Greatest Serves of All Time

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

  1. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    More on Jack Kramer.
    In my time I have played against many players with great serves. Probably the greatest was Jack Kramer, who hit the ball very hard (his service was timed at 110 mph) and was extremely accurate and deceptive. Frank Sedgman is another good server, with a consistently hard first service which he follows with tremendous speed in to the net to volley away winners. Lew Hoad has a hard and deceptive service that has always presented me with difficulty. Barry MacKay, because of his height, can send down balls at terrific angles and has great power. However he usually directs his service to the backhand, and though it travels at high speed, it is not as difficult to handle as the more deceptive services of Kramer and Hoad. Bobby Riggs was a small player, but he accurately served to the corners, pulling his man out of court. Another hard and baffling server was the Czecholslovakian-born left-handed, Jaroslav Drobny, now a naturalized Briton.---From the Fireside Book of Tennis and the article "The Serve and How to Vary it" by Pancho Gonzalez.

    In an average match, 50 percent of points are won by serve, the rest by volleys and ground strokes. There admittedly are traps in making such generalizations. A person like Kenneth Rosewall might win only one point a game on his serve, and the rest by volleys and ground strokes. On the other hand, I might win three points a game with my serve and only one with volley and ground strokes.---
    From the Fireside Book of Tennis and the article "The Serve and How to Vary it" by Pancho Gonzalez.

    If I had to choose the best service I ever encounted, it would be a toss-up between Gonzalez's and Kramer's. I never saw Ellsworth Vines, but I believe his delivery was on the same level.---From the Fireside Book of Tennis and the article "The Service" by Frank Sedgman.
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2015
  2. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    Time for another update (3rd in the past week alone!):
    1. Ivanisevic
    2. Karlovic
    3. Sampras
    4. Gonzales
    5. Krajicek
    6. Arthurs
    7. Roddick
    8. Newcombe
    9. Isner
    10. Becker
    11. Philippoussis
    12. Zivojinovic
    13. Raonic
    14. McEnroe
    15. Tanner
    16. Stich
    17. Curren
    18. Smith
    19. Federer
    20. Rusedski
    21. 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
    • Doeg, John - Ivanisevic to Vines' Sampras, a southpaw whose serve was considered one of the two or three greatest ever (along with Vines') in his heyday
    • Vines - by many accounts, the best and fastest serve of the pre-WWII era
    • Kramer - in addition to a formidable first delivery, perhaps the best second serve before Newcombe and Sampras
    • Denton - his unusual service motion notwithstanding, an ace dispenser that could bring enormous heat
    • Edberg - for his iconic kicker (any logo ring a bell?), arguably the best ever for serve-and-volley
    • Johansson, Joachim - Denton of the aughts
    As Moose has noted Scud has the highest % of unreturned serves (65.8%) second only to Karlovic's over 66% (precise number unavailable) among those we've come across so far, and that was against a more formidable opponent (Gonzalez) than Ivo's (Bracciali). And Mark's %s in the other six matches that we have show a consistency that was most likely intact throughout his career. So I've taken Moose's advice and moved him past Bobo and Raonic.

    Also I've been looking at some of Rusedski's matches and it's almost certain that he served more freebies on average than Smith and Federer at least. One thing I've noticed in these GSOAT discussions is that claims about a player's inconsistency tend to be exaggerated, and once I have more Rusedski stats handy he'll most likely move up a couple notches. (Alas tennisabstract.com doesn't seem to have any service stats for Greg.)

    And LeeD of all people brought up two old names (Dibley and Amaya) that should be familiar to any longtime readers, which means more sleuthing for us this time (as always listed by order of birth only):
    • Gerald Patterson (1895)
    • Bob Falkenburg (1926)
    • Mike Sangster (1940)
    • Colin Dibley (1944)
    • John Feaver (1952)
    • Victor Amaya (1954)
    Again I'm leaning towards leaving out Pattern due to Budge's mentioning McLoughlin but not Gerald in his estimation of the two or three best servers in history, but any of these guys may well be worth an honorary mention at least. You know the drill: stats, press reports, firsthand accounts. Much obliged!

    Now onto my responses....

    pc1, you really don't need to convince me of Kramer's place in the GSOAT pantheon, because I fully believe he belongs way up there with the likes of Vines and Gonzales. Again the main reason why I've given the old-timers mere honorable mentions is lack of visual and statistical evidence, as we've seen how all the glowing secondhand accounts can be distorted on their part or misconstrued on our part. Gonzales is one exception I've made because Braden's analysis of his serve offers something concrete (such as clocking in at over 140 mph regularly) as opposed to the usual accolades about power, accuracy and depth, and even that was with much trepidation and consideration.

    Now I may well add Vines (and Kramer) eventually, but that's because krosero has provided enough statistical evidence that he was indeed one of the best servers of his time, if not the very best. But then I doubt there's anyone alive that can claim to have analyzed Vines' serve to the same extent Vic dissected Pancho's, which is why I've been more reluctant to assign Elly a particular ranking. Hope you understand.

    BTW did you ever get my email asking for the list of Laver's career matches? (I forgot to ask explicitly, but I thought the purpose of the email was clear.) When you reply I was going to ask you for the page number(s) of that excerpt from the Budge memoir about Doeg's serve. Hopefully you got the email and can email back the page number without much trouble, or you can post it here if you prefer. Thanks again.

    Grazie, missed that one.

    Another surprising thing is that beatdowns generally don't feature very high unreturned-serve %s. But it somehow makes sense, because if you're winning so comprehensively you probably don't feel the need to go all out on your serve.

    You know, I actually don't have Roddick's rate in the '04 final. If you have it can you point me to it or post it again?

    Doesn't surprise me, because Gonzales did have some difficulty on clay throughout his career. (Of course the choice of the most important events in the chaotic pro years is somewhat subjective, but SgtJohn's oft-cited list shows no clay-court major equivalent title for Gorgo.) Just one of the many similarities Pancho shares with Sampras.

    I do have that ridiculous Flipper stat already. But apart from his 57% rate against Gimelstob at '06 Newport I'm not aware of any other instances where he posted high 50s. Can you name which ones and the numbers (% and # of unreturned serves & total service points) if available?

    Speaking of which that Independent article on Scud-Gonzo provides Mark's unreturned % only, so I took a gander at the official match stats and after rounding only 75 out of 114 leaves us with 66%. So 75 unreturned serves/114 total service points for Flipper.

    Anyway my issue with Flipper is his inconsistency--for one thing he even had more DFs than Goran on average (hat tip to bricks). But yeah, it's likely that he earned nearly as many free points as Ivo and Goran (another tip to slice serve ace), hence his new higher ranking (11th).

    BTW it's striking how much Goran's 1st-serve %s had improved in just a few years. The ATP shows a pretty noticeable increase (59% in '04 vs. 55% career for Goran) in and of itself, but his '04 Wimbledon stats are eye-popping: 76%, 68% and 65% in each corresponding round. And while getting decent pace on his serves, too. Scary to think he'd be serving above 60% regularly today.

    Yeah, though Goran had "only" 22 aces that day he also won 93% and 61% of his 1st- and 2nd-serve points respectively, a pretty unbeatable combo (the former rate was even better than the 88% he had against Roddick). If you get ahold of those matches do feel free to post the stats here.

    The full match is up on YT:



    Have only seen snippets but looks like you're right about Brown's valiant effort. :p And good luck on Ivo vs. Raonic.
     
  3. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    NonP,
    I sent you an attachment of Laver's matches a few days ago. If you didn't get it I'll send it again.
     
  4. krosero

    krosero Legend

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  5. Dan Lobb

    Dan Lobb Hall of Fame

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    B
    Krosero, that is a very weak option...if you find a reminiscence that is unsettling, then, of course, someone must have a faulty memory...yes, that's it, a faulty memory. How convenient..perhaps a little TOO convenient. Sure, someone could forget a score or a location, but, really..an injury which caused a player to SERVE UNDERHAND ON A CHAMPIONSHIP TOUR? I'm sorry...that is a little too much to believe. Something like that sticks in the memory.

    I can recall key events and plays from my own championship baseball season, from 1961, no less, when we won the "squirt" age 9-10 year old league in Toronto. I made the series-winning hit in the final of a best-of three series..you do NOT forget these things. But I could only guess now as to WHERE and against WHOM these events happened. (I still have the colour photo of our team, and the "trophy" or crest.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
  6. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Dan maybe I should take a step back and explain why this seems unlikely to me.

    I never found a report about the underhand serving, in press reports from '39 (or indeed in any report before 1990). Bowers never saw such a report (I asked him), and of course no one has combed through news reports of the 1930s to the degree that he has.

    These pro tours, moreover, had very good coverage. As you can see from my list of Vines' serving, I've found reports of aces by Vines in almost all of the matches he played in '39. I don't rule out that he could have served underhand in one of the few matches for which I've yet to find detailed descriptions of his serving. No one can rule that out, short of going to the local time-machine shop and picking up a '57 Delorean. But the fact that a report of underhand serving by Vines is still missing, is very strange, considering how many details of these tours were publicized, not just in ALT but in all the major newspapers as well.

    All the players, and Jack Harris (the tour manager), talked regularly with the press, not only about whatever local match they may have just finished playing, but also the matches they had just played before coming to town, their plans for the next few weeks, their physical condition, their injuries, the stresses of their travels, their hotel arrangements, what they ate for dinner the other night and whether it was agreeing with them, etc., etc.

    The previous year ('38), there was a report of underhand serving. It happened during the Vines/Perry tour, at the stop in San Francisco. The ALT correspondent mentioned briefly that in the doubles, Berkeley Bell had resorted to "serving underhand, to no avail". That must have been performed as a joke (the overwhelmed player desperately trying anything to get a point), because Harris said that none of his players on the ’38 tour sustained any serious injuries. Bell often played to the crowd, and on these barnstorming tours the doubles matches were often light-hearted.

    But ALT, I can say definitely, had no mention, in '39, of underhand serving by anyone. If it happened, it escaped the attention of that publication, despite the fact that ALT had correspondents in all areas of the country who regularly attended the matches and talked to the players/managers.

    Does it seem a little strange to you that an instance of underhand serving, as a joke, made it into ALT; while there is nothing in ALT about Vines serving underhand due to injury, which would have been incomparably greater news than a mere jest in doubles? For one of the headliners to lose his greatest weapon -- to be visibly crippled -- should have made it into ALT as the lead-in story to every piece they ran.

    If a report turns up in a local newspaper from '39, reporting that Vines served underhand at an obscure stop on the tour, I will concede that I was wrong on this. But it will immediately raise another question, namely why such a thing was not mentioned in ALT, when that publication covered the full length of the ’39 tour with in-depth reports. And why the thing never came to light in any other major publications, like the LA Times or New York Times.

    I know you’re incredulous that, as you put it, someone could serve underhand and not remember it. But whether he would remember it is not the question. The question is whether it happened.

    If you say, “that sort of thing sticks in the memory,” you’re presuming that the thing took place. If I presume, for the sake of argument, that the thing took place, then I would agree with you: if Vines served underhand, I tend to think he would not forget it. I tend to think it would remain in his memory. That does not mean, in any way, that he served underhand. Stating that he would not forget serving underhand merely begs the question of whether he served that way.

    Fred Perry recalled, in his memoir, meeting Hitler personally in 1932: a meeting which almost surely did not occur. That’s a perfect example. You could say that meeting Hitler personally is something you don’t forget; something that will stick in memory; so it must be true. But that merely begs the question of whether he did meet Hitler, and it’s virtually a certain fact that he didn’t.

    The question is whether it’s possible to recall something that didn’t happen.

    That is most assuredly possible. The science of memory is very much in the news these days and you can find studies demonstrating such false memories, quite easily, online. I’ve posted links to some of them in my memory thread, and here's an interesting interview on the subject.

    I will say again, because it’s important to be clear on this, even if I’ve said it before and most of you already know it: I have no expertise on that subject. I am nothing more than a beginning student in that field; perhaps even calling myself a student is too much. I have a personal interest in it, and that’s all.

    What I can say is how I see such an issue like this injury dispute, in light of what I’ve read about memory. And I can point to false memories in tennis – ones which we know are false because they are factually incorrect.

    Vines, in 1983, recalled winning the national mixed doubles title once with Elizabeth Ryan (which did happen), but he remembered an additional time winning that title, with Helen Jacobs. In fact Vines won that title only once, and never with Jacobs. He and Jacobs made the final one year; Helen went on to win it with a different partner in ’34, after Elly had turned pro. Stan Hart found no instance of Vines/Jacobs winning a major title together.

    That’s a direct example, within tennis, of a memory of an event that did not occur.

    In that same interview, Vines recalled beating Bunny Austin in Davis Cup in 1933; in fact he lost to Austin 6-1, 6-1, 6-4. That is a similar example, maybe not as clear-cut, because Vines did beat Austin on other occasions. Nevertheless, that Davis Cup tie was one of the key moments of Vines’ career. Vines fainted at the end of a dramatic five-setter with Fred Perry; he must have been asked about this Davis Cup tie, and about his role in the loss of the Cup for the United States, countless times throughout his life. So I would think this is a more significant memory slip than merely confusing some opponents’ names in the third round at Wimbledon or on a pro tour stop in Oklahoma. And if you’ve read the Stan Hart interview, you know that Hart himself was greatly surprised at Vines’ mistakes at that point in the interview, to the extent that he wasn’t sure how to proceed.

    Within tennis, I can’t point to any instance of someone recalling a physical act (like serving underhand) which we know definitively did not happen. But there was a piece in the New York Times from someone who recalled taking a bloody injury to her foot years earlier, while her friend recalled it happening to her (the friend, not the author of the piece); so one of the two friends has a false memory about a physical injury.

    But the Vines case is not even that extreme. I am not saying that the injury is a false memory. We know from many sources that he was injured during his tour with Budge. What I think is most plausible is that the memory of serving underhand is mistaken. Not the mere fact of being injured; we know that part is true.

    There are other mistaken memories in an interview Vines gave to World Tennis, only a month before this LA Times interview in which he said he served underhand. He gave these interviews in late 1990, with his health failing, several months after suffering a heart attack. He was no longer playing tennis then, and barely played golf.

    The details of his World Tennis interview I’ll save perhaps for another time.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
  7. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    Thanks for the stats, but just to be clear is that link for reference only or does it relate to the unreturned %s in any way? I ask because I couldn't find any info on unreturned serves in that post.

    Something in this reminiscence sounds familiar. :D I bet our dear Dan's majestic Little League trophy still stands proudly alongside his other invaluable heirlooms.
     
  8. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    oh I posted the link assuming the unreturned stats were there, I must have calculated them later.
     
  9. Dan Lobb

    Dan Lobb Hall of Fame

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    Why do we put weight on Vines claim? Because it is plausible...and I recall reading somewhere in the London Times that Vines indeed served either underhand or sidearm due to his injury, apparently a pulled rib muscle, which would make it almost impossible to serve normally. So it would be surprising, indeed, if he DID serve in an orthodox manner, more likely he would fudge his service motion to put less strain on the injury. That is why it is credible that he would adjust his normal service motion. So, underhand, side-arm, or some combination would be logical.
     
  10. Dan Lobb

    Dan Lobb Hall of Fame

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    The "trophy" is a cloth crest, which I never sewed on to anything, but have kept it alone.
    Incidentally, I recall the exact score of the third and deciding game, 5 to 2, it was 2 all with runners on second and third when I came to bat, determined to do something, and hit my hardest hit of the season, into left field, ran like lightning to second base, stopped cold, saw the ball still in the outfield, ran and slid into third, thought I was safe, but called out. My grandfather, my dad told me later, then stood up from his lawn chair, and walked toward the third base umpire to offer some advice, my dad intercepted him.

    Enough?
     
  11. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Dan,

    Since we're in a great serves thread I read in Rosewall's book that Hoad actually had a sort of a slice serve that could curve the other way into the body. Even Rosewall found it hard to believe. I'll see if I can find the description.
     
  12. encylopedia

    encylopedia Semi-Pro

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    It wouldn't be shocking...I've heard of some players of the past using it, and have seen some modern players use it as a novelty.
     
    pc1 likes this.
  13. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Here's a quote on Lew Hoad's serve from "Play Tennis with Rosewall-The Little Master and his Method"--Until his back trouble began to spoil his game after 1958 he had a wonderful service. He had one serve in particular, a wide ball to the forehand , the like of which I have never faced from anyone else. Despite its apparent slice-- and I can assure you it carried you right outside of the court--it used to kick back into the body of the receiver. Even when you knew it was likely to come this serve was disconcerting and won him many valuable points.
     
  14. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    That Vines would make some kind of adjustment when injured is certainly plausible. I know of three instances where his serve was visibly observed to be different, and the difference was attributed to injury.

    However underhand serving was not mentioned in any of these instances, all of which were documented heavily by the press.

    One was in '39, at Southport, where Vines lost to Nusslein. (He did not play Budge there). ALT reported that Vines had a "strained back" and was "unable to serve fast against Dan Maskell." When Vines lost to Nusslein he was "still deprived of his big service by back trouble." They said that because Vines could not use his heavy artillery, the match was played at a slow pace.

    Another instance was way back in that famous '33 Davis Cup tie against England, in which Vines lost to Austin in straights and to Perry in 5. Mercer Beasely reported shortly after those losses that Vines played the tie “with his side strapped, as well as his right ankle in a bandage.” He wrote:

    Then came the trouble with his side. This happened after the Austin match. His services had to be adjusted to suit, and he worked nicely with no pain from side or ankle. He was also in a good mental condition.​

    An AP report shortly after that Davis Cup tie:

    PARIS, July 25 (AP).—Ellsworth Vines Jr. and Bernon S. Prentice, captain of the United States Davis Cup team, today denied published reports that the ankle injury suffered by Vines in his match with Fred Perry Sunday might result in permanent injury.

    Both said no specialist had examined Vines, as was reported, and the doctor who attended him after the match did not suggest that the injury was a permanent one. The report was that Vines might be forced to wear a brace and a high shoe for tennis play hereafter.​

    Several months later, in his first tour with Tilden, he had trouble with his side again, as reported by ALT. In Kansas City, ALT said that he "was visibly handicapped in serving by a bad side. This did not handicap his ground strokes in the least however and the rallies were quite satisfactory." They added:

    If Vines had been able to serve with his usual speed, the match would doubtless have been closer [Tilden won in four sets].​

    A year later ('35) Vines recalled this injury and said "he had torn some ribs loose and was plastered with adhesive."

    We know this happened again in the '39 tour. The AP reported this scene in the locker room, after the match In Buffalo:

    Ellsworth Vines, whom Budge has just beaten in three sets, is carefully removing great strips of adhesive tape from his side.​

    Bowers notes that around this time in the tour Vines "played with a taped mid-section, result of a pulled muscle."

    However, this match in Buffalo is not one of those instances where Vines' serve was observed to be different, or slower than usual. There were many detailed reports about the match, filled with comments about the violence of Vines' strokes, and the speed of his serve. One of the doubles players said that "some of Ellie's shots nearly tore his arm off swinging at them."

    That doesn't mean that Vines was not injured in Buffalo or that the injury had no effect on his serve; I'm just noting that this was not an instance where his serve was visibly observed to be slow and/or hampered.

    In '34, in the tour against Tilden, both ALT and the local press observed Vines having visible trouble serving due to the injury to his side.

    There were detailed reports in the local press, and even a boxscore. All that material is really too long to put here but I'll post it in my 1934 thread.

    Re: the London Times, I had a look a while back, when we were debating this, and nothing like that turned up. The London Times, in '39, had only a few reports about Budge/Vines matches; they reported some of the big matches like the opener at Madison Square Garden, but certainly not with the level of detail provided in the American press.

    They may have mentioned something in later decades, but I remember running as wide a search as possible and turning up nothing.

    Approximately what time period would you have seen this in the Times?

    Thanks for taking an open-minded attitude toward this. Encourages me that we might actually have a debate that could lead to answers about what happened, rather than a tedious I-say-yes-you-say-no sort of thing.
     
  15. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Incidentally I'm not quite clear on what his injuries were in '39. I think the best evidence points to a muscle strain in his stomach or side, during the US tour. Later in the year, in Europe, he had that back trouble. But some sources also mention shoulder trouble in '39. I'm not sure if that is documented in '39 but I know his shoulder problems went back as far as 1932, and that he had trouble with his shoulder throughout the 1936 season, possibly other years.
     
  16. Dan Lobb

    Dan Lobb Hall of Fame

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    I believe that I read it from the 1939 London Times coverage of the pro tour of Europe, that his service motion was visibly altered or side-armed or underhanded...pretty clear on that.
    None of your stories relates Vines' service motion being affected by his side muscle injuries, which I find very strange...like somebody didn't want to comment on it...that is my take.
     
  17. Dan Lobb

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    Yes, I think that Gonzales commented that there so many different spins on Hoad's serves that it was almost impossible to read the motion, getting the opponent wrong-footed.
     
  18. PeteUSA

    PeteUSA Banned

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    Pancho G. and Sampras.
     
  19. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    Gotcha. Also krosero, I'm finally done with my major edit to Doeg's Wiki page (took forever to get my sources right and also the old documentation corrected), but there's one small detail I'm hoping you can help me with. Remember when you first brought up ALT's reference to Doeg as one of the great servers of his time? Was that article simply titled "Three Services"? It looks like the title of a subsection of the article, hence my Q. Thanks in advance.

    Yeah, but saying your hit was the 3-run HR that decided the game would've been better. :D
     
  20. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    "Three Services" was an editorial, the last of four in that edition. The heading of the editorial section was:

    American Lawn Tennis
    Editorial Department
    Stephen Wallis Merrihew, Editor

    -- so it may have been penned by Merrihew himself, but perhaps by another editor on the staff (no other names are given).

    Great that you've made changes at Doeg's page. I know how much work that is so please lean on me for any help you might need.
     
  21. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    Super, so I don't need to make any changes after all. You probably know this already but Wiki's own citation guidelines apparently don't mandate the inclusion of the editor(s)'s name per se.

    But you're quite right this is a lot of work! I'd meant to just add the relevant excerpts but since this was a short article I thought I'd give it a thorough makeover. Little did I know that I'd need a crash course on just about every Wiki how-to.

    To name just a couple examples, since we knew Doeg's height in feet/inches only I wanted to leave the metric conversion out, but it turned out that Wiki automatically converts the player's height anyway even when the conversion code is omitted. I looked up at least a dozen articles on players past and present but couldn't find a single instance of their height not being converted, so I declared defeat in the end.

    Also while we should be thankful to whoever linked to the Hungarian journal with experts' (Mayers' and Tilden's in this case) year-end top 10 rankings he/she made the mistake of using and translating the title of the journal rather than that of the article itself. Since I don't know a word of Hungarian I was going to leave that particular citation intact, but then Google came to the rescue: a világ means the world ("a" seems to be the definite article in Hungarian), legjobb tiz top ten (legjobb alone simply means best), férfi man and játékosa player(s). So "The world's top 10 male players," a fairly straightforward title given the topic. :D And it seems that the "parent" titles of works (those of newspapers, magazines, etc.) in Hungarian are capitalized as in English while those of shorter units/works like individual articles and works of art are rendered lowercase except for the first word as in Italian, which made my finishing touches fairly simple. (I really could've done without the editor's name and the volume, issue and page #s, but since the info was already there I left that in.) So I'm pretty sure I got this one right. :cool:

    The other citations were easier if time-consuming (largely because I had to brush up on Wiki's current documentation format). Ditto the hyperlinks to other relevant Wiki articles, except that I couldn't quite figure out a way to add one for Cochet. (As you know you add two brackets at the end of each word/phrase for Wiki links, but I'd already bracketed Cochet's name to replace the generic "Frenchman" in the original passage and Wiki as expected doesn't distinguish between these different types of brackets.) And of course there were some editorial changes here and there (for example the original article had Doeg's 1929 win at Seabright after his 1930 US Championships title, so I moved the former to the forefront to make it flow better), but these were pretty minor.

    So a good yeoman's work if I may say so. I'd done a few Wiki edits before (the most notable one probably about Borg's superhuman resting heart rate being a myth), but never a major one like this. My last Wiki contribution didn't turn out very well--for the article on aces I replaced Goran's incorrect total of 1449 in '96 with his actual total of 1566, along with a note about the ATP database missing many match stats for context, but apparently some genius thought not one but two Chicago Tribune articles weren't sufficient documentation!--and I was going to quit on Wiki for good if my Doeg edit was also rejected, but it looks like my reservations were unfounded this time. (A certain Wolbo added a couple more external links, but that was it.) I'm actually enjoying this and thinking about doing it more often. :D We'll see. And thanks for your offer to help, as always.

    BTW I just started the Vines book yesterday and in the intro it was quite striking to see Ellie, the proverbial flat hitter with what we'd consider a big game, chastising the contemporary players (this was the late '70s) relying too much on the "big game" itself without having much of a backup option. In fact by "big game" he means constant net play accompanied by big serves, and he chalks the frequent upsets of the times up to this very imbalance and relatively undeveloped ground strokes on the part of most of the big game's practitioners rather than to the advancement and democratization of the sport itself (some things never change, eh?). I'll have more things to say about this after I finish the book, but it does bring up the questions we briefly touched on earlier: the danger and limitations of taking tennis terminology at face value, and how big a role personal bias plays in our evaluation of the game (as you may recall Ellie ranks Budge at the very top followed by Kramer and then Gonzales, and of course today's players tend to do the same with the more recent GOAT candidates).

    To be continued....

    P.S. Forgot to add this rare footage of Doeg:



    Alas he hits only two serves down the T in this video so we don't get to see the infamous "egg-ball," but you can still see the guy had a smooth motion.
     
  22. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Not sure why the edit would have been reversed, even when backed up with two good sources. You might try leaving the ATP record and adding that the Chicago Tribune has a different stat, with a brief explanation of the discrepancy stating for example that the ATP has nothing before '91, etc. If that doesn't work a discussion on the talk page might help.

    Seems to me that there ought to be a way to include such a stat as you gave from the Chicago Tribune, which meets all the requirements as a reliable source. It's one thing for a good source to be preferred over a questionable one, but there certainly should be room to include a source that is a perfectly good one even if it happens to conflict with another good one (the ATP).

    A discrepancy of over 100 aces is not a minor one, so it's an important issue.

    Yes it can be startling to read that intro if you don't know exactly what he means by "big game," which is the old term for coming in on both 1st and 2nd serves constantly. Vines saw that this could be done rather mindlessly, simply out of orthodoxy, and I appreciate the way he emphasizes the importance of ground strokes, having a fully developed game, etc.

    He was in a good position to make this criticism, because while he played mostly from the baseline, he knew how to SV and developed all his strokes. He attacked the net the way he's recommending in the book: intelligently, when needed, according to your own capabilities, rather than coming in all the time and mindlessly accepting the Big Game orthodoxy.

    Nice to see, thanks.
     
  23. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    Well, frankly most of the Wiki editors aren't exactly experts, so they probably don't know much about the ATP database's gaps and discrepancies that we point out all the time. I was thinking about giving it another go with a more thorough explanation later, and with your encouragement hopefully the 2nd time will be the charm.

    Precisely. Again I'll share more of my thoughts once I finish the book.

    Anytime. As you can see both of Doeg's serves are relatively safe ones that land well inside the box, and neither of them in the ad court so it's all but certain that this clip doesn't begin to show the full potential of Doeg's "egg-ball." And I'm sure there is some remaining footage somewhere that does the Doeg serve at least some justice, as is the case with somebody like Riggs whose old videos show just how uncanny the disguise was on his drop shots. Maybe somebody at the ITHoF or British Pathe (a search on the latter website yields no results) can dig it up and make it available.
     
  24. Dan Lobb

    Dan Lobb Hall of Fame

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    I will take it...my only experience with a championship team, and it could hardly have ended better for me, after a season of being a marginal player, and the manager picked me to start in the playoffs. And to knock in the championship-winning runs...I can still recall throwing my glove in the air when the last out was made...our pitcher went nine innings and after giving up two early runs, shut them down.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2015
  25. Romismak

    Romismak Rookie

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    Have to ask - this updates you are doing all the time it´s based on how other posters say - rank their best servers? or what does it mean update my list all the time? thanks

    btw how can be Isner No.9? i won´t argue that Isner and Karlovic should be top 2 on any list, but let´s say not top 2 still how he is 9th...
     
  26. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    I hear ya, and your nostalgia factor must be especially high given that we're really talking about a bygone era. As you know a single pitcher seldom throws all nine innings these days.

    I take into account everything, with an emphasis on stats often overlooked in these discussions. One of them is the % of serves that the returner fails to get back in play, which really is a better measure of serving prowess (hat tip to krosero) than the oft-(mis)used stat of # of aces per match, for two reasons. One, the # of total service points varies greatly depending on the match and the players (more on this in a bit). Two, there are guys like Sampras and Roddick who serve many more freebies on average than one might gather from their ace frequency.

    And conversely, Isner for some reason is surprisingly mediocre (relatively speaking, of course) in % of unreturned serves, at least in matches that we have stats for so far. Most of the guys on my list tend to post some impressive numbers in this department, often hitting over 40%, sometimes 50% and in rare cases even 60% of their serves as outright freebies. In Isner's case, though, I have only one match where he scored over 50% in this stat: 53% in his '13 Newport QF against Karlovic, who as you may know isn't exactly an elite returner to say the least. In his other matches with known % of unreturned serves he doesn't even crack 40%.

    Now it's true that the sample size we have for Isner is very small (currently I've got under half a dozen matches with stats for John) and it may well be that he's right up there with Goran and Karlovic in freebie %s, but I'm rather doubtful given this chart by slice serve ace:

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/ivo-or-goran.509157/page-2#post-8637529

    Of course aces/freebies aren't everything and as Gilbert has noted John is someone who "picks his spots," and I actually consider his 2nd serve the greatest since Sampras (over Roddick's), hence his placement over Raonic and Philippoussis. But as I take pains to point out my rankings are quite fluid and in fact have seen umpteen changes and revisions over the years (Isner actually used to be ranked even lower, if you can believe it). And I may be tooting my own horn here but you'll be hard-pressed to find another list of the all-time greatest serves that has been subjected to such thorough historical and statistical analysis. If you're really interested you can read more of my writings on this topic here (just follow the links):

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/inde...erves-of-all-time.306579/page-20#post-9524999

    And here's more on how # of aces per match can be an inadequate and misleading barometer:

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/inde...erves-of-all-time.306579/page-20#post-9534377
     
  27. Romismak

    Romismak Rookie

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    Agree with you on ace-per match being very misleading statistic i have said also multiple times here and on other tennis forum why so bad it is. I personally use ace-per serve stats - but also to many factors like who are big servers facing - guys like Lopez or Rochus are easy to ace why vs Andy Murray or Monfils ace numbers are rapidly lower than normally.

    Isner´s 1st serve i believe is not so great at regular basis - i mean if we look at his matches his 1st serve is not probably bigger-better than of some other big servers, but his FS% is what makes him so deadly + the fact that i believe he is hitting spots and ,,holding back,, which we can see clearly in tie-breaks when he is serving bigger than he normally does - i think one of the reasons he has such high FS% all the time is how i said he is holding back - not hitting at full velocity and implementing some spin and going for placement so than he ends up with highs 60s% in every match and virtually vs most of guys this means it´s almost impossible to break him with that great 2nd serve he has. But he can hit harder and better 1st serves if he goes for it. On my list are Isner and Karlovic clearly level above rest thanks to their height and trajectories and fact they can have high FS% - who knows how high FS% guys like Sampras or Goran would score with racquets in 2015 and how they would be doing on surfaces of 2015 but we can only work with what we get.

    Also agree about your statement of freebies for guys like Roddick and others - for example guy like Ivo has probably more aces than other unreturnables, because when he hits his spots is going to be ace vs most of the guys, while some other big servers have more unreturnables serves comparing to pure aces, because other guy can touch it with their racquets - guys like Dent or Janowicz who can hit hard but have bad placements will end up with low number of aces but high number of service winners or other unreturnables - call it how you want it, while Karlovic from 50 unreturnables aces will have maybe 35-40 aces.

    if we measure serves free points or unreturnable serves are good stats, but i would say much better stats would be service games hold - considering their games and skills outside of serve so it´s easy if player A has 90% of service games won and player B has 91% of service games won, but we know that player B is far superior player from baseline, with far better FH, BH - basically everything than logically we can assume that even with higher % of service games won player A is clearly superior server to player B - this is my point and if we look at number since 1990 - on ATP website we can clearly see Isner and Karlovic are best servers considering this - % of service games won but considering how good are their games outside of serve so if Isner, Karlovic, Federer and Sampras have the same numbers of service games won it´s logical to assume Isner and Karlovic are far superior servers to Roger and Pete - btw theory that Roger and Pete faces/ed tougher competition, because they go deeper facing top guys is nulified with the same seeding factors - player ,,easy,, opponents early, why Karlovic might end up playing 3 events in row top 30 players in R1 loosing all 3x matches - back than when his ranking was bad - now it´s pretty good ranking for Ivo.

    http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/stats/service-games-won/all/all/all/

    Currently Karlovic and Isner are top 2 on ATP list since 1990 on Career Service games Won guys with worst groundgame are top 2 - that´s very clear sign that those 2 are best servers in history of the game
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2015
  28. NonP

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    But that's the thing, we may not know the exact %s that the older guys like Pete and Goran would average in this era but we do know more than enough for us to make educated guesses. You've mentioned Karlovic's and Isner's high %s of service games won, and I don't know if you've had a chance to read my posts on this very (sub)topic, but contrary to the talking points about today's slower courts and more powerful racquets making the game more favorable to the returner, the fact of the matter is that, on the whole, players are holding serve more frequently today than they did in the '90s and most likely than ever before. To wit the top 10 servers of this decade (2011-14) have won 87.9% of their service games so far, up from 87.1% in the '00s and from 86.0% in the 90s, a near 2% upswing in two decades. And remember, that's despite the fast carpet courts being phased out in the late '90s/early '00s (in fact Sampras' % of return games won remained above 30% in both '94 and '97 before the indoor season).

    There are several reasons for this unexpected increase in % of service games won but the biggest one is probably the fact that players are now getting more 1st serves in than at any previous point in time since '91:

    http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/stats/1st-serve/all/all/all/

    As you can see, apart from a few clay-court specialists who mostly rolled in their 1st serves very few players from the '90s show up among the top 50-100 in career 1st-serve %. That's no accident and can be largely attributed to the extra spin afforded by today's racquets, which allows players to get more 1st serves in without sacrificing much pace and also heavier 2nd serves as well (needless to say double-fault counts have also dropped precipitously since the '90s). Heck, Karlovic himself used to serve in the lower 60s early in his career, whereas now he routinely approaches if not exceeds high 60s in his 1st-serve %. Make no mistake: Pete, Goran and their contemporaries would likewise be posting higher 1st-serve %s and holding serve with more ease today.

    Now that doesn't mean they'd be serving in the high 60s themselves. Obviously that's too much of a stretch, especially given that they're not near 7-foot giants like Karlovic and Isner. But then they don't have to be, because they themselves have particular strengths that Ivo and John don't. If you followed that last link you should've noticed that Goran had even more aces per service point (through the first four rounds) than Karlovic in arguably their best serving performance ever at Wimbledon, this despite lower 1st-serve %s. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why but the biggest reason(s) I suspect is Goran's lefty spin and virtually unreadable motion, both of which Ivo and Isner can't claim for themselves. (BTW that's also why I say that Goran's serve may well be even more dangerous against top players/returners than Karlovic's, which probably takes the crown against lower-ranked peers.)

    And there's Sampras. As you may know John Yandell has compared Pete's serve to others and found that not only did it average 50% more rpm it also had 35% more topspin, which made the resulting ball significantly higher and heavier at the time of the return. That probably explains how, his relatively low ace frequency notwithstanding, he usually had such a high % of unreturned serves, very often above 40% and as high as 60+% that I've seen so far. And you mentioned Isner likely holding back to keep his 1st-serve %s high, and that's a claim often made about his and Karlovic's serve to vouch for their supremacy, but the truth of the matter is that players do this all the time, and I wager guys like Pete do it more often because they can afford to. I've made a particular case in point here (and incidentally Isner makes an appearance at the end):

    Let me add that most one-sided matches I've seen don't have the dominant player winning that many freebies on serve against his opponent (even in that '97 Wimbledon final Pete had "only" 17 aces, though he also had a whopping 59.2% of his serves unreturned by Pioline, a generally good returner), and that again I suspect is because he can afford not to exert himself fully on serve. And since Karlovic and Isner generally don't have that luxury to the same extent as Pete and even Goran I do think this holding-back factor you speak of affects Ivo and John less than their superior predecessors.
     
  29. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    Yes, that's a very important point often missed by those who insist on aces per match as their main criterion.

    That's the usual argument put forth, that since Karlovic and Isner are at or near the top in service stats despite having a worse overall game than most they must be the best servers ever, but reality isn't quite that simple. You said the tougher competition faced by the likes of Pete and Fed is nullified by the frequently tough 1st- or 2nd-rounders that Ivo and John play due to their lower rankings, but that's like saying there are bad apples on both sides--it assumes a false equivalence that may not be born out by the facts that we do have. And in this case we know there's no comparison: per the ATP Ivo and John have played their top 10 peers 71 and 57 times out of 547 and 448 respectively, or in 13.0% and 12.7% of their career matches, while Pete and Fed (have) played 195 and 292 out of their 984 and 1275 matches against the top 10, or 19.8% and 22.9%. (For the record Pete's numbers may not be exact as '90s stats are often incomplete or incorrect for reasons I won't get into here, but whatever discrepancy should be fairly minor.) And while tennisabstract.com's stats are less complete than the ATP's a cursory look at them also shows that Karlovic and Isner faced the top 20 less frequently than Pete and Fed:

    http://www.tennisabstract.com/cgi-bin/player.cgi?p=IvoKarlovic&f=ACareerqqITop_20qqs00&view=h2h
    http://www.tennisabstract.com/cgi-bin/player.cgi?p=JohnIsner&f=ACareerqqITop_20qqs00&view=h2h
    http://www.tennisabstract.com/cgi-bin/player.cgi?p=PeteSampras&f=ACareerqqITop_20qqs00&view=h2h
    http://www.tennisabstract.com/cgi-bin/player.cgi?p=RogerFederer&f=ACareerqqITop_20qqs00&view=h2h

    Also notice how even Karlovic's and Isner's %s of service points won often suffer against some of these top opponents with presumably elite returns (in fact John's numbers seem to drop sharply compared to those vs. lower-ranked opponents). In short it's almost certain that their %s are inflated compared to those of their rivals with a better overall game and that against the same competition they wouldn't enjoy what seems to be such an obvious statistical edge.

    And we haven't even gotten into other factors, like the effect of S&V on the service stats of guys like Pete, Krajicek and Goran (after all it doesn't matter how well you serve if you get passed at the net). Long story short just about every talking point about the best serves and servers and their place in history is wrong or only half true. Plenty of evidence is there to refute it, though you do need to dig deeper, and I daresay I'm one of the few who have done the digging. Again if you're really interested you can read my previous dissertations on these extensive topics. While I'm glad to share my thoughts and research it's practically impossible for me to provide a summary every time I'm asked.
     
  30. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    Somewhat off topic, but just noticed this:

    http://espn.go.com/tennis/story/_/id/13770406/tennis-players-risk-defeat-going-safe-second-serves

    Some of you might remember me insisting that today's players play it too safe on their 2nd serves, and while my own claim was with respect to their increasingly less DF frequency a similar logic applies here as well. In fact Karlovic himself was clearly DFing more than usual at this year's Wimbledon, and despite what most people would think (according to them, fewer DFs = better serving) it worked out quite well for him:

    Just another textbook case of how statistics can mislead when unaccompanied by a critical understanding of the issue at hand.
     
    pc1 likes this.
  31. beltsman

    beltsman Hall of Fame

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    You really need to do serve per height. That's what makes Sampras and Roddick so special.
     
  32. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    I think that defeats the purpose of the thread which is to find the most effective serves. Do we deduct points from Isner because he's tall and serves so well? Do we add points to Justine Henin because she was shorter than average and was an excellent server? I don't think so.

    Sampras and Roddick have great serves no matter what their height is.
     
  33. Ciaron

    Ciaron Semi-Pro

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    Anyone ever heard of a Brit named John Feaver. I remember seeing a Wimbledon documentary and he was in it . Known for a big serve etc . Here's a quote from Wikipedia
    For over 20 years (1976 to 1997), Feaver held the record for serving the most aces in a single Wimbledonmatch, 42, achieved against John Newcombe (although Feaver still lost the match)
     
  34. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    It's a good point. Someone who's making a low number of double-faults is not necessarily serving well, if he's spinning it in more softly than he needs to. The same would be true for a high first-serve percentage.

    Simply counting up the number of double-faults, or aces, shows you how those points ended, but it doesn't show what's happening on the other points, specifically what's happening as result of the server's strategy.

    I've noticed how in the lists of most-aces-in-a-match, the top performances are often from servers who lost the match. I wonder if the same might be going on with df's, ie, the servers with the greatest numbers of df's in a match actually winning the match.

    Vines won a match in which he served 23 double-faults (a five-set final against Perry, 1931 Pacific Southwest).
     
  35. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    NonP, I came across another member of the 60% club, Wayne Arthurs. 63% to be exact.

    2005 Scotsdale Final, d Ancic 7-5, 6-3

    http://voodemar.com/?attachment_id=19355

    That guy has a lot of stats. Compared his stats to some of the matches we did, and they match up.

    I've been clicking through a lot of his Fed and Isner matches(that we didn't have anything on) can't find anything above 40%.

    Found another 50% for Roddick('07 Queens Final) and 55% for Goran(95 Grand Slam Cup Final)
    Also found 47% for Larsson(94 Grand Slam Cup Final)
    97 Queens Final - Goran 45%, Rusedski 47%

    also thought the '00 Paris Indoor final had interesting stats. Safin won in 5, but only had 34%, while Philippoussis had 46%. Usually its closer when 2 big servers play each other.
     
  36. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    Right, this thread isn't about inch-for-inch comparisons, and frankly such a pursuit would be silly. That's like saying Nadal's FH wouldn't be so great if he weren't a lefty.

    As you may have noticed I've had Feaver in my list of potential candidates for a long time and would love for anyone to provide us with some useful info on his serve.

    Yes, it's true that most of the times a player serves a historically high # of aces he usually proceeds to lose the match, but I'm somewhat doubtful the reverse is true in terms of DFs, mainly because 1) proportionally speaking players often post a lot more aces than DFs and 2) if you fail to serve an ace you still have a good chance of winning the point, whereas when you DF the point is lost for good.

    Speaking of which I remember watching Verdasco throw one DF after another in his '10 AO 4th-rounder against Davydenko and wondering if he'd top Goran's 20 DFs in the '98 Wimby final. He went on to tie but not exceed Goran's total, and of course the player in both cases lost the match.

    As with just about everything in life there's a sweet spot between two extremes here. Obviously 50% or lower is a poor 1st-serve % but if you're serving nearly 80% you probably can afford to be more adventurous. Likewise 0-2 DFs per match (which I must add isn't actually all that rare today) is perhaps a little too conservative but 20 or more DFs is likely pushing it in the other direction. The trick is finding that balance between the two all-or-nothing options, and its precise whereabouts depend on numerous factors including opponent, surface, health/condition, weather, etc.

    Hey Moose, thanks a lot for that link. That guy's got quite a collection! I wish he had all his stat-filled posts under a separate heading but his site will definitely be among the primary starting points for my future research.

    And it's interesting to see Arthurs had 1 fewer ace than Ancic but thumped him in unreturned-serve %. Yet another case in point we shouldn't rely too much on ace counts to judge a player's serving efficiency.
     
  37. Dan Lobb

    Dan Lobb Hall of Fame

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    Serving efficiency should probably be defined as success in holding serve, period. Some low velocity servers such as Rosewall could defend their serves from attack by accuracy and volleying efficiency. Gonzales always rated the "deceptive" server ahead of the merely fast server, much like the baseball pitchers with "movement" on their pitches are more difficult to hit than those with relatively straight trajectories on their fastballs, no matter how fast.
     
  38. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    Came across articles about Arthurs-Dent 02 Wimbledon that say he had 32 aces and 79 unreturned serves. If aces are included in the 79, it makes 49% unreturned serves; if it doesn't, it makes it 70% unreturned. Arthurs served 159 points and lost 37 points on serve. If the 70% is correct, that means Dent got 48 returns in play and won 37 of them. I dunno if that is plausible, for Arthurs to be so dominant on serve, but not do that well when the return was put in play. Also as far as high double faults in a winning effort, the first match that comes to mind was Rosset d Courier in Davis Cup(15)
     
    vive le beau jeu ! likes this.
  39. NonP

    NonP Professional

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    You obviously haven't been paying much attention. I and others have addressed this point a zillion times. Yes, holding serve means a lot, but not everything when you're talking about serves as stand-alone shots. If you're really interested to learn start with my last two responses to Romismak and go from there.

    BTW here's another thread you might find interesting:

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/inde...orite-memorable-concerts-performances.544305/

    I'm guessing you've got a couple anecdotes you might wanna share. Just don't go overboard with all things Hoad, 'cause this is a general-interest thread. :D (Speaking of which I need to start updating that one myself.)

    It does seem like 49% to me as well. As you know we have yet to see 70% from anyone, unless we assume that Llodra was able to maintain his ridiculous 71% against Isner three years ago after the 1st set (which you yourself cited) or that Karlovic was able to exceed his 66.7% against Bracciali in their '05 Wimby 1st-rounder by over 3%. And while Arthurs is closer to Ivo and Isner than to Pete and Fed in overall game I find it hard to believe that while he was so zoned in on serve he also managed to lose nearly 80% of his ground exchanges with Dent, who wasn't exactly a world-beater in his own right.

    And Pete himself had 13 DFs against Agassi in his very last match. Can't imagine anyone who saw it thinking Pete's 2nd serve let him down that day. As expected he was going for 2nd-serve aces against arguably the greatest returner of all time on the grandest stage, and as was his wont quite often succeeded. But if we were to listen to the wannabe experts we should accept that Sampras' overrated 2nd serve would take a backseat to that of Karlovic and Isner in the same situation, when we know that Ivo actually tried the same thing against Murray but largely failed at this year's Wimbledon, and in an earlier round and on grass to boot despite ending up with a record # of aces (per match) for the tournament, and that John's % of 2nd-serve points won often sees a steep decline against the top 10-20. But hey, we should try to be "objective." The numbers are our best recourse! ;)
     
  40. Dan Lobb

    Dan Lobb Hall of Fame

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    The point is, judging a serve only makes sense not as a stand-alone shot, but as part of winning a point or holding a serve. Thus, a "deceptive" or spun serve, while slower than a cannonball, may be just as effective in winning a point.
     

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