Greatest Serves of All Time

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

  1. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    I really should be catching up on my readings but since I've wasted nearly a whole afternoon already....

    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

    As you can see I've added Zivojinovic, moved Curren up a notch and, as much as it pains me, dropped Noah all the way down to #20. I've been watching some Bobo clips lately and not only was Datacipher (who again has nothing to do with a certain current poster) right that the Serb probably had a bigger serve than Becker, I now see that he had a pretty damn good 2nd serve himself. Bobo might well move up further in my future updates, while Noah might drop out of the list altogether and just be given an honorary mention. And Curren continues to impress both in footage and in service stats.

    Also one thing I've noticed about Mac is that his stats in '91 in '92 are actually pretty mediocre, showing just about 82% of service games won. Now we know that by this time Mac was way over the hill, but considering that a player's service game usually doesn't decline so sharply as his return game I do wonder if his reputation precedes the actual strength of his serve. If anyone's got his stats from his heyday (1984 most of all, but from before '86) please don't hesitate to share them with us.

    And here are a few of the servers we have yet to investigate further (listed by order of birth):

    Gerald Patterson (1895)
    Yvon Petra (1916)
    Geoff Brown (1924)
    Bob Falkenburg (1926)
    Mike Sangster (1940)
    Frank Froehling (1942)
    Stan Smith (1946)
    John Alexander (1951)
    John Feaver (1952)
    Scott Carnahan (1953)
    Chip Hooper [1958]

    Again some of these names like Patterson and Falkenburg might be worth an honorary mention, and perhaps more recent ones like Smith and Hooper can be ranked somewhere. As always feel free to chime in preferably with stats, news reports and firsthand accounts if available. Much obliged!

    P.S. From now on I'll try to update the OP as well so first-time visitors know what to expect.
     
  2. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    This is a great thread and very well organized. As you know I disagree with some choices but given your reasoning I totally understand and applaud.

    As far as McEnroe is concerned in 1984, I do have stats that indicate that he held serve well over 90% of the time that year and probably also led the ATP in percentage of breaking serve. My best guess is that he held serve about 95% of the time that year.
     
  3. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    Thanks pc1. I really think this may well be the single greatest thread in TW history. :twisted:

    As for Mac, if he really did hold serve 95% of the time in '84 (doubtful, but not excluding the possibility) that's probably the sharpest drop I've seen from a player of his caliber in his service game. If you have his actual stats from '84 and other years I'll be most interested to see them.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2015
  4. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    Karlovic had 94% max in an year -- that was with him facing far less top players than mac did in 84. I am skeptical that it would be 95%.

    90%+ or - a slight margin would be my guess ....
     
  5. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    My friend, you could very well be correct however I have the stats and if he was at let's say 91% it would not make sense according to the stats I have, it would be almost mathematically inhuman. If it's lower I think it is about 93 or 94 percent. A percentage point or two means a lot at these high levels.

    It's just an estimate but let's compromise and say he definitely held serve very well that year. Of course it doesn't take a genius for me to write that since he was 82-3 the whole year which is the Open Era record for winning percentage.:)
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2015
  6. BlueB

    BlueB Hall of Fame

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    I'm surprised that Mac is on so many people's lists...
    Also, I really like that big Bobo is there!
     
  7. KG1965

    KG1965 Semi-Pro

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    BlueB

    The Mac serve was great, but was not at the level that of Tanner or Ivanisevic or Isner or Curren.

    Serve Tanner or Ivanisevic or Isner or Curren, 10
    Serve Supermac 9.
     
  8. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Could be the best thread. I like it a lot.
     
  9. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    While Kramer and Newcombe scored less aces than Gonzales or Sampras, their serves have to be rated first class.Tilden and Vines, too.
     
  10. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Just a general thought, it does bother me that Kramer is so forgotten nowadays, he truly was one of the greats of all time and in a 100 match series it's very possible he could beat anyone that ever lived.

    Newcombe is also very underrated nowadays, while he wasn't generally in the class of a Laver he was able to win on all surfaces and I believe from the 1973 US Open to the end of the WCT season in 1974 that he was the best player in the world. As we all know Connors eventually was number one in 1974 with one of the great tennis years of all time but Newcombe was generally was considered to be number one the first half of 1974 with his domination of the WCT circuit and eventually winning the WCT title which was more prestigious than some of majors like the Australian Open.

    Both were very similar type players but I think Kramer was just plain superior in most shots. Despite the greatness of Newcombe's serve I believe Kramer's serve both first and serve was a bit superior to Newcombe's. His volley was a bit better than Newcombe's and his backhand was more solid and powerfully hit. As great as Newcombe's forehand was, Kramer's forehand was superior and had possibly the best down the line forehand ever. He had a great sidespin forehand down the line approach shot that often pulled the player off the court leaving Kramer at the net to hit the easy volley into the court for a winner. He could hit the ball with tremendous power off the forehand, being timed at 107.8 miles per hour by the primitive speed measuring devices of the time. Pancho Gonzalez was timed a bit faster at 112.88 mph. Kramer also was considered by many including Gonzalez as one of the best baseliners that they had ever faced yet Kramer was most famous for his awesome serve and volley game.

    Kramer was a player with really no major stroke weaknesses. There are very few like that. Clearly as I study his record at his peak he is clearly one of the top few great players ever.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2015
  11. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    I know he is your boy:)

    well, Kramer was a great player, no doubt, and his contribution to tennis history has been matched by very few players.

    But the real underrated one here is Frank Sedgman.His serve was top class and he is considered one of the best ever volleyers.When he was playing well, this superfit and fast aussie made guys like Hoad and Gonzo feel miserable at times.Some records show that.
     
  12. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    NonP, I've said it before, but great thread. I appreciate the emphasis on stats and on careful decision-making.

    Some years ago I assembled a list of snippets from press accounts in 1939, describing Vines' serve in his matches that year. I'll put it here, in a separate post.

    I made that list actually because I was debating Dan about whether Vines ever served under-hand, due to injury, in the '39 tours. Dan claimed he did. However, at the time of that debate, we did not have many newspaper reports at all from that year; and we didn't even know when, or by whom, the claim of under-hand serving was made. We have since learned that Vines himself said he served under-hand to Budge in 1939, in an interview in 1990. We have not found any reference to under-hand serving published before 1990.

    And I've since assembled a match-by-match documentation of Vines' tours that year, showing great serving by Vines throughout the season, with no mention, even in the lengthiest articles from the time period, that Vines ever served under-hand.

    To his great credit Dan, when I first posted the list of snippets describing Vines' serve that year, withdrew the claim of underhand serving. He has since said that Vines pulled a muscle in '39 which affected his serving -- and I agree with that; I think there's good evidence for it, though I still have many questions about it.

    Sorry for the long explanation, and the last thing I want to do is derail the thread. The injury issue is a contentious one with a long backstory here, and I hardly want this great thread to become about that. If anyone wants to discuss that issue (or if you, NonP, want to say anything about it), some good threads for that might be the 1939 tour thread (http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?t=512828) or my thread about the difficult issues concering human memory (http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?t=524775).

    Human memory, I think, is an issue that is impossible not to look at, when debating claims about long-ago events. But that is surely a HUGE issue that would sidetrack this thread.

    Just wanted to give you the context in which the list of snippets (which I will post) was created. It was created to debate Vines' injury, not to describe Vines' serving in general -- but I've just realized that it serves that purpose perfectly well.

    There is no doubt in my mind, whatsoever, that Vines was one of the greatest servers of all time. I had merely assumed it to be true, because that's his reputation; but now after my extensive research of his decade, I know it to be true.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2015
  13. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Below, snippets from all matches in 1939 in which Vines' serving was described -- whether positive or negative descriptions.

    All of these quotes are from newspaper or magazine reports in '39.


    Jan 3 (New York), Vines served 5 aces

    Jan 4 (Boston), Vines out-aced Budge 9-6

    Jan 5 (Philadelphia), Vines “Scores With Fast Service”. Per ALT, “Budge found the service and forehand drive of Vines stronger and more accurate in this third meeting of the tour.” He out-aced Budge 9-2.

    Jan 7 (Chicago), per ALT, “Never has Vines hit with greater power or with more uncanny accuracy. His service was an unleashed thunderbolt.... Time and again Budge stood helplessly by as Vines’ booming services rocketed by him.”

    Jan 9 (Pittsburgh), “A capacity crowd of 6000 tennis fans at Duquesne Garden saw Budge break through Vines' cannonball service three times in the first set, while Vines twice cracked Budge's softer serve. Budge won the match with better control of his shots than was exhibited by Vines, as well as a superior net game that gave him point victory every time he went up. Vines hit much the harder ball on service and from the baseline.”

    Jan 10 (Cincinnati), Vines “vicious service”

    Jan 12 (Detroit), Vines out-aced Budge 9-1

    Jan 14 (Minneapolis), Vines “working his ace service ball often”. Per ALT: “Trailing at 1-2 in the second Ellie won five straight games with an unbeatable streak that included five services aces...he left the 6,000 spectators, the largest in the history of Minneapolis tennis, with the feeling that nobody in the world could have stood up against his hitting that night.”

    Jan 16 (Kansas City), “only Vines’ service did his bidding”

    Jan 17 (St. Louis), Vines “found only his service working”

    Jan. 19 (Cleveland), “Vines raised his game to spectacular heights to produce the best tennis of the match as his powerful serve began clipping the lines, enabling him to take the net against Budge’s soft returns and lay them away”

    Jan. 20 (Buffalo), after the doubles Jack Castle compliments Vines on his serve: “I never saw anything like it. I knew it was fast, but when you lean on it, it just can’t be seen. Goodness gracious, Don can’t hit a ball the way you do.” Budge says, “It looks that way to me sometimes, too.” Vines led Budge 4-2 in aces.

    Jan. 21 (Baltimore), Vines played poorly but “scored an ace now and then, Budge letting the sizzler go by”; he “rallied his service strokes in the sixth game to save a shutout, forcing two faulty returns of the first one and then rifling an ace past Budge”; out-aced Budge 2-0 (match only 15 games long)

    Jan. 23 (College Park), “The victor’s placement was excellent and his service more than once too hot for the redheaded Californian to return.”

    Jan. 24 (Richmond), “Many remarked, however, that at the rate Vines was whipping across his first serves on this night and gambling with abandon with drives that skimmed the net and cut the lines, little could have been done about it by the world’s greatest player, amateur or professional.”

    Jan. 25 (Chapel Hill), Vines “shooting across ace services with set regularity”

    Jan 29 (Miami Beach), Vines “won his sets on the service, which experts rate as the world’s best”

    Feb. 1 (Everglades Club), Vines’ “cannonball service” was one of “the chief characteristics” of the match.

    Feb 3 (Atlanta), Vines served 32 aces. “After breaking Budge’s service in the thirteenth game, Vines went after his prey like a hungry tiger and won the last game at love. Included in the last game were two of Ellsworth’s blistering service aces.”

    Feb. 8 (Houston), “Budge outlasted Vines' cannon-ball service to win”

    Feb. 9 (Dallas), Vines “won the eighth game at love when for the only time in the match he had his bullet service behaving in old-time style, taking the first three points on as many serves with aces”

    Feb 12 (Los Angeles), Vines had “three flashing service aces” in one game near the end

    Feb. 15 (San Francisco), “Vines’ cannonball service later forced the Oakland redhead into errors and he lost the set, 7-5.” Also: “Vines' terrific cannonball service proved the deciding factor of the twenty-eighth match of the series.”

    Feb. 17 (Seattle), “Vines’ service was brilliant at times”

    Feb. 20 (Oakland), “Vines won principally by managing to keep his cannon ball service under control for the first time in several matches.” And “his service almost tore the racket out of Budge's hand time and again—when it didn't pass him completely for an ace.”

    Feb. 21 (San Jose), “Vines’ crash-service was too hot for Budge”

    Feb 27 (Milwaukee), Vines out-aced Budge 13-1. “Vines’ booming service still as effective as ever”, had 3 aces in one game

    Mar. 2 (Rochester), “Vines’ own service was not broken once as he outhit his powerful younger opponent.” Vines may have hit 22 aces in this match, or possibly later in Providence.

    Mar 3 (Troy), Vines served 11 aces

    Mar 4 (Providence), the crowd “thrilled at the steam of Vines’s service late in the second set when he put over several aces on his red-headed opponent.” The next day Budge told the press: "Elly’s big gun is his service. We’ve figured out that in every game he serves against me he wins a point and a half outright, on that cannonball! It’s terrific! He serves three or four aces to my one. But the other night when he walloped 22 aces against me in two sets he still had to go 7-5 and 8-6 to beat me!"

    Mar 6 (Montreal, last match of U.S. tour), “Even Vines’ cannon-ball service failed to dent his rival’s armor, Budge breaking through the truly terrific delivery seven times”

    March 27, doubles match in San Francisco, ending 12-10 in the fifth. Vines/Gledhill vs. Budge/Perry. Per the Auckland Star, the four men held serve at one stretch in the fifth for 16 consecutive games. "Throughout the match the crowd was thrilled by the cannon-ball serves of the ‘lanky’ Vines. He put over ten aces in his 16 games, clean beating Budge no less than seven times and Perry thrice. He also won four of his games at love."

    April 2, Los Angeles, the same doubles pairs again. From 5-all to 18-19 in the fifth set, no one was broken.

    May 16 at Wembley, Vines served 30-32 aces in a three-set win over Nusslein.

    May 18 at Wembley, Vines made “wonderful serves” against Budge. Per the press, “He even ‘aced’ Budge with his service which seemed, if such a thing is humanly and mechanically possible, to be occasionally faster than Donald’s.”

    May 20 at Wembley, Vines served “severely” in his loss to Tilden.

    May 26 at Dublin: “Vines thrilled the large crowd with some glorious driving and serving” against Budge. “He held his own service games easily with terrific cannonball deliveries, while Budge had to fight deuce and vantage battles for most of his.” Vines’ service also “proved a useful weapon” in a close win over Stoefen.

    May 29 at Cheltenham: “Vines’s cannon-ball service seemed to have lost none of its power, and this, combined with some superlative drives, kept him always ahead” of Budge.

    June 1-3 at Southport: “Vines slammed his big service home time and again” throughout the three days, but in a win over Tilden he "was listless, his drives being erratic and his service faulty."

    June 25 at Scheveningen, The Hague: “... that which Tilden, Vines, Budge, and Stoefen displayed, belongs indeed to the strongest tennis that one can think of. The most difficult shots were performed with miraculous ease, canon serves thundered within the lines and the sharpest volleys were fired.” Of the Budge/Vines meeting: “It was a fierce battle, in which the speed [power] of Vines initially triumphed over the fine touch of Budge.”

    July 2 in RG final: per the AP, Vines’s “service was powerful but he failed to follow it up.”

    July 21, Bristol: Vines had 16-18 unreturned serves in a 7-5, 6-1 win over Tilden (who had 10 himself). “The wooden court was often rendered treacherous by the rain, but completely failed to check a brilliant stream of terrific services, sizzling drives and crisp volleys from W. T. Tilden, J. Donald Budge, H. Ellsworth Vines, and Lester R. Stoefen.”

    Aug. 4-5 at Southport: "Vines, suffering from a strained back, was unable to serve fast against Dan Maskell." The next day, "Vines was still deprived of his big service by back trouble and so he had perforce to play Nusslein at his own game. If there is one thing impossible it is to 'out Nusslein' Nusslein. He can only be beaten by being blasted off the court, and Vines without his heavy artillery cannot do that."

    Aug. 15, Glasgow: “tremendous driving and cannon-ball services of Vines” against Tilden.

    August 25, Edinburgh: “a crashing service” by Vines in the second set against Stoefen, though Vines was implied to serve poorly in the third.

    Oct. 22, US Pro: Vines was reported to have a lame shoulder at this tournament but he “had too many cannonballs for Gorchakoff” in the quarterfinals, and he out-aced Perry 22-6 in the final. In a doubles semifinal Vines “was serving cannonballs” and “did not lose a service in the entire three long sets” (7-5, 10-8, 6-3).
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2015
  14. jrs

    jrs Professional

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    Although, I've never seen Gonzales play - I would put him at the top of the list, due to the fact they tinkered with the rules to stop him from hitting his serves.

    I think Ranoic should be moved up because he seems to have taken the serve to another level in his short time in the pros.

    Tanner - serve was just amazing. Although, he only hit flats I think? But the pace with the wood racquet was amazing.

    Also, some doubles players had amazing serves, Marcin Matawoski saw him play with Lindstedt - serve stopped me cold in my tracks. Don't know much about him.
     
  15. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    NonP, here are those stats on Mac-Alexander. I didn't count what amount of unreturned serves that were 1st or 2nd.

    1979 Davis Cup, McEnroe d Alexander 9-7, 6-2, 9-7

    Mac 35 of 98 serves were unreturned(36%)

    he won 87% of 1st serves
    75.5% of 2nd serves
    1 ace, 1 df
    was unbroken

    Alexander 39 of 128 serves were unreturned(30%)
    he won 72.6% of 1st serves
    43% of 2nd serves
    4 aces, 4 df’s
    was broken 4 times


    more stats on Zivojinovic vs Connors at '87 Wimbledon

    40 of 95 serves were unreturned(42%) - I miscalculated earlier when I wrote 44%

    29 of his 60 1st serves were unreturned(48%)
    9 of his 35 2nd serves were unreturned(26%)

    25 aces, no doubles. broken twice

    One other thing about Bobo(which you probably already knew), he gave Wilander his toughest match at the '88 French Open(was up 5-2 in the 5th). I wonder if there are any articles that mention how many aces he had. Wish I could see it.

    this is what Steve Flink wrote about the match in World Tennis:

    "Bobo confounded Wilander by destroying his rhythm, making the favorite play short points, attacking as though he was playing on anything but a clay court. Bobo seemed certain to achieve a milestone triumph when her served for the match at 5-3 in the final set and came within 2 points of his goal. But when he could have moved to match point at 30-30, he failed to put away a high backhand first volley at close range, allowing the Swede back into the game."
     
  16. chrischris

    chrischris Hall of Fame

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    John Alexander was a fine serve and volley player that could have done better , but his returns were quite mediocre. Mac did fully exploit that.
     
  17. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Kramer isn't one of my favorites but I respect his game and I do believe his serve is easily argued to be the best ever.

    Yes Sedgman is very underrated as a player. I believe he is one of the best players ever, not GOAT status but tremendous. His volley is arguably the best ever.
     
  18. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    87% is one of the highest we've seen in our wood-era matches, but 76% on second serve is just incredible.

    McEnroe's second serve was great at this time; I remember SI said after he lost to Borg at Wimbledon that he was hardly any less tough on second serve than on first.

    He may not have been the #1 server in his prime (1979-84) but he may have had the best second serve.

    btw 20 consecutive holds for Mac in this Alexander match.
     
  19. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    in the 1979 WCT Finals at Dallas and the 1979 Milan Indoor WCT event, Mac also scored very clean looking wins over Alexander

    Alexander, after being trashed at Dallas, said afterwards that " this guy is the very equal of Borg and Connors.Same stuff"
     
  20. RacquetAbuse101

    RacquetAbuse101 Rookie

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    Kramer/Gonzalez/Sampras (Clutch servers)

    Someone mentioned Forget. Not arguing, but it brought back a vivid memory
    of McEnroe returning Forget`s serve with a perfect lob. (Wimbledon 92?)
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2015
  21. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    A few service stats from a Vines-Perry match, possibly the earliest instance I've seen of a first-serve percentage calculated.

    It was a match in New York's Madison Square Garden, on a fast indoor surface.
    May 3, 1937
    Vines d. Perry 7-5, 6-3, 6-3

    American Lawn Tennis:

    Vines’ superiority at the net in the singles against Perry is evidenced by relative figures on the performances of the two men in the fore court. There were times, of course, when forcing shots as they went in to the net brooked no effective reply but the number of times when each man was firmly entrenched near the barrier was: Vines 30, Perry 19. Vines’ backhand volley was particularly deadly, as he scored nine placements with it and erred only twice off it. On the forehand he had ten placements and five errors. Perry’s forehand volley was erratic, as he made only one good out of four. He reversed the percentage on his backhand, with three out of four being successful. The passing shots of the two men were equally efficacious: both scored on two out of four attempted passes. Only Vines resorted to lobbing, and with great accuracy. He sent Perry racing for the base line four times and caused him to smash into the net once; only one of Vines’ lobs went out and only one was smashed for a winner. Only 17 of the total of 49 advances to the net came in the long first set.

    There is no doubt that Vines’ service, when working well, is a weapon that Perry cannot cope with on the fast indoor surface. There were a number of games when the ball was hardly put into play by Perry, so devastating were his opponent’s first serves, delivered either flat or with a modified American twist. It was in the second game of the match—when Vines failed to put a first ball in play—that Perry broke through for the only time in the match, and this enabled him to get to 3-0, having wasted only four out of fifteen first serves himself in the process.

    It is interesting to note how service affected the trend of the match from that point on. For the next four games it had very little to do with the outcome, with Vines breaking through Perry for 3-4 largely by putting on pressure off the ground despite good serving by Perry. In the eighth game, however, Vines put the ball in play five times with his first ball: Perry’s ability to return two of them well was insufficient and he won just that many points. Two games later Vines was down set point as his first serve failed him, and then he uncorked three near-aces to pull himself out of trouble. This was a story that was to be repeated a number of times during the match. The eleventh game was very hard fought and for the first time in six years of watching Perry play, this observer made a pencil notation that the Englishman looked tired! Vines finally broke through and went out in the next with the aid of two clean aces and one near-ace.

    Perry attempted to slow the pace at the start of the second set, but to little avail. Vines was in full cry by this time and it was not by virtue of his serve alone that he captured the set. Only in the fourth game and again after being in a tight spot at 4-3 did he serve devastatingly. His pulling out the latter left Perry very discouraged, so that the last game of the set was practically thrown to Vines.

    The third set saw Vines pile up ace after ace, and yet he was not putting his first ball in with the regularity of Perry. In the long third game Vines was in difficulty after being foot faulted on a second service, but he held the game despite his poorest serving of the match. Perry, on the other hand, put his first ball in 12 out of 14 times in the sixth game and yet was broken through.

    In the match as a whole, Vines made good 49 first serves out of 87 tries [56.3%]; Perry 88 out of 132 [66.7%]. These figures tell graphically how much more effective Vines’ first service was when it actually went in, and how much more difficult it was for Perry to hold his service games. Vines was credited with 18 aces (unreturnable rather than clean) and Perry with five. Vines served five double faults and Perry seven, large numbers for top-notch players. The two men had about an equal number of errors, but Vines’ placement score was just twice as big as Perry’s, 22 to 11.
    Incidentally this match, in terms of net play, looks statistically like a typical Federer/Djokovic match. Vines was at net on 14% of all points played in the match, Perry on 9%. In a sample of 20 Fed/Djok matches, I've got Federer at net on 13% of all points, Djokovic on 9% (some of those stats are posted at http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?p=7718228#post7718228).
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2015

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