Greatest Serves of All Time

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

  1. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Are we keeping track of unreturned serves by the less-than-greatest servers in this thread? These numbers below are not remarkable, but I thought I'd post them given the interest expressed here in collecting full counts of unreturned serves which are still rarely provided by the media.

    These are from the 2008 Beijing Olympics -- from the official site. They provided aces and a count of "Service Winners", which I know are a full count of unreturned serves because they fit exactly into the Total Points Won when added to the other winners and the unforced and forced errors.

    Final
    Nadal served on 87 points and 13 serves did not come back: 15%
    Gonzalez served on 107 points and 16 serves did not come back: 15%

    Semifinal
    Nadal served on 75 points and 8 serves did not come back: 11%
    Djokovic served on 85 points and 17 serves did not come back: 20%
     
  2. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

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    I'd take Edberg's serve over the serves of all those guys at this point. He has served huge in the biggest matches and on the biggest stages. Raonic and Janowicz, and Querrey all have bigger serves than Edberg had. Yet, he had a kick serve that those guys have not been able to produce nearly as consistently, especially in big matches at majors.


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGEQxIIWAKs (Edberg v. Becker in the 1990 W final)
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2013
  3. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    Any progress on this ? :)
     
  4. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

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    Thanks Krosero. Good to know.
     
  5. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    you mean the 1990 final ....

    edberg is one of my favorite players, but effectiveness wise overall, I'd take the serves of likes of raonic, janowicz, querry, anderson etc over his.
     
  6. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

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    Yes 1990 final, my mistake. It depends on what you're looking for with your serve. When have those guys ever kept those big serves up at majors though ABMK? They do have bigger serves, no doubt, but Edberg used his serve to so effectively finish points on that second shot. So, his serve best allowed him to hold serve. As a stand alone serve though, I agree, those guys had bigger serves, with more aces and service winners. Edberg could hit lines in big matches, whereas those guys really have never been able to maintain that level for a whole major. Edberg had that great kicker and could use it so well to get in for the volley especially. In today conditions, he'd serve differently.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2013
  7. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    their problem in majors is not their serve, but the rest of their games ...
     
  8. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

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    That too really. Everything falls apart once they drop serve just once. Their service games drop off as well, especially when someone's getting a lot of returns back.
     
  9. andreh

    andreh Professional

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    I think Edberg's serve is underrated on these forums. Seen him live? When you sit court side you see how huge that kick is much better than on TV. Until he started getting back problems post circa 1991 it was awsome. And I bet if Moose Malloy and krosero did stats on Edberg's serve it would prove to be a very efficient weapon all by itself, not just as a set up for the volley. He had high amount of serves that never came back. They were not clean aces, but they stayed on the otherside of the net nevertheless, no volley even needed.

    People tended to step in inside the baseline to return Edberg's serve which cuts off the angles and let's you put a racket on it. No ace, but a service winner or a forced return error. You had to, otherwise he would be ontop of the net and put away the volley.
     
  10. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

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    Yes exactly. That's my take on his serve as well. It was great as a stand alone serve and also as a set up for his volley. Vicious kicker. Think about him serving with the latest frames/strings too. These days, he'd go for more pace and likely stay back quite a bit more. I'm certain he would be adding pace.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2013
  11. andreh

    andreh Professional

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    ^^ during Edberg's best years only handfull of players didn't fear Edberg's serve. Becker, Agassi and Courier comes to mind. Lendl didn't return it well. Maybe Chang did.

    Just watched the YEC 90 final with Agassi. I think Edberg's serve held up very well. There certainly wasn't any paradigm shift in favor of power tennis blowing him off court or anything like that. There were stats showing a very high number of service winners for Edberg through out and he only served at around 50% for most of the match. At 65-70% which is where he was when he was serving well, he wins that match.
     
  12. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    This thread is 43 pages long, I'm sure his numbers are in there somewhere:)

    We've tracked unreturned serves in all the Edberg matches we've done. Not sure what your definition of a 'high' amount of unreturned serves is, but I believe he was around 20-30% unreturned serves in most of the matches we've done. Compared to 50% for many Becker, Goran, Sampras, Raonic, Karlovic, Curren matches.

    I think Edberg was around 40% vs Mac at '89 Wimbledon. and vs Lendl at '89 Masters(you're right, Lendl had a lot of trouble returning it at times)
     
  13. andreh

    andreh Professional

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    Not sure of the definition either. That would more be your territory! :) But aces, forced errors, service winners, I think. Not entirely sure what the difference is between them sometimes. But serves that don't require the point to go on. Unforced errors also don't come back but not really because of the strength of the serve as such. So, at times at least, Edberg just slightly behind the very best servers in the game. Not to bad.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
  14. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    To understand Edberg's serve, just as Mac's or Roche's you must think they used the serve to get settled up for the killing volley
    Cash and Roche did so with a flat and deep serve
    Edberg,Rafter and possibly Henman with their kick one
    Mac with the sliced
    Neale Fraser was also like that
    None of them wanted to ace you
    They loved so much to volley!!
    Stefan was an athletic big boy, more than many big servers
    He just was not interested in having a bombing serve
     
  15. andreh

    andreh Professional

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    Yeah, but the point of the last few post was that his (Edberg's) serve was more of a bomb than people give it credit for. Having 30% of your serves never come back into play on a regular basis like Moose said above is a pretty decent serve, no matter what your plans are for the next shot.

    Update: Did a quick search of the thread. There were some numbers against Becker and they were indeed around 30% unreturned. Becker returned his serve better than most so one would expect it to be higher against other players.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
  16. Anaconda

    Anaconda Hall of Fame

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    Whilst it wasn't his most feared weapon, I think Safin should be on the list. Easy power, hardly any intensity and was like a sniper rifle. I remember he hit 33 aces and 0 double faults against Agassi on rebound ace (now I know Agassi gets aced a lot by the best servers, but 0 double faults in 5 sets is insane).
     
  17. Benhur

    Benhur Hall of Fame

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    I´ve been reading many old posts in this thread and one thing that puzzles me is the emphasis on 1st serve percentage. I am not sure what this has to do the quality of a serve. This percentage is in most cases a matter of personal strategy and what a player feels will be more effective in any given set of conditions. To me the most directly related stat to the quality of a serve is the holding percentage (percentage of games won on serve). Either that, or the percentage of points won on serve.

    It is by no means an infallible measure, because the overall tennis skills also affect the holding percentage, but I still feel it is by far the most important stat. And it´s particularly useful when you are dealing with players whose overall tennis skills are very visibly inferior to others who possess a similar holdng percentage.

    If I see a guy like Noah having an equal or better holding % than, say, Lendl (I dont know if he does or not) then I have to conclude Noah is the better server. Same thing, but even more obvious, in a comparison between Karlovic and Sampras, because the distance in overall tennis skills is even greater in this case. The stat is less useful when you are comparing players of similar overall skills, but even then, it is important.

    To get back to my point, I can´t see how 1st serve percentage, whether very low or very high, can tell you anything about the overall quality of the serve.
     
  18. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Some stats reported for Sampras-Bruguera at the '96 French could be used to calculate Pete's unreturned rate, if someone knows the total number of points that he served.

    Associated Press:

    “I was very tired, just kind of going on adrenaline at the end,” Sampras said. “Once I lost the fourth set, I just had to regroup. This is the last set: I’m either going home or I’m going to stick around for awhile.”

    Sampras, meanwhile, played the kind of aggressive tennis he has rarely displayed on clay -- a far cry from the tentative Sampras who lost to Bruguera in the ’93 quarters.

    This was not the same Bruguera either. Still not fully recovered from foot and ankle injuries, the 1993 and 1994 champion has dropped to No. 23 in the rankings and was not seeded this year.

    The warm, sunny weather was just what Sampras needed, allowing him to dominate with his big serve.

    “My serve kind of won it for me in the fifth set,” he said. “It was the whole foundation of my game today.”

    Both players had 14 aces, but Sampras also had 43 service winners. Sampras repeatedly served himself out of trouble, saving 18-of-20 break points.

    “I just won the important points today,” he said. “I was down so many break points and won those points. That was really the difference.”

    Sampras won the first two sets in less than an hour, attacking at every opportunity.

    “I was probably playing the best serve-and-volley tennis I’ve ever played for the first two sets -- couldn’t play any better,” he said.

    But Sampras tired at the end of the third set and lost the tie-breaker. Bruguera broke Sampras twice to win the fourth set and looked in position to take the match in five.

    But Sampras won seven straight points to open the final set, kissing his racket after hitting a forehand volley winner that helped him break serve for a 2-0 lead.

    When Bruguera hit a backhand serve return out on match point, Sampras looked more relieved and exhausted than elated.​
     
  19. YaoPau

    YaoPau Rookie

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    We have some data on Edberg's serve quality here. The stats start at the tail end of Edberg's prime, but they suggest Edberg's first serve wasn't that effective. 63% made, winning 75% of the time for a guy with a great return game puts him right with Djokovic in today's game. I probably didn't watch Edberg as much as some of the older guys on this board, so if his serve really tailed off after 1990 maybe there's an argument there.

    I think it's important to separate the serve from the rest of the game though. Federer for example is like a better version of Edberg in that he had even huger serve numbers over his career, but part of it is that he was awesome in general.

    IMO the best servers are the guys who held serve at a ridiculously high rate despite having holes in the rest of their game. Roddick, Isner, Raonic types if we're talking first and second serves, and I'd put Isner #1 because he's such an extreme player and has used his serve to gain a massive tiebreak advantage over the rest of the world.

    If we're going all-time though, hard to leave out Tilden or Pancho. I haven't seen much of it, but for guys who played on canvas or wood so often with imperfections in the court, there was no better time for the killer serves they had, and so the serve probably meant more to their legacies than any other players in history.
     
  20. Vcore89

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    Stats and all aside, Joachim Johansson has the greatest serve of all time imo. Ivanisevic, Sampras, Safin, Roddick, Isner, Raonic, etc., while great, lacks that finesse coupled with power and efficiency wrap in one complete package! Boris Becker used to my GOAT-serving machine until he changed it due to injuries.
     
  21. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    If you are such a terrific volleyer as Edberg...why need a bombastic serve? His serve did the job he required of, in that sense, is an all time great serve.Just like mc Enroe and Roche.
     
  22. YaoPau

    YaoPau Rookie

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    I'm not sure what "stats aside" even means. That's essentially saying "actual results don't matter."

    I will say Johansson should be in this discussion. His numbers from 2004 (63.2% first serves made, 80.5% won, 53.8% of second serves won) are massive numbers for someone winning just 31.9% of return points.

    From the tennis abstract numbers, it's easy to calculate % of service points won, with (pct1stMade*pct1stWon + (1-pct1stMade*pct2ndWon). Isner this year is winning 71.4% of service points compared to 70.7% for Johansson's best year. And they were similarly ranked with almost equal return of serve percentages, so it's not like there were significant factors in play besides the serve that would alter those percentages.

    Roddick had three different years winning over 72.5% of his service points, just a crazy high number, but the rest of his game was better too and so it's hard for me to just separate serve ability. Edberg's best recorded year came in well off everyone else's at 67.3%. Sampras's best were around 71%, Ivanisevic around 70% because his second serve was bad.
     
  23. BTURNER

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    Has Tracy Austin been discussed yet in this thread?
     
  24. jaggy

    jaggy G.O.A.T.

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    its a greatest serve thread not a hottest babe thread
     
  25. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Wrong Tracy Austin.
     
  26. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    By 1981 or 1982 I had a terrible nightmare...I was tied up at a light pole and Steve Denton was , 10 meters away, trying to serve ON me for about 10 minutes.

    I couldn´t overcome that idea of having such a cruel death for a while...
     
  27. SCRAP IRON

    SCRAP IRON Professional

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    Roscoe Tanner had the best serve. Dude could hit 120 mph with a horrible, low powered aluminum racket. Jimmy Connors used a high powered, trampoline-like metal frame and couldn't come close to the speed of Tanner's.
     
  28. slice serve ace

    slice serve ace Rookie

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    i have the stats for all sets except for the 2nd set. in all versions of the match that i have they switch to the end of agassi-woodroof match, plus interviews, so 4 or 5 games are skipped. that was exactly when sampras broke bruguera. atp stats are a complete mess, and cannot be used to calculate points in this case by substracting aces and dfs (notice they have sampras with 9 aces and bruguera with 11). and i couldn't find anywhere how many points were played in this match, or how many points each player won. but here are stats for sampras' unreturned serves that i have

    set 1 - 14/28

    set 3 - 18/52
    set 4 - 9/27
    set 5 - 12/33

    in 2nd set he had 8 in the part of the set that is shown, including 2 aces. so in total he had at least 61 unreturned serve out of unknown number of points


    bolded: pete probably means best s&v he played on clay and i would agree...anybody who likes that sort of tennis being displayed at high level on clay, which wasn't that often, would have a big smile on his face watching what sampras displayed here...bruguera wasn't bad at all - he had million break points and was barely losing points on his own serve ( from that game in the 2nd set when he was broken, untill the 5th set, he didn't allow pete a single break point)...after bruguera won 4th set and started playing as in his best years, i don't think there would be many to put a single dime on sampras to win, yet he did...and he deserves quite a bow for that, at least from me:)
     
  29. Vcore89

    Vcore89 Hall of Fame

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    I wouldn't have said it with prescience (stats aside) if I didn't intend to brush aside the hard numbers. I wished he had like 5 - 8 more years of data sampling to work on with.
     
  30. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I think it might still work to subtract aces and df's, because it's possible that all of Pete's service points were counted but that simply too few of them were marked down as aces. There was definitely an undercount of aces but that would not necessarily mean an undercount of points.

    (In the Courier qf, if you subtract Pete's aces once, he ends up winning 110 of all his service points, which corresponds to a report in the press that "Sampras's serve ... produced 28 aces and won 110 points").

    If aces and df's are subtracted once, then the ATP has Sampras serving 178 points. In the 4 full sets you tracked, you've got Sampras serving a total of 140 points, which leaves him serving 38 points in the second set, over the course of five service games. Numerically that seems perfectly plausible (though I have not seen any part of that set).

    In the ATP stats, unadjusted, Sampras serves 193 points. That would leave him serving 53 points in 5 service games in the second set, which seems excessive.

    I don't know if you tracked Bruguera's numbers, but Eurosport had him dropping only 2 points in his service holds in the opening set, and again dropping only 2 points in his service holds in the second set. That means that he served 32 points while holding in the first two sets, plus whatever number of points he served in the two games in which he was broken (unfortunately the break in the second set was not broadcast).

    Anyway the ATP has Bruguera serving 137 points in the match -- or 126 if aces/df's are subtracted once.

    One of the most remarkable things about this match for me is that Sampras had a much harder time holding than Bruguera. No matter what numbers are used, he served far more points than Bruguera did -- and he faced 20 break points compared to only 7 faced by Sergi.

    If aces and df's are subtracted once from the ATP stats, Pete ended up winning only 66% of his service points while Bruguera out-performed him with 72%.

    This shows that the 43 "service winners" reported in the press were either an undercount, or restricted to judgment calls.

    I agree it was a great display of SV tennis on clay. However, having a look at the stats it seems that Bruguera out-played him in a very close match and that Sampras' edge, ultimately, was in mental strength. As he said to the press, "I just won the important points today. I was down so many break points and won those points. That was really the difference."

    Still, even to hang with a claycourter of Bruguera's caliber, while playing SV tennis, was remarkable.

    He didn't make the mistake of trying to rally with Bruguera. Obviously he had decided to attack on everything (somewhat like McEnroe decided at the '84 French).
     
  31. M Dean

    M Dean Rookie

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    that is some statment... his mind and sometimes the game tactics after the serve, especialy the 2nd serve were questionable, but to call his 2nd serve (as a shot alone) bad? wow! i'm not with you and i'm not in the minority.
     
  32. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    Stats at atptennis are incorrect on most matches pre 2000

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?t=207411
     
  33. SystemicAnomaly

    SystemicAnomaly G.O.A.T.

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    ..........
     
  34. Rosewall

    Rosewall Rookie

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    Gloria Connors taught Jimmy how to serve and that is all you need to know about Connors serve. I think it was the 84 US Open where McEnroe realized Connors first and second serves were the same and came to the net on almost every Connors serve. One of the funniest things I have seen in tennis. Connors wasn't the only one Mac did that to.

    I agree Roscoe Tanner had the best serve of that era. Tanner had amazing talent that he wasted for the most part.
     
  35. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Going by your numbers above:

    McEnroe served on 165 points and 60 serves did not come back: 36.4%

    So Mac made 59% of his first serves with 62% success on 1st and 50% on 2nd, decent numbers.

    And Connors' success at net was 65% compared to McEnroe's 58%, which makes sense considering that McEnroe came to net 3 times as much as Connors.

    Very interesting stats, would love to see more if you get them. That bagel third set might produce some strange numbers (it's possible Mac won fewer points overall), and it's always interesting to check whether Connors had higher success on 2nd serve than on first.
     
  36. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    here's another one for philippoussis
    06 Newport vs Gimelstob 37/65, 57%

    I believe this is the highest mentioned for Becker so far. Found a higher one.

    88 Davis Cup vs Zivojinovic 43/75, 57%
    Zivijonovic had 46% unret serves(43/93)
     
  37. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    looking through the thread, looks like these are the top 'unreturnable matches' mentioned so far

    Karlovic vs Bracciali, '05 Wimbledon 1st round(lost match)
    at least 66.7%

    Roddick vs J. Johansson, 04 USO QF(lost match)
    62.7%

    Ivanisevic vs Roddick, '01 Wimbledon
    62.2%

    Karlovic vs T. Johansson, '07 Stockholm Final
    60.6%

    Sampras vs Mantilla, '96 Stuttgart
    60.5%

    Sampras vs Pioline, '97 Wimbledon Final
    59.2%

    Sampras vs Enqvist, '98 Wimbledon
    at least 59%

    Ivanisevic vs Sampras, '92 Wimbledon SF
    58.6%

    Curren vs Connors, '85 Wimbledon SF
    57.57%

    Raonic vs Haas, '13 San Jose Final
    57.4%

    Becker vs Zivojinovic, '88 Davis Cup SF
    57.3%

    Philippoussis vs Gimelstob, '06 Newport Final
    56.9%

    Ivanisevic vs Martin, '95 Grand Slam Cup Final
    56.7%

    Sampras vs Stich, '92 Wimbledon QF
    56.1%
     
  38. NatF

    NatF G.O.A.T.

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    Still don't know how Roddick lost that...he was holding his serve love over and over again. Interesting that most of those are on grass but all but two of the more recent examples are on hard courts.
     
  39. dominikk1985

    dominikk1985 Legend

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    I believe that roddick, karlovic and isner are the best Servers ever. they have very high hold rates despite playing in a slow court era.

    also 2 of them (Ivo and isner) have nothing else than that serve while becker, sampras or fed have plenty of other weapons (and still did not hold quite as much).
     
  40. NatF

    NatF G.O.A.T.

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    What was special about the Roddick serve was the high first serve percentage he got while bombing them down at an average of 128 mph plus. He didn't have the disguise or placement of Sampras though.
     
  41. Tennis sensation

    Tennis sensation Hall of Fame

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    Karlovic is my top choice.
     
  42. thedunster

    thedunster New User

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    Both Sampras and Federer at their best could always rely on their serves to get them out of trouble when things were not going their way.

    If I had to pick one though it would be Sampras because when the pressure was on his serve usually went up a gear.
     
  43. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    This article says 66% of Philippoussis' serves were unreturned in the 3rd round of 2004 Wimbledon vs Fernando Gonzalez, which puts him right behind Karlovic.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/philippoussis-fan-club-set-for-henman-44920.html
     
  44. tipsa...don'tlikehim!

    tipsa...don'tlikehim! G.O.A.T.

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    Karlovic is the best server ever and he won't be topped before a very long time IMO.
     
  45. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    from an article about Roddick's 1st round win over Wang at 2004 Wimbledon

    http://www.standard.co.uk/sport/******-roddick-no-badly-drawn-boy-6942508.html

    If the '41 unreturned serves' don't include the 18 aces, that means 59 total serves were not returned(59/94) or 62.7%.


    also I came across this about Rusedski's win over Philippoussis in the first round of 1997 Wimbledon:

    http://www.sfgate.com/sports/ostler...n-s-Draw-Is-the-Boomer-Generation-3330683.php
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2014
  46. Blocker

    Blocker Semi-Pro

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    If I had to choose one player in history to serve for my life to either stay in a match or close out a match it would be Sampras. If they ever decided to build the ultimate robot tennis player taking aspects from anyone who ever played the game, surely the serve would be Sampras. If you ever want to see one of the greatest returners ever being totally overwhelmed and dumbfounded by the serve, just take a look at Sampras v Agassi, there’s plenty of matches to choose from. If you want to throw into the mix as part of the serve the second serve then it has to be Sampras. If you want a serve that is going to be most effective during the big points in the big matches of big events, look no further than Sampras (Agassi was able to combat Goran’s serve at W but he couldn’t do the same to Sampras at W). Are we looking simply at speed, number of aces banged down and unreturnable serves, or are we also including the mix the serve as a form of point construction because Sampras’ serve had all of that?

    Honestly how can anyone not choose Sampras as the greatest serve of all time?

    Sampras it is, for mine.
     
  47. President

    President Legend

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    And yet for all that, Agassi only trailed 20-14 in their head to head. Doesn't look "totally overwhelmed" to me!
     
  48. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    From http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/s...roger-federer-david-ferrer.html?emc=eta1&_r=0

    MASON, Ohio — There are not many gaps in Serena Williams’s theoretical trophy case, the shelves of which would already be bending under the weight of 61 WTA Tour singles titles.

    Still, the 62nd was a new one, with the top-ranked Williams beating No. 11 Ana Ivanovic, 6-4, 6-1, on Sunday afternoon to win the Western & Southern Open for the first time. The event was the most important American tournament to have eluded her.

    Roger Federer had no such gap to fill and added a sixth Cincinnati Masters title to his collection when he defeated David Ferrer, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2, in the men’s final later in the day. It was the third-ranked Federer’s 22nd title in the Masters Series and his 80th singles title over all. Federer had not won a Masters event for two years, since claiming the championship in Cincinnati in 2012.

    Williams had an outstanding day of serving, even by her standards. Of her first serves that landed in, 41 percent (12 of 29) were aces. Ivanovic was able to return only 46 percent of Williams’s total serves in the match (24 of 52).​
     
  49. Blocker

    Blocker Semi-Pro

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    And yet for all of the 34 matches they played, the 90 plus sets they played or however many sets it was, Agassi was dumbfounded during their biggest matches....when Pistol Pete decided to turn his serve up a notch.
     
  50. Vcore89

    Vcore89 Hall of Fame

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    Just to reiterate, Joachim ''Pim-Pim'' Johansson had the best serve, ever!:cool:
     

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