Greatest Serves of All Time

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

  1. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,579
    Ashe was doing commentary for that tournament; he put Noah's serve above Becker's and below McEnroe's.
     
    #51
  2. jean pierre

    jean pierre Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2006
    Messages:
    786
    Roscoe Tanner. Incredible serve.
     
    #52
  3. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,647
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    Agreed: no. 7.
    1. Sampras
    2. Ivanisevic
    3. P. Gonzales
    4. Roddick
    5. Krajicek
    6. Stich
    7. Tanner
    8. Newcombe
    9. Tilden
    10. Edberg
    11. Federer
    12. McEnroe
    13. Becker
    14. Dibley
    15. Karlovic
    16. Rusedski
    17. Kramer
    18. Fraser
    19. Noah
    20. Dent
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2010
    #53
  4. britbox

    britbox Rookie

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2008
    Messages:
    237
    Goran served way too many doubles to be ranked at #1 or #2. Sampras should be #1.

    hoodjem - I'm a huge Edberg fan and whilst I thought his serve was underrated, it was never Top #10 of all time material.
     
    #54
  5. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,647
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    You are correct as to his first serve, but IMO his second serve kicker was the best second serve OAT behind Sampras. (Some thought his second serve better than his first, me included.)
     
    #55
  6. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    Since John Newcombe's serve was generally ranked the best of his time I would rank Newk's serve higher than Tanner or Dibley. Dibley's serve was fast but he double faulted a lot and few if any ranked it higher than Newcombe. I would tend to rank Newcombe's serve better than Tanner's or Dibley's. Tanner's was awesome and with the fact that he seemed to almost hit his serve when the ball toss was still going up made the reaction time to the receiver much shorter. I'm glad the Tennis Channel has some Tanner matches available just to check out the serve.

    Sampras' serve is particularly impressive considering how often he led the ATP in percentage of holding serve. I believe he led the ATP in that most important category most of the time in the 1990's and even in his worst years was in the top ten. Now I know it has a lot to do with his overall skills but still his serve was great. I saw an interview with Segura in which he ranked Sampras' second serve a bit higher than Jack Kramer's and Kramer's second serve was considered the best of his time, perhaps of all time. So that's a great comment by an expert who knows about tennis.

    The Tilden first serve was excellent but I heard his second serve wasn't that impressive.

    One serve that is not mentioned but perhaps at worst deserves an honorable mention is Ivan Lendl's serve. He had a very powerful first serve and an excellent second serve. I heard an interview years ago in New York that Brad Gilbert did. They asked him who had the toughest serve for him. He answered Ivan Lendl. The reason was that besides the fact his serve was so powerful, that he had such a variety of serves and every one of them were very good.
     
    #56
  7. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    Yes. I was going to mention Noah in the "movement" thread but forgot. I have never seen anyone dive as gracefully as I have seen some Noah's dives. As if the 6'4 man was weightless....and indeed, his leaping overhead was magnficent. The best backpeddling overhead EVER (I would only rate Pete's foreward moving slamdunk as better).

    Funny you mention Lendl...the first time I was really able to verify in my mind that Noah's flat serve was as fast as I perceived (this was of course pre-radar days) was watching an old match against Lendl. Noah seemed to have extra heat that day, and when he served his bombs, they were NOTABLY FASTER than Lendl's canonball....and that's saying something.
     
    #57
  8. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    I can tell you this. TV cannot do Tanner's serve justice. It remains to this day, the most awe-inspiring athletic movement I've ever seen. No exaggeration.

    If you made a robot who's only purpose was to hit a serve, it would look like Tanner.

    The last thing you saw was him lining up towards the box. Then the blur of the figure eight of the racquet, blinding blur, while the toss seemed to come to the exact spot that his entire body was unwinding to at the perfect instaneous moment. On TV, it just looks a bit quirky and fast. In real life, it is perfect timing, perfect effiency....inhuman.

    I don't necessarily think it was the most effective serve of all-time, but the motion was the most impressive of all-time!
     
    #58
  9. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    Yes, Lendl's is underrated. His second serve was not fast (about 75 on old radar so let's say 90 today) BUT very heavy, and he could hit kick or slice or a combination with it. He'd even hit an occasional second serve ace, particularly with a surprise on-the-line slice out wide. Which is the other great thing about his serve, it wasn't beautiful, but it was methodical and well-balanced, very upright posture, and I think that helped him nail his spots well. (which is part of what makes Sampras great and Roddick a little less than what he should be). Lendl could nail those service corners. Now of course, all pros can do this, and do it quite well, nonetheless, Roddick might go for a 145mph serve, and he might put it right on the line as he hoped, or it might just swerve in a foot and half inside the box, then curve a bit more into the body, meaning the returner need not even take a step but simply stick his racquet out! Much better to his a 120-135mph serve(what Lendl would register today) that goes STRAIGHT down the tee.

    My only knock on Lendl's serve is that, if not confident, it really decreased its potency. This often seemed to happen against Boris...
     
    #59
  10. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,082
    Great comments, folks. Keep 'em coming. Now my turn to respond.

    pc1, I'd like to rank all the great servers if possible, but as I said above we have very little evidence of the old-timers before 1960, and what evidence we do have is mostly hearsay that's bound to be unreliable. Take Budge's description of Doeg's serve, which I appreciate your taking the time to dig up for us. Though I don't doubt that Doeg had one hell of a serve, it's also clear that Budge was exaggerating a bit, going so far as to say "no man could chase it down" and one "never broke Doeg's serve." So before I give Doeg an honorary mention I'll need to see a few other contemporaries praising his serve in such glowing terms. By contrast I put more stock in Hoad's rating Fraser's serve above Gonzales', given that the latter is one of the greatest ever, so I'm more inclined to think Fraser deserves an honorary mention.

    I agree that Newcombe should rank pretty high. Heavy kick like you said, and also one of the best 2nd serves ever. I also did consider Lendl and see your point about his serve, but I'm still not convinced that it's one of the all-time great serves. Remember, we're trying to rank the best of the best. If we included every excellent serve this list would get very bloated indeed. I want the "greatest" in "GOAT" to mean something.

    As for Tanner's serve lacking variety, maybe Datacipher could chime in on that. And good point regarding Dibley's serve rarely being rated above Newcombe's or Tanner's.

    Data, Ashe apparently put Noah's serve above Becker's and below McEnroe's. Do you agree with Ashe on that? I was gonna include Noah anyway, but I'm not sure he (and Mac) ranks above Becker. Also pc1 doesn't seem to think Tanner's serve had much variety, or at least not as much as Gonzales' and Newcombe's. Any input on that one?

    hoodjem, it looks like you misunderstood my intention. I've been in fact trying to expand my list. Doesn't have to be a top 10, 20, or whatever. I'm just more certain about those 10 players on the current list than about the others.

    Also I'm not sure Dent belongs on the list at all, even at the very bottom. As you may well know he's been dogged by injuries and thus forced to tweak his serve throughout his career. Are we even sure which serve of his we're talking about? That's why I didn't mention him in my OP, actually.

    But valid point on Edberg's 2nd kicker.

    britbox, I've already addressed this. To wit, we're trying to evaluate the serve as a stand-alone shot. Goran was a headcase and as a result his whole game suffered on occasion, but not when he kept his head together. As a pure shot, though, his serve was among the best ever, IMO the very best.

    Also his tendency to serve double faults is a bit of a myth. That's only true of some of his most important matches, but usually his DF count was around or only a tad above the average. You can check the stats.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2010
    #60
  11. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    I've seen Sampras, Goran, Newcombe, Ashe, Lendl, Becker, McEnroe and I can truly say the most stunning serve I've ever seen was Roscoe Tanner's serve. I'm not saying Tanner's serve is the best but when I first saw it, WOWWWWWWWWWWW!
     
    #61
  12. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,579
    The most impressive stat I ever saw for Lendl's serve was against McEnroe at RG in '88. In the fourth set, he made 20 of 21 first serves and lost only one point on serve.

    He also served at 75% when he beat Tanner at Wimbledon ('83).

    In both those matches he was hitting it with pace, not just spinning in it.

    As long as you're talking about honorable mentions, how about Borg. I still don't know of anyone else who's won 19 straight points on serve in a fifth set -- and Borg did it twice, against McEnroe at the 1980 Wimbledon and then Tanner two months later at the USO.

    That's a record -- if it's a record, though I don't know of any official source confirming such streaks -- that has stood for thirty years now. Should count for something.

    PC1, I'd be interested if you ever come across information about the streak against Tanner. It was reported in the press but I don't know where to find a copy of the match, and I'd like to know how much of the streak was due to Borg's serve and how much to his overall endurance in a fifth set (I know against Mac it was a combination of both).

    Anyway Borg put in some impressive service performances in his last two years of playing Slams. There were the Mac/Tanner sets; and 16 aces against Connors at the 81W; and 14 aces against Connors at the 81 USO, in only three sets.

    Even Connors admitted after the last match that Borg served "extra special", and everyone was raving about his aces.

    Plus, the CBS commentators said that one of his serves during the final was the fastest of the tournament -- somewhat surprising because Tanner was in the event (he lost in four sets to Borg).

    I think Borg's serve was better than ever in his last years, and there's every reason to believe it would have gotten better if he'd continued.
     
    #62
  13. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2007
    Messages:
    7,606
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    ^^^Very True Krosero. Borg's serve often gets overlooked. It was very good indeed, especially the first serve. He had such a beautiful motion, in my opinion, which was so efficient.

    As far as Tanner, I would say that his serve is definite top 10 material. It's pretty much the only reason he was as successful as he was. The rest of his game was just not that spectacular. It was a stand alone, spectacular shot. Datacipher and PC1 are correct above, in my opinion. His delivery was key. The EXTREMELY quick ball toss and lightning quick motion, which made his serve impossible to read during the delivery. Then, he would deliver absolute bombs with that PDP! Of course he also had a lefty's advantage as well.

    See last the 3 games of Tanner-Borg in the '79 Wimbledon Final:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLVnrUKL8yY

    Tanner's Serve Analyzed By Vic Braden:
    (mentions Roscoe's 130-140 mph serve)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42STJgl2K4E

    Borg-Tanner at Wimbledon in the 1976 SF:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT5mvbTaKeM
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2010
    #63
  14. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    Borg's serve

    Borg's serve was called by some people (not too many but some) the best in tennis in the late 1970's and early 1980's. I think it was a fantastic serve and what was amazing to me about the serve was how he seemed to get huge serves in when he needed it. I haven't seen the 1981 US Open semi against Connors in ages but didn't Borg serve himself out of break point numerous times in that match?

    Even a player and expert as great as Fred Perry said that he never saw anyone able to get himself out of jams the way Borg was able to.
     
    #64
  15. Blade0324

    Blade0324 Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2007
    Messages:
    3,569
    You know what, I love all of the questions that you are curious about. I am hitting with Scott tomorrow night so I'll pick his brain a bit more. I especially like the part about David Pate and his serve as I myself am not fortunate enough to be 6'6". I'll update any info he gives me. You are right about his being a journeyman of which there are MANY over the years. Certainly he is nothing special in pro terms. He is just in a pretty small group of people as far as the general tennis playing population goes. Most of us could only hope to have had the experiences that they have and to be able to play at that level.
     
    #65
  16. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,579
    He got his first serve into play on 7 of the 12 break points he faced, and saved all 7. That percentage was pretty good but not outstanding. In the 80W final he made his first serve on 12 of 13 break points. He saved three break points at 4-all in the second with strong first serves (any of those points would have let McEnroe serve for a two-set lead).

    I forgot this stat: he won 89% of points played on his first serve at the 79W against Connors, the highest I've seen for the wood era.

    Wasn't Pancho Gonzales said to always make his first serve down break point?
     
    #66
  17. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    That's what they say but I haven't seen any stats on it. I would tend to believe that he put a very high percentage in since so many have said it.
     
    #67
  18. Q&M son

    Q&M son Professional

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2008
    Messages:
    925
    Location:
    Trenque Lauquen, BA, Argentina.
    Pancho Gonzalez and Pete Sampras
     
    #68
  19. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,647
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    Didn't Borg work mightily on his serve c. 1980 to restructure it and make it more powerful?

    I remember reading an interview with Borg back then, in which he said he changed the position of his left foot from being placed fairly parallel to the baseline to more pointing into the court. This helped him put more of his body into it (not just his upper body).

    It also seems that c. 1981 Borg developed a much more powerful game all-round, (particularly evident at that AKAI tournament in Sydney in 1982).
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2010
    #69
  20. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    I know he restructured it in 1976 just before Wimbledon but I'm not sure of 1980. I know in the 1978 Wimbledon one of the commentators (a former player I believe) mentioned Borg had one of the most powerful serves.

    We'll unfortunately never know about Borg and what would have happened if he continued to play in the 1980's.
     
    #70
  21. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2007
    Messages:
    7,606
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Hoodgem and PC1, I think Borgforever has pointed this out before. I tend to agree after watching that AKAI footage.

    Newcombe clearly comments while watching him that "he's increased the power of his serve"...

    Here's some of that footage for reference:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=918rp7Omjk0 (Remember he beat Lendl too Indoors, at this big money event). He's cranking some shots. Now, take out the Bancroft he was using here, and replace it with a current Wilson or perhaps Head or Babolat. What would you see then????


    Supposedly, Borg worked to get stronger by 1982, in terms of upper body strength, which perhaps really helped his first serve even more by that event, though he was no longer on the Tour regularly. Although, I will say, he looks to have been serving pretty impressively even in the 1976 Wimbledon Final vs. Nastase.

    I found a Youtube clip that TW Poster Borgforever has already kindly uploaded on YouTube after some reworking of the footage on his part. Borgforever, thank you sir, I hope you don't mind me posting this before you have a chance at a new thread that you mentioned.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU0SG-ZkUA4 (Part 4 only) Borg wins all 21 sets of the Tournament!

    It's interesting to see how he developed physically by 1982, by comparing the two clips.

    As an aside, see this clip of some "vintage" service motions:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvOJDI0yCvo
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2010
    #71
  22. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    Yes, again, if you find anything out feel free to msg me. Pate was only about 5'11, and I am often fascinated by the big little man servers, as I am not tall, but worked hard to get my serve up to 130mph at one point! eg. Olivier Delaitre, Roscoe Tanner, Ronald Agenor, Bracialli, Benjamin Becker, Thomas Johannson, Chang, Andre Illie, Johan Kriek, Alberto Mancini....and many others over the years... even players like Berasetgui and Rios could fire huge serves on occasion.

    It didn't come out quite right when I said that there have been "many" Scott Warner type players...I just meant that there is a population of journeymen players, who, because of their journeyman status have been forgotten, but who, in terms of serve power, were among the elite! In that sense, he is not only among the tiny number of players who ever make money professionally, but even among them, he is in an exclusive huge serving category. So there aren't "many" of those guys...but if you know serving and tennis...there have been a bunch of these...dark horse serving stars over the years.
     
    #72
  23. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    Indeed. Borg has said that he opened up his stance and that it improved his serve. Vic Braden also said that he moved his toss further to the right (though Vic always says this ;-), to get more pace.

    Let me also note that, I was once at a seniors exhibition, Borg and Vilas were playing. In Borg's last service game, he decided to loosen up and go out with a bang. He fired 2 aces in a row to win the game, and they were HUGE. One up the tee from the deuce and one out wide in the ad. I have a decent eye for serve speeds, having spent a lot of time with radar guns etc...I would have estimated them at about 125mph...

    Once I recall a graphic being put up at Wimbledon....it said something about the max speed of the a current player (might have been Sampras), and then (and, I'm going by memory here, maybe one of you remembers...) I believe it gave rather low numbers to Borg and Laver. (low like 100ish mph!) I remember Mcenroe balking a bit, and saying something to the effect of "well Laver wasn't too tall, but I think Borg actually did a better than that....people forget how big he could serve..."
     
    #73
  24. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,579
    Yes I remember that moment too. For some reason I have the number 109 in my head, something like "Borg served harder than 109, I'll tell you that much." I think this was several years ago (possibly 2001?)
     
    #74
  25. lawrence

    lawrence Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2007
    Messages:
    1,878
    I'd consider Goran's and Dr. Ivo's the best. However if you factor in the fact that 2nd serve is more important than 1st, maybe Sampras is with them.
     
    #75
  26. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,082
    Howdy, folks. Hope y'all have been enjoying the AO so far.

    I just wanted to do some thread maintenance and hopefully expand and revise the current list a bit. Here's where we stand right 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

    So the roster remains the same as before. The million-$ question is which of the following names should be added to it.

    These I believe should belong somewhere on the list or at least deserve an honorary mention:

    Gonzales
    Newcombe
    Tanner

    I'm also willing to add these names or think a good case can be made for their inclusion:

    Curren
    Noah
    Forget
    Rosset
    Arthurs
    Philippoussis
    Joachim Johansson
    Isner

    And I'm leaving out these names unless one can play a convincing devil's advocate (remember, we're trying to rank the best of the best): Borg, Denton, Sadri, Lendl, Leconte, Warner, Goellner, Rafter, Dent, Federer.

    Of the old-timers I think Fraser may deserve an honorable mention. Doeg and Roche, not so much. I’m still undecided on Ashe, Dibley, Smith and Vijay Amritraj.

    Maybe this post above by krosero could move this debate forward a little:

    Do you guys agree? Feel free to weigh in on this and more.

    And for the record, I’ve seen that a lot of you have put Sampras at or near the top. Let me say I don’t actually disagree. Pete sure had a complete package, and if I had to pick one player to serve for that ultimate match I'd probably go with Sampras myself. I just think that, as a pure stand-alone shot, Goran’s and Ivo’s serve is better.

    Now there are a few areas where Pete is superior, including his matchless 2nd serve and clutch (though I’d say the latter has more to do with his mental strength than his service mechanics per se). And there’s the phenomenal amount of spin (topspin in particular) he put on his serves, which not only made the ball at the time of the return higher and heavier but also sometimes made it all but impossible to return. If you carefully observe some of Sampras’ serves down the T on the ad side you can see the ball clearly moving away from the returner by as many as three feet after it hits the ground. Just imagine how demoralizing it must be, especially on a break point, for the returner to guess correctly where the serve is going but still be unable to make the slightest contact with the ball. That’s what Sampras’ opponents had to endure when he smacked cannonballs right on the center line onto the ad court. They knew it was coming but there was nothing they could do about it. Having said all that, I still think Goran’s and Ivo’s serve can bring more heat and do more damage as a stand-alone shot, and Sampras himself has admitted this (regarding Goran’s).
     
    #76
  27. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2008
    Messages:
    15,704
    Location:
    U.S
    Federer and borg should definitely be there . Reliable and very clutch . Two very important aspects of serving ... federer even more so since he gets more free points off his serve

    Would chose these 2 over many ( if not most ) of these above servers in the list when in trouble .

    goran,stich,krajicek etc aren't the most stable mental strength wise, becker's serve could be quite off at times ( though he was very clutch when it wasn't off ) ,rusedski's first serve % as has already been mentioned is an issue ....

    Also include dent, brings in quite a bit of heat, his 1st serve is a monster

    P.S. I think edberg is a bit high on the list !
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2010
    #77
  28. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    Top notch post.

    Just a few comments. Pancho Gonzalez deserves a bit more than an honorable mention since so many have considered his serve not just the best of his time but the greatest ever. He had a very smooth effortless motion that allowed him to serve as powerfully in the fifth set as he would in the first set.

    John Newcombe's serve was clearly the best of his time and very comparable to Sampras' serve, both first and second although I would gave Sampras only a slight edge. Where he belongs, I don't know but it was a superb serve. Incidentally it was far superior to Edberg's serve. Newcombe's kick second serve was legendary and the power on his first serve was superior to Edberg's also.

    If we use a common foe in Jimmy Connors as an example. Newcombe played Connors in the 1973 US Open quarters and did not lose his serve once. I'm not sure if Connors even had a break point and Newcombe served a ton of aces against a Connors who I believe was at his prime or near his prime. It was a typical serving exhibition by Newcombe. Connors had a lot of problems returning the great serve of Newcombe. Connors later was able to defeat Newcombe but Newcombe was no longer serious about his tennis anymore and was over the hill.

    Now Edberg, while he had an excellent serve, really relied more on his super volley to win his service games. Edberg played Connors numerous times and according to the ITF website, they were tied at six matches apiece. That's besides the point. The reason I believe Connors was so successful against Edberg, despite the fact Connors was not in his prime anymore was that Connors was able to return Edberg's serve very well despite the fact Edberg was in his prime.

    It's very clear to me that Newcombe had a much superior serve than Edberg.

    Yes I know there are a lot of possible flaws to this logic but I have seen some of these matches and I believe these are the reasons behind it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2010
    #78
  29. west coast 2 hander

    west coast 2 hander New User

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2009
    Messages:
    22
    Newcomb is not at the level as Tanner or Gonzales. Of the 'others' I would put Curren, Arthurs and Isner at the top. Also Denton and Sadri were better than the others mentioned.

    Props to Pate and Kriek for best serves for under 5 11".
     
    #79
  30. jean pierre

    jean pierre Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2006
    Messages:
    786
    Don't forget Steve Denton !
     
    #80
  31. west coast 2 hander

    west coast 2 hander New User

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2009
    Messages:
    22
    Exactly right.
     
    #81
  32. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    I would agree with you that Newcombe is not of the level as Gonzalez. However while I respect Tanner's serve and perhaps it is underrated, the players at the time generally considered Newcombe's serve to be the best in tennis and Tanner was playing at the time. Arthur Ashe considered it the best in tennis as did John Alexander.

    Here's an article by John Alexander from the excellent book "Tennis, Strokes and Strategies."

    The best servers on tour today, for my money, are John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Nikii Pilic, Roger Taylor, Marty Riessen, Colin Dibley and Roscoe Tanner. Newcombe's is probably the best all-around serve, all things considered. He has a near-perfect, seldom-varying ball toss, from which he can hit a number of different serves-slice, flat or twist. His first ball is usually fast, flat and accurate, but he mixes it with an occasional twist to keep his opponents guessing. His second serve-the American twist-is consistent and deep. And, again, he mixes in an odd slice to keep his opponent from getter grooved.

    I will say this, who knows, Tanner's serve may have been better but the general opinion at the time was that Newcombe's serve was the best in tennis. Either way the effectiveness of Tanner's and Newcombe's serves were very high and it's not a sure thing that one was superior than the other's. I have seen both of them serve, in their primes and while I was stunned by the power of Tanner's serve, I thought Newcombe's serve was every bit as effective, if not more so. Very close however.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2010
    #82
  33. west coast 2 hander

    west coast 2 hander New User

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2009
    Messages:
    22
    You are right about Newcomb's serve. Incredible 2nd serve. While they did overlap, Tanner's peak was a few years later than Newk's. I guess what I think of is that Tanner had a few great results without anything else comparable to Newk's other than his serve.

    Nothing against the Newk and his Hall of Fame mustache!
     
    #83
  34. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    I loved to watch either one serving. They were both incredible. Tanner's serve does shock you the first time you see it. It's boom and the ball hits the wall so fast you can't believe it.
     
    #84
  35. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    One thing about Tanner is that even though biomechanically I believe his motion to be by far the best of all time, he had little margin for error. His timing had to be perfect (Curren has admitted that while his serve may be the best in the world when on, he wouldn't teach people to serve like him, because he had to have perfect timing). He also had little margin for error, and didn't use a big kicker. (tanner believed that it was actually in his interest to use his lack of height combined with low bouncing spin to keep the ball low). So his net clearance was often minimal.

    So, indeed, I would say many could argue that a sampras or a Newcombe had better variety, and more consistency.
     
    #85
  36. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    Great point Datacipher on the low net clearance. Pancho Gonzalez thought he had a perfect service motion and that's some great praise.

    One thing I think is quite possible with Tanner is that with his almost on the rise hitting of the ball on the toss that from the time it left his hand to the receiver (with the low clearance) could possible allowed the receiver the shortest reaction time to return the ball.
     
    #86
  37. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    Yes, undeniably it did...only Curren, and perhaps a few others (who actually hit the ball while it was still rising..or at least thought he did) could claim less time, and it would be probably negligibly less, since Tanner hit so early it appeared to be on the rise.

    And it's not just the minimal actual time you have...but the huge contrast between that and regular motions. As a returner, it could take a long time to get used to that quick cadence. You don't watch the ball go up, see it coming back down, and then split step...with Tanner, you almost had to split step as soon as his motion started!

    But it was that quick motion with low toss that I was referring to regarding the timing. I recall one observer (possibly Julius Heldman...a well respected journalist) thinking that when Tanner went off, he tended to be rushing a bit, and hitting a bit earlier than optimum. Curren himself, in an article about his serve was referring to the perfect timing he needed to hit on the rise. He felt, that the lack of time, plus his ability to use his wrist to redirect the ball, did indeed make his serve unreadable, but he also said that if he was the slightest bit off, his percentages fell a lot. With motions like their's the server also has no time to adjust...no time to compensate...

    Mcenroe had just been aced out of Wimbledon (along with Connors) by curren when that article was written. Mac has said Curren had the best serve in the world when on, and Curren agreed, but also said that he had sacrificed margin for error (in his timing) for almost complete unreadability...

    So in the end, it is probably safe to conclude that a trade-off is made...if you can make that kind of motion work for you, it's probably well worth it, in my opinion, but, the bad thing is, it may be more susceptible to going off...AND...OF COURSE, when is it most likely to do so? Big moments!

    PS. I suspect a great compromise for more people is a low ball toss with very little drop...this gives you much more time relative to a Tanner or Curren, but is still minimalist...eg. Goran, Krajicek...even Roddick.. but NOTHING would rush you, the same way as a Tanner/Curren.

    PS. Yes, in terms of the net clearance I mentioned, Tanner favoured slice, flat and a TOUCH of topspin from what I saw. He didn't try to get a high kick, but instead a low bounce. He thought that differentiated him from many other big servers! When I saw him serve in person, I noted that while his 2nd serve had good heat, it was quite low, and in fact, one time when I saw him live, he double faulted all over the place...and always, it was either just an inch tool low, or an inch long...
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2010
    #87
  38. tennis24

    tennis24 Rookie

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2010
    Messages:
    115
    dont forget serena?!
     
    #88
  39. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    5,579
    One great stat for Newcombe: 19 straight points won on serve in the fourth set of the 1971 Wimbledon final, according to the New York Times:

    So when Newk stood at 40-love, he was one point away from doing what Cash eventually did in the '87 final -- shutting your opponent down in your service games for an entire set. But Cash needed only 4 service games (the set was 6-2). Newk did that much, but his set went to 6-4 so he couldn't quite get the shutout.
     
    #89
  40. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    It's too bad they don't have the stats for percentage of service games held in those days. I'm fairly certain Newcombe would have been very high up there and I would tend to think he would have led Professional Tennis in that important category. Arthur Ashe not only thought he had the best serve but the best first volley in the game. He really backed up his serve well.
     
    #90
  41. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,082
    Just a quick drive-through. (I'll respond to the individual posters later this week.) So it looks like Gonzales deserves more than a mere honorary mention and perhaps Newcombe ranks above Tanner. Also I'm wondering how many points we should deduct from Noah and Curren for their relatively small margin for error. Right now I think Gonzales should rank somewhere in the top 5. Not too sure about Tanner, Noah and Curren (and a few others, of course). Any input as to their specific ranking?
     
    #91
  42. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    Concerning Gonzalez, when you have a man who has been acclaimed as having virtually perfect serving mechanics by many tennis teachers like for example Vic Braden (within the last 15 years by Braden) and a man also acclaimed by many as having the best serve of all time I would think he would deserve top five.

    I also agree with you on Newcombe but I'm a bit more shaky there because while I've seen both of them in their primes, it's rather close.
     
    #92
  43. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2004
    Messages:
    4,611
    Tanner, Noah, and Curren all had markedly different motions, were different heights and sizes...had different specialities...though Noah and Curren were two of the best slice servers ever....but if I got to choose to have one of their serves, actually, I couldn't tell you which I choose! To me, it is that close, and depends on the day. Tanner and Curren were known for more aces, but, Noah had a height advantage over both. Really, that's why I haven't made any specific placement recommendations...there are many variables and all these players served so well....it's a very difficult call.
     
    #93
  44. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,082
    OK, lots of points to address. But before I respond to each one I should remind you that the current list is still preliminary. That's why Edberg is ranked 10th right now. After all is said and done he'll likely stand at or near the bottom of the list.

    Also I noticed that some of you have vouched for Denton. Frankly I don't know how we can rank him fairly and accurately when he "employed an unusual service motion which involved taking two steps forward prior to striking the ball" (quote from Wikipedia) and which is of course no longer allowed. Let me know if any of you have seen him serve big with a more "proper" motion.

    Another state-of-the-(dis)union address will be posted later this weekend.

    Now on to the individual posters....

    As I've said above, I think clutch is more attributable to mental strengh than to service mechanics. Remember, we're trying to rank the serve as a stand-alone shot. If you asked the players whose serve they'd like to have as a pure stroke I doubt most of them would pick Borg's or Federer's over many others even in their own era, including those who have been mentioned here so far.

    I do agree Rusedski's first-serve % is a strike against him. I'm assuming you've already read my OP as to why this was more than a merely mental issue.

    Just addressed your point regarding Edberg. And here's what I wrote in an earlier post about Dent: "[H]e's been dogged by injuries and thus forced to tweak his serve throughout his career. Are we even sure which serve of his we're talking about? That's why I didn't mention him in my OP, actually."

    First of all, thanks for the thumbs-up. I just explained why Edberg is ranked so high right now, but as to your point about his greater reliance on his volley than on his serve, I actually don't disagree. The reason why I included him at all, in case you were wondering, is that he arguably had the greatest (or most effective, if you prefer) kick serve ever and, as hoodjem noted above, his 2nd serve was also top-notch and hard to attack.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2010
    #94
  45. droliver

    droliver Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2008
    Messages:
    672
    Location:
    Birmingham, AL U.S.A.
    How anyone can leave Wayne Arthurs off the list of the best serves of the modern era is beyond me. At worst he falls just right behind Goran & Ivo.
     
    #95
  46. NonP

    NonP Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    1,082
    Here's the new state-of-the-(dis)union address I promised yesterday. The current list remains unchanged:

    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

    These names will be added in the following order. If any of you disagree, give us your own ranking and state your reason:

    Newcombe
    Tanner
    Curren
    Noah

    A couple of you have also argued for Arthurs and Isner. I agree, and also think Philippoussis and Forget deserve a ranking themselves. I'm not as sure about Rosset and Joachim Johansson, the latter because his time on the pro tour was so short.

    Now the question is where these names belong on the official list. I think it fair to say Curren and Noah are roughly comparable to Becker and McEnroe, and Newcombe and perhaps Tanner a slight notch above. Ashe apparently put Noah above Becker and below Mac. With all due respect to Ashe, IMO Becker is tops among these three. Yes, variety and disguise go to Mac, but Becker has the edge in ace counts and especially power. Tanner could probably generate more mileage than Becker (when he chose to rip it), but as Data pointed out, Tanner, Curren and Noah had relatively little margin for error, and Noah wasn't known for as many aces as the other two.

    So my preliminary ranking is as follows:

    Newcombe
    Becker
    Tanner
    McEnroe
    Curren
    Noah

    That leaves us with Arthurs, Isner, Philippoussis and Forget. As some of you may already know, Agassi felt Arthurs had a better serve than Sampras. Frankly I'm not sure Arthurs' serve was that great. I admit I haven't seen many of his matches, but from what I've seen and remember he often struggled to get more than half of his 1st serves in, much like Rusedski, and his ace counts didn't exceed those of other big servers by a significant margin. (I just checked a few stats and they do reinforce my impression.) But I have seen Flipper and Isner enough to say they've got a top-notch 2nd serve in addition to a a big 1st serve. I don't remember Forget having as excellent a 2nd serve.

    Agree or disagree? Feel free to sound off on these names and more. And let me remind you that I'm leaving out these names unless one can make a very strong case for them (remember, we're trying to rank the best of the best): Borg, Denton, Lendl, Leconte, Warner, Goellner, Rafter, Dent, Federer.

    west coast 2 hander has vouched for Sadri, so I'll leave his name floating around for a while so some of you can provide more details. I've already explained why I think Denton and Dent are too difficult to rank fairly and accurately.

    And again I'm willing to give an honorable mention to Fraser among the old-timers. I just need to see a few other contemporaries than Hoad rating Fraser's serve above Gonzales', or at least in similarly flattering terms. Also I won't name Doeg and Roche in my subsequent posts, so if you want them to be considered you may want to make your case now. And I still need more info on Ashe, Dibley, Smith and Vijay Amritraj.

    And last but definitely not least, I did say a few days ago that I was inclined to put Gonzales in the top 5, but now I'm not so sure. For one thing, I've yet to hear from a poster who followed his career during his prime. Remember, most of his years as no. 1 came before the rule change which no longer required the server to keep one foot on the ground. And considering what little footage I have in my personal collection and have seen elsewhere, I find it hard to rate Gonzales' serve with a fair degree of accuracy, and my wild guess is that most of you haven't seen much more of his serve, either. I suppose I could include it in the top 5 out of respect, but that's also shortchanging the other top servers, you know? What do you guys think?

    P.S. I've seen that some of you have nominated doubles players/specialists. For the sake of this discussion let's focus on the singles players. Sorting out all these names is hard as it is, and I hope I don't need to tell you how having one more player on the other side of the court affects the server and the returner.
     
    #96
  47. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2007
    Messages:
    12,647
    Location:
    Bierlandt
    Karlovic's serve is over-rated. Against Nadal (a not particularly great returner) at the AO it was a non-issue. Karlovic lost in four sets.
     
    #97
  48. Nadal_Power

    Nadal_Power Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2010
    Messages:
    506
    It is completely different to fire +50 aces and make some 1000 in season from bringing that serve when you really need it
     
    #98
  49. pc1

    pc1 Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    9,343
    Just a few points. Vic Braden, in analyzing Pancho Gonzalez's serve said that he was sure Gonzalez could serve regularly 140 plus mile per hour today with a perfectly relaxed motion which meant that he could serve as hard in the fifth set as the first. I think Gonzalez is a great choice for number one on the list.

    Second, aces, while great is not the end all with a great serve. Some serves may not ace you but you can never get a good swing at it and you have a great chance to put away the third ball. John Newcombe could put serves in at a good percentage plus he had a great second serve. He could serve a lot of aces and very few could hit the ball solidly off of him. I think Tanner probably served more aces than Newcombe if I had to guess but I think players could get a slightly better swing at it than Newcombe's serve. I point out that I say only slightly because it's hit to hard what you can barely see. I don't do the comparison of Newcombe's and Tanner's serve with great conviction but I do think Newcombe's overall serve game is a little better.

    Jack Kramer's serve was ranked closed to Gonzalez's serve and he was considered to have the best second serve of all time. I heard an interview with Pancho Segura in the late 1990's in which he said Sampras' second serve was a bit better than Kramer's so that gives you an idea how great Kramer's second serve was.

    On first serve Kramer had excellent pace on his serve plus top placement. I understand his slice serve could pull you off the court and really wide.

    I would rank question marks that you mentioned as Gonzalez, Kramer, Newcombe, Tanner, McEnroe, Becker, Noah, Curran.

    Vines' serve has been mentioned in a number of books as the greatest or one of the greatest along with Tilden's.

    Arthur Ashe had a top serve for power and his slice serve is one of the greatest in history. If you want to check out his slice serve you should see Arthur Ashe's match against Jimmy Connors' at Wimbledon in 1975. It was a great serve but his second serve wasn't on the same level as his first serve. Ashe mentioned his second serve was a setup for Laver's lefty forehand.

    Dibley's serve was timed at one point at 148 miles per hour but he double faulted too much and really shouldn't be on this list. He was too inconsistent. On his day he could surpassed many on this list but on average he really doesn't compare.

    Borg had a tremendous serve for speed and he had good placement on his serve. I think he was one of the best, if not the best at serving himself out of tight situations. I understand that Pancho Gonzalez was like that also.
    I believe Borg served as well as he needed to. If he felt he could win but controlling the rallies he would get a high percentage of his serves in and win his service games that way. If he had to serve and volley he could put the big serve in. There is almost no doubt he held serve at very high percentage and I would think he probably led Professional Tennis numerous times in that category. It very evident when you consider his Games Won percentage at his peak was in the Olympian level of around 65% or higher. Even Federer's best was around 61% and that's not close to Borg. Borg served as well as he had to.
     
    #99
  50. droliver

    droliver Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2008
    Messages:
    672
    Location:
    Birmingham, AL U.S.A.
    It's kind of hard to find clips of Wayne Arthurs, but he really hard a super-smooth lefty serve that was VERY hard to read and just gave people fits. He had only slightly more of a ground game then Ivo to back that up however, and was limited in how far he could go at the pro level.

    When he put it all together in the late 1990's, he was kind of like Ivo in that he was always singled out as a dangerous 2nd tier floater who could serve you off the court. He was commonly mentioned with Goran and Krajicek as having the biggest serve for aces & service winners at the time
     

Share This Page