Leconte, Forget, Scott Warner, Rosset, Arthurs, Rafter, Philippoussis, Joachim Johansson, Isner.

    Now I'm sure some of these names belong on the list--especially Gonzales, Newcombe and Tanner--but I want to reemphasize that we're trying to rank the best of the best. The "GOAT" label would be meaningless otherwise.

    Scott Warner (hat tip to Blade0324) is a case in point. His highest career ranking is no. 180. And his number of career titles? Zero. Not a single title. Now, I know I've said that I want to evaluate the serve as a stand-alone shot, but at the same time I find it hard to believe that a player with an all-time great serve could end his career with such a whimper. (But don't get me wrong, I'm glad that his name was mentioned. One aspect of the GOAT debate that appeals to me is its educational value, and thanks to Blade0324 we've learned that this dude named Scott Warner could serve big.)

    The fact is that each era has its share of journeymen with big serves. The '70s had Dibley, the (early) '80s Denton and Sadri, the '90s Goellner, the '00s Arthurs and Isner. And no doubt a few other names have been left out. Admittedly these players boast a more substantial resume than Warner, but is that enough to land them on the GOAT list? I'm inclined to say no, with a few possible exceptions. IMO the server should have won a major or reached the major finals (preferably outside of the AO before the early '80s) at least once, and also won a few smaller titles for good measure. By those standards Curren, Noah and Flipper could be considered solid candidates. As for the others, here are their career records for your perusal:

    Dibley - career-high ranking of no. 35, 1 AO SF and 2 Wimbledon QFs, 4 career titles
    Denton - no. 12, 2 AO finals and 1 4R each at Wimbledon and the USO, 0 titles
    Sadri - no. 14, 1 AO F and 1 Wimbledon QF, 2 titles
    Arthurs - no. 44, never advanced beyond 4R at the majors, 1 title
    Johansson - no. 9, 1 USO SF and 1 4R each at the AO and Wimbledon, 3 titles
    Isner - no. 28, 1 USO 4R, 1 title

    Perhaps you might feel differently, but these stats don't impress me. I'd say Amritraj, Forget and Rosset are better candidates, if just slightly. (And just for the record, I don't think Leconte or Goellner belongs up there. Neither does Rafter. In fact I decided to add Edberg to the list only because he might well have had the greatest kick serve ever.)

    That should do it for now. Hopefully some of you will have something to share about any of the above names. And again when you rank these players I'd like to see some reasoning behind your rankings especially of the old-timers before Curren. So instead of just stating the obvious like "Tanner could crank it up" or "Newcombe had a great 2nd serve," say something meatier like "Tanner's great disguise and swift delivery put him ahead of (fill in the blank)." Thanks in advance.
     
    #43
  44. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,406
    If you're going to give honorary mentions to the older players, then you should give a mention to Pancho Gonzalez, who has been called the greatest server in the history of tennis by many. Players like Ashe, Sedgman, Rosewall, Laver, Hoad, Kramer have raved about Gonzalez's great serve. It was a serve that took very little out of him with no hitches so he could serve bombs even in the fifth set.

    Here's a link to Gonzalez's serve.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyhFo3hvGPI

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nd0gJzm_EQY

    Here's a little info on John Newcombe's serve from Arthur Ashe's book Portrait in Motion--But if you ask me who has the best serve in the world, I would say John Newcombe, and John really hasn't got a fast serve. He hits a heavy serve, which mixes spin with velocity. Neale Fraser had a great heavy serve when I first came up; Pasarell and Tony Roche are acouple of others who hit tough heavy balls. If you are returning a heavy serve, you need more than timing to get it back; you need strength too. A good heavy serve from somebody like Newcombe can turn the racket in your hand.

    Here's a link for Newcombe-Connors. Newcombe was probably a little over the hill at this point and it was his last major.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REKwsCHZtUM
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2010
    #44
  45. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2005
    Messages:
    4,372
    Ashe himself was an ultra fast server, with a nice swift service motion. Later in his career, he went more for placement than for pure velocity. Neale Fraser's lefty serve was rated by people like Hoad, as even better than Gonzalez'. Fraser could hide the direction very well and could hit very sharp angled serves, that threw the returner off court.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2010
    #45
  46. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,146
    I think we may be talking past each other. For the record I'm well aware of the reputation of Gonzales' serve. The only reason why I've been reluctant to give him an honorary mention is that, unlike with Tilden, Vines and Kramer, I've met a few people here and elsewhere who have seen Gonzales play. If possible I'm hoping to give at least Gonzales, Newcombe and Tanner reasonable rankings.

    And speaking of Newcombe, care to estimate where he ranks on the list?

    IIRC Laver himself has spoken highly of Fraser's serve, but not quite in such superlatives. Do you know anyone other than Hoad who held it in such high regard? I think Fraser may deserve an honorary mention himself.

    Here's the '60 Wimbledon final between Fraser and Laver, which the taller lefty (Fraser) won:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0-6cRPqA8g
     
    #46
  47. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,406
    I'm not sure if you're trying to rank players all time or you're leaning toward players of recent years. Gonzalez has been mentioned by many greats as the all time best server and I'm not sure if in his time and even past his prime he wasn't considered the greatest server in the world. Vic Braden thought Gonzalez's service form was virtually perfect.

    Newcombe is clearly one of the all time top servers. I was at a match in 1973 where he played Jimmy Connors, who in retrospect was already probably the best returner in the world. Now bearing in mind it was on a grass surface where it's harder to return, Connors didn't break Newcombe's serve once in three sets. If you combine that with his great kick second serve he clearly had one of the best service games in tennis history. Where he ranks I'm not sure but my gut is that he is in the top ten, maybe top five.
    I have to think up names of all time server through tennis history to really know.

    Fraser has been named by many to be a really great server but frankly I'm not sure how he ranks. He clearly was considered at worst one of the great servers.

    I've also seen Tanner play and just from the impression of pure power and speed on a serve Tanner is up there with anyone I've seen. I am not sure exactly how he would rank all time because frankly my memory of his serving in person is no longer fresh in my mind. If memory serves (no pun intended) Tanner even set the speed record for official serving when he was on the Senior Tour in the early 1990's with I think 135 miles per hour, which was higher than the ATP speed record at the time by one mile per hour. He was timed at 153 miles per hour years earlier but I do have doubts about that since the equipment for timing the speed was more primitive in those days. He was fun to watch just for the serving alone and I remember at the US Open one year against Borg, Tanner knocked down the net with the power of his serve! Now perhaps the net was defective but I've never seen that before and I've never seen it since. My feeling with Tanner is that he doesn't really make the top ten because I don't think he had the variety of some players like a Newcombe or a Kramer or a Gonzalez.

    When we look at serves obviously we don't just look at the speed of a flat serve but the variety of serves and the placement. One of the reasons Pete Sampras had such a great serve was not only the great speed but the variety of serves from the same toss. His second serve obviously had great penetration. I saw a tennis article comparing Pete Sampras' serve and Greg Rusedski's serve. I believe the article had Pete's serve and Greg's serve come off the racket at about the same same speed (Rusedski's may have been faster) but the revolutions per serve by Sampras was much faster so went the ball bounced Sampras' serve retained more speed and reached the receiver much quicker and therefore Pete's serve was more effective. I wonder if Sampras' serve in this way isn't similar to Newcombe's serve, ie I mean it was loaded with heavy spin and could knock the racket out of your hand.

    Many old timers used to raved about a lefty server named John Doeg, who won the US Championship from what they say mainly on his almost unbreakable serve. I think Don Budge said the players called it John Doeg's egg ball because the ball resembled an egg when it came off his racket. Here's what Budge said about it in his ball "Don Budge-A Tennis Memoir"--The players referred to it as "John's egg-ball." Besides, when Doeg's serve in the ad court bounced, it would fly crazily off to the side, and no man could chase it down. If you did manage to get the ball back, just reaching the return carried you so far out of the court that there was no chance you could make it back in time to get Doeg's return. However, since John had little more proclivity for return serve than losing serve, all his matches were forever running to 18-16. You never broke Doeg's serve. You outlasted it.
     
    #47
  48. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    NonP, I've often listed Noah as one of the most beautiful/graceful/efficient and powerful servers ever! I would rank his flat serve among the fastest (I was once told his flat serve was recorded in the early 90's/late 80's at 140mph but have not been able to verify that). His slice serve, was among the top 5 I've ever seen. He had a pure slice in both the deuce and add courts, with little topspin component. Which meant big speed, and big break. His ad court slice down the middle was the best I've ever seen.

    The only knock I have on him, was that his flat serve was very flat, so he had HUGE power, but a slightly lower percentage, which wasn't helped by his tendency to hit down. I think b/c of this, he had to rely on more spin serves, even on the 1st serve to keep his percentages up. His kick serve was also not great, partly because he started tossing futher to the right, as his career went on. I actually think this was more efficient, and improved his slice, but he got a bit less kick. Thus, his second serve wasn't all that fast, and didn't have all that much kick!

    Nevertheless, what an absolutely beautiful motion, and when on, extreme power.
     
    #48
  49. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,743
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    NonP,

    I think you should expand your list to 1-20. This will give you more "room to maneuver" and include some servers that you and others mention. (Just a suggestion.)
     
    #49
  50. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,406
    Noah was a beautiful server. I loved watching that guy for his athletic ability. His overhead was the best I've ever seen. He would routinely put the ball into the stands with his jumping overhead.

    I saw Noah play Lendl in 1986 at the old Tournament of Champions on har tru. We all know what a great clay player Lendl was and how the clay surface slows down the serve. Well Noah was serving so powerfully that he was almost back to the stands in futilely trying to return the Noah serve.

    Noah had possibly the best first serve (when he got it in) in the game at that time and there were great servers around like Boris Becker. His serve that day was incredible. He defeated Lendl in straight sets and won the tournament the next day against an over the hill Guillermo Vilas.
     
    #50

Share This Page