Greatest Serves of All Time

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

  1. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    These are the two points I think of when I think of Arthurs: his serve motion was wonderfully relaxed....one of the best this way, and it was well disguised. He claimed to be able to hit most of his serves off the same toss and to have developed a huge number of variations of spin. I did see several of his matches (though sometimes only parts of), but of course, it was difficult to follow him, given his lack of air-time! I also never saw him live.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2010
  2. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    pc1, good food for thought, but I've got a few issues. I'll go over them one by one.

    I'm rather skeptical about Braden's claim here, much as I respect the man. As you may know even Roddick and Karlovic don't regularly serve over 140 mph today, and the mileage a proficient server gains by switching from wood to graphite is actually negligible. Perhaps Braden was embellishing a little bit? And maybe Datacipher, who seems to know Braden personally, could give us his take.

    I don't disagree that aces aren't everything. One must also look at the service winners, the weak returns the server forces from his opponent, the percentage of 1st serves in, placement, etc. That's why I've been reluctant to rank the old-timers so far. It seems that most of us aren't old enough to have followed their career and give us their observations regarding these variables and more. I'd love to give more than mere honorary mentions to Tilden, Vines, Kramer and especially Gonzales. I just feel the evidence we have right now is too lacking for us to rank them with a fair degree of accuracy.

    And just for the record let me stress that I don't think the rule change allowing the server to jump is the one and only difficulty to deal with in these comparisons. After all Curren and Stich didn't hop much on their serves, but they could generate plenty of heat. Another thing to consider is that even after the change in '60 the servers back then didn't go for as many aces and unreturnables as their modern counterparts. Of course that's another reason why aces aren't the only stat we should look at.

    This ranking is fair, but I'm curious why you think Mac > Becker and Noah > Curren.

    I've seen the Wimbledon match, but, you know, it's only one match. Is your judgment based on Ashe's serving over his entire career? And where in the above ranking do you think he belongs?

    Also I see your point on Dibley.

    As I've noted throughout this thread, I believe clutch is more attributable to mental strength than service mechanics per se. And I'm very wary of evaluating a player's serve based on his percentage of service games held, let alone his % of games won. These two stats, especially the latter, tell me more about his all-round game than his serve itself. I don't doubt that Borg had an excellent serve, but is it one of the all-time greats? That's the important question to me. I want this list to feature only the best of the best, not just every excellent serve we've seen in our lifetime.

    One recurring variable that bothers me about Arthurs' serve is his rather low 1st-serve percentage. I just checked the stats of about a hundred of his matches, and they again show that he did often struggle to put more than half of his 1st serves in play. Of course when it was on it could be deadly--for example he served 38 aces (and 7 double faults) against Corretja at the '99 USO when he got just under 60% (59%) of his 1st serves in--but this is an exception rather than a regular occurrence. I've seen only about half a dozen matches where he served over 60% (and only one where he served over 70%), and at least a dozen and a half where he served near or below 40%. That tells me his serve had a small margin for error like that of Curren, Noah and particularly Rusedski. And he also could commit a rather high number of double faults; nearly or over 10 double faults per match weren't very rare for him.

    I can see that Arthurs' serve deserves extra points for its variety, but it's hard for me to rank it so high (just under Goran and Ivo) given these caveats. Maybe below Krajicek and Roddick but above Stich?

    BTW a fun stat: Arthurs won 100% of his 1st-serve points against Fish at '00 Newport while serving only at 48% (though, to be fair, Fish was ranked 556th at the time). The Aussie had 16 aces and 4 double faults.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2010
  3. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Good post. The McEnroe-Becker and Noah-Curran ranking is an opinion and I do think it can be reverse. I think it's very close. Becker clearly had more speed in his serve than McEnroe but the Mac can opener serve in the ad court was pretty effective over the years so I ranked him above Becker just in my mind's eye. Becker had a great serve.

    As far as Noah and Curran is concerned, again an opinion because I've seen Noah serve and the great effectiveness of his serve against players like Lendl and Vilas, both excellent returners. Curran's serve was excellent but people generally only spoke of it in certain years at Wimbledon. When Curran was serving well he could blow people away.
     
  4. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    Gotcha. One small beef I have is that one could make the same point about Noah's serve that you did about Curren's, except that the Frenchman's was more recognized on clay, though that probably has a lot to do with the fact that Noah was a bit of a clay-court specialist (and a net-rushing one at that).

    Any input on where Ashe stands? I've been hoping to get more details on him, Smith and Vijay Amritraj but so far you're the only one who has weighed in on these three (and Dibley).
     
  5. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    Hey NonP, I have met Braden, received coaching from him, and talked quite ab it about tennis, but I have never talked specifically about Pancho's speed.

    Having said that, in Tennis 2000, he says that he has no doubt Pancho would "serve in the 140mph zone"...he doesn't actually say "regularly". Having said that, I don't even have a huge problem with him if had said it (even though, as I'm sure you can tell, I hate tennis myths and misrepresentations), because "regularly" has so much wiggle-room. Many of the biggest servers have had quite a range in their top ends...so I've been heard to tell people that Roddick regularly hits 140mph....even though, he has gone months without doing so....yet in other conditions, at other times in his career, on other radars, he's done it in multiple matches in a row...or multiple times per match. I might say that Rusedksi "regularly" hit in the 130's...even though, he to played many a match where he didn't get out of the 120's(albeit in a slightly different radar era).

    But I do agree with you, that my guess is that Pancho would NOT serve in the 140's any more regularly than Roddick....though perhaps I shouldn't say that because I do think he'd hit his top end speeds much more regularly than the very up-and-down Roddick. But, I don't think he'd beat Roddick's top end, I suspect his TOP end would be around 140mph...but that he might well "regularly" (there it is again...perhaps I should say in the majority of his matches hit multiple serves) into the 130's.

    So, I don't really know what Braden would say, it is possible he might think Pancho would often hit the high numbers because he loved the Gonzalez motion so much, and I think it's often the most relaxed, the most grooved motions that regularly hit their top end. eg. Sampras. Hate to quote Carillo (as I don't think she's an authority on this), but I remember even at the 1990 USO, when Trabert and Sommerall were noting that Sampras wasn't the only player clocking near 120mph (heh, radar!), Carillo said wisely "yeah, but Sampras does it regularly...he has such a great relaxed motion, and in that motion there's an awful lot of natural power...it's not a stretch for him to hit 120..."

    It often seems to be the guys who are perhaps a bit more effortful who go up and down more in top mph eg. Roddick, Courier, Rusedski etc...certainly it seems intuitive that their timing, muscular effort, tightness etc, may be more variable, and prone to breakdown and inefficiency.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2010
  6. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Thanks Datacipher. Excellent information. I guess I really should have checked Tennis 2000 and quoted it before I relied on my memory. Did Braden ever discuss the Gonzalez service motion in the lessons and if he did what did he say?
     
  7. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    Data, thanks for your input. I've no doubt Sampras (to whom you rightly compared Gonzales in this respect) would be able to serve over 140 mph according to today's radar guns, but the majority of his top-end speeds would fall within the 130s. Roddick, on the other hand, is more up and down and his top-end speeds are higher. Sounds just about right. Too bad clips of Gonzales in his prime are hard to come by.
     
  8. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Sampras is a good example of a server, who while he didn't match the top speeds of some of the big servers, hit the server tremendously hard with great spin AND top placement. It made Sampras arguably the best server ever.

    I think Gonzalez was along the same lines as Sampras, perhaps he served harder on average or maybe a little less speed, that's all debatable but I think it's safe to think they were on the same level as far as quality of serve.
     
  9. Rabbit

    Rabbit G.O.A.T.

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    Pancho Gonzalez taught me how to serve. Seriously. Many, many moons ago, he wrote an article for Tennis magazine in which he described how to hit the 3 basic serves, 1) flat, 2) slice, and 3) kick. He used peeling an orange as an example for each. Being 14-ish, I read the article with great ferver. I then actually tried to employ the techniques he described.

    It worked. And it worked well, especially the kick part. I wound up being able to hit two kick serves, one that came in and bounced the way it looked like it should bounce, and one that came in and bounced the other way. To this day, it is the single best serve in mixed doubles. When I try to hit some pace to the women, invariably my partner will walk back and remind me "No, hit the curvy one...". There were many days I went to the courts alone with a bucket of balls and did nothing but practice my serve. It definetly payed off.

    IMO, the greatest serves of all time is one big tie... The best serves I've seen belonged to:
    • Pancho Gonzalez
    • Goran Ivanisevic
    • Roscoe Tanner
    • John Newcombe
    • Stan Smith
    • John McEnroe
    • Bjorn Borg
    • Pete Sampras
    • Richard Kraijcek
    • Michael Stich
    • Boris Becker
    • John Isner
    • Ivan Ljubicic
    • Andy Roddick
    I'm sure there are others, but just a quick skim of the best is bulleted above. If I had to cherry pick my favorite among them, it would be Richard Kraijcek and John McEnroe but for different reasons.

    Kraijcek was just surgical with his S/V game when he was on. His serves were to the corners and his motion was efficient and mechanically one of the best I've ever seen. Sampras said Kraijcek was one of two players who he was afraid of on grass with the other being Ivanisevic. Between those two though, I always thought Kraijcek was more sound off the ground and especially at net. Kraijcek volleys were not spectacular like McEnroe, Becker, or Edberg, but they were precise and efficient. His game was geared toward one thing, getting him to the net. Kraijcek played offensive tennis as well as anyone I've ever seen.

    McEnroe was almost the polar opposite of Kraijcek, IMO. Where Kraijcek hit aces, McEnroe threw strikes. McEnroe's use of spin and placement on serve were a marvel. He did share one thing in common with Kraijeck, his game was built around his athleticism and ability to get to net. At net though McEnroe was a different animal all together. His volleys were deft and usually landed inside the service box, or if he was feeling it, within a couple of feet of the net time and time again. McEnroe was the most splendid employer of angles that I have ever seen. He also backed up his net game with the quickest backward move I've ever seen on overheads and a solid smash always followed that move. His game was not overpowering on the pro level, but it was smothering.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2010
  10. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    And clutch. I know this is a cliche, but Sampras wouldn't be afraid to go for 2nd-serve aces even on crucial break points. I really can't recall how many times I shook my head at the sheer audacity of it. The greatest clutch server I've seen by far.

    But again I attribute clutch more to mental strength than service mechanics, hence Sampras' 3rd ranking.

    I don't disagree. I'll definitely give this more thought. I do think Gonzales deserves to be on the list.
     
  11. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    Rabbit, great post. But you gotta come up with some kind of a ranking, man. I can't give out that many ties. :)

    Interesting that you mention Ljubicic. I can see him being 4th behind Karlovic, Roddick and Isner in the last few years, but one of the all-time great servers? That's pushing it, IMO. Yes, a great kicker, lots of power and so on, but except for Ivo, Andy and John I frankly don't see any of today's servers in the Hall of Fame.
     
  12. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Rabbit, I echo what NonP wrote in saying that this is a great post. I like your list.
     
  13. abmk

    abmk Talk Tennis Guru

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    separating that way is a bit tricky - what is the point in having a great serve if you can't utilise it to win the big matches and get yourself out of tricky situations ( especially since it is the one stroke you have the most control over ) ? While I see your point, I don't completely agree with it ...

    fair enough !
     
  14. Pioneer

    Pioneer Professional

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    1. Sampras
    2. Sampras
    3. Sampras
    4. Ivanisevic
    5. Safin/Karlovic

    oh and did I mention Pete? :p
     
  15. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    Well, of course a great serve should come in handy in tricky situations. Though I didn't make this clear in the OP, I'm assuming that the server already has a well-rounded game (including mental strength) in addition to his serve. After all this thread is a continuation of the GOAT discussions we've been having in this forum. Maybe I should add this note to the OP.
     
  16. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Ashe was recognized as one of the top servers in the late 1960's, along with Pancho Gonzalez and John Newcombe. I believe in the early 1970's he had some sort of injury that impacted the speed of his serve. At that time he had possibly the fastest flat serve in tennis plus the best slice serve in tennis. He could really pull you wide with his slice serve in the deuce court.

    I was at a clinic for that Arthur Ashe gave shortly after he had a procedure on his foot for a heel problem that he had. Ashe came to the clinic with a cast on his foot. Which foot I don't remember. However if memory serves he was teaching all of us hackers how to hit a slice serve and he mentioned that you don't necessarily want to hit the slice with great pace but to hit it hard enough for the spin to take effect and you could slice it wide.

    He was known for hitting incredible serving streaks where he would serve a lot of aces.

    Stan Smith had a great serve for pure power and for a while there he was perhaps (with Newcombe not working hard enough and perhaps having some injuries) the best or at worst one of the best serves in tennis. I'm not sure if he had the variety of serves that Newcombe or Ashe had but it was a dynamite serve backed up by his huge reach at the net and it made him very hard to break. Smith also had one of the best overheads I've seem. His backhand overhead was perhaps the best I've ever seem.

    Stan Smith declined quickly. A lot of it perhaps had to do with the fact that many tennis tournaments were switching to clay like the US Open but many have mentioned how he seemed to have lost a lot of power on his serve and without his serve, he was a good enough all around player to succeed. It may have been an injury. Smith at his best had a serve around the Boris Becker level.

    Vijay had a terrific serve but I think it was somewhat below Smith and Ashe.
     
  17. petetheileet

    petetheileet Rookie

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    When Federer serves his best i dont see anyone beating him...

    that alone puts him up near the top 10 for me

    But Sampras heads the list for me
     
  18. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    I couldn't find any decent video clips of Stan Smith serving but here's Arthur Ashe against Laver at the 1969 Wimbledon.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpdPX9avs1M

    Notice how great both player's backhands are also.
     
  19. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    pc1, thanks for the info. Would you also care to estimate where Ashe and Smith rank compared to Newcombe, Tanner, McEnroe, Becker, Noah and Curren?
     
  20. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    It's hard to say. Ashe did have one of the best serves in the world in a time dominated by Laver, Rosewall and Newcombe but it declined later. But according to Jack Kramer he regained his service motion back in 1975 but it didn't have quite the big crack anymore. Ashe probably had a better serve than Stan Smith when he was healthy. Kramer compared Ashe's serve in the late 1960's to Ellsworth Vines and to Kramer that was the peak.

    Stan Smith had a great serve and he used it to arguably become number one for several years or at least close to number one. I had the feeling Ashe's serve was superior on his good day but Smith in his prime had an overall better serve but it's been years since I've seen Smith serve, even on video so my memories of his serve is fading. I think Smith's serve is clearly below Newcombe's and that was the consensus at the time. John Alexander wrote that Smith's serve was very fast and he gets a lot of first balls in but he thought it was overrated. Overrated in this case doesn't mean it's bad considering how the press built up Smith's serve at that time.

    McEnroe's serve was a different serve from the others in that his serve was so well disguised and he had that great hook in the ad court that won so many points for him. It wasn't as powerful but it was about as effective as any serve. I would tend to rank Mac's serve as superior to Smith's.

    Tanner's serve may have given the receiver the least amount of time to return the ball once the service motion started than any server I've ever seen. That to me is a big deal. However according to Alexander, he felt Tanner's serve lacked variety but that when he got it in it didn't matter. It's certainly about as impressive a serve as I've ever seen in person and I've seen Sampras, Noah, Newcombe, Ashe and Becker among others. It just went in like lightning and hit the back wall.

    Becker obviously had one of the great serves and I think overall it was clearly more effective than Noah's and Curren's for average effectiveness.

    Newcombe is number one to me. McEnroe is number two. Becker, Ashe or Tanner could be number three. Tanner and Ashe are better than Becker when they hit their serving streaks. Smith would be next. Then I would guess Noah and last Curren but it's all conjecture. I'm fairly confidence with the top two. My favorite serve to watch of this group is Tanner.

    I compare Newcombe to Pete Sampras as far as serving is concerned. Both had big serves with very heavy spin. Arthur Ashe described Newcombe's serve in his book "Arthur Ashe-Portrait in Motion" on page 33-"But if you ask me who has the best serve in the world, I would say Newcombe, and John really hasn't got a fast serve. He hits a heavyserve, which mixes spin with velocity. Neale Fraser had a great heavy serve when I first came up; Pasarell and Tony Roche are a couple of others who hit tough heavy balls. If you are returning a heavy serve, you need more than timing to get it back; you need strength too. A good heavy serve from somebody like Newcombe can turn the racket in your hand."


    I saw a video analysis of Sampras' serve when they compared it to Greg Rudsedski and Rudsedski's serve I believe came off the racket faster but because of the faster rotations the Sampras serve was faster when it reached the receiver. I think Newcombe's serve was similar to Pete's in that way. Newcombe also had a great Twist serve that was the best in tennis. Sampras was also known for having the best second serve in Men's tennis.

    Don't hold me to this. I could change my mind tomorrow. lol.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2010
  21. droliver

    droliver Professional

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    Agree 100%. It is utterly implausible given the equipment, training, and athleticism differences in these eras that players approached modern serve velocity with any regularity. How exactly was 140 mph estimated as well?

    It's not like throwing a baseball where the tech factors and throwing technique is relatively unchanged for 100 years (although there are more players throwing harder and longer then before). While a heavy wooden racket with max effort has enough mass to club a ball close to graphite speeds that is not sustainable repetatively. I think Roscoe Tanner was the first modern freakshow with serve velocity that could be verified with modern speed guns and graphite composite rackets..
     
  22. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    Actually, it's a lot like throwing a baseball. The only "tech" factor that has changed is the racquet, and almost all evidence we have has shown very little difference due to the racquet. Something which many of us have tested anecdotally as well.

    Ok, then you admit a heavy wooden racquet has enough mass to club a ball close to graphite speeds...but then you state that it is not "sustainable repetatively"(sp). What is your evidence? I've read quite a few papers on biomechanics in the area of weighted throwing, but I have to look back into it to see if any evidence supports your hypothesis. Certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence does not seem to. Sampras for example, seemed to have no problem sustaining his serve speed with a racquet weighted as heavy or even heavier than some wood racquets. The same has been true for some other athletes. It is worth noting that the papers I've read may not apply as we are only talking about a couple of ounces in difference. In addition, Kevin Curren, who's speed was also verified by radars, played with wood until a much later date, and seemed to have no difficulty sustaining his speed. Serve speed is almost completely reliant on inherent speed strength/acceleration, timing, and technique. I have trouble believing the premise that players were not able to sustain their speed due to racquet...nor due to some strange inferiority in athleticism that allowed them to hit as hard as modern players...but only for a little while?

    I think it even more odd that you then mention Tanner as having been verified. First, a number of servers from Tanner's era were measured with high velocities. Second, Tanner wasn't using graphite. Third, we were talking about Gonzales, who came very shortly after Gonzales, and in fact was coached by Pancho at one point. Its worth noting that he, and many of his peers, for example, Ashe, had great respect for Pancho's serve.
     
  23. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Some WOMEN like Venus Williams have approached 130 mph. I think Pancho Gonzalez would approach and surpass many of the current era. I think the same of Roscoe Tanner, who incidentally was timed at 135 mph on the Senior Tour and that was faster than the record of 134 mph on the regular ATP tour at the time. This is in the early 1990's I believe.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2010
  24. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    pc1, I really appreciate your input for the past couple of weeks. I'll probably post my updated (and expanded) list later today. Stay tuned.
     
  25. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    They might have used cinematic film footage, where you photograph the ball in flight and then measure how far it travels while being filmed. If one knows the standard film speed (for instance 18 fps, 24 fps, or 32 fps), then it is quite accurate and not affected by any of the conditions that plagued early radar guns.
     
  26. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    Here's a new update. As you can see the list has been revised and expanded:

    1. Ivanisevic
    2. Karlovic
    3. Sampras
    4. Krajicek
    5. Roddick
    6. Stich
    7. Newcombe
    8. Tanner
    9. McEnroe
    10. Becker
    11. Curren
    12. Noah
    13. Rusedski
    14. Edberg

    Honorary mentions: Tilden, Vines, Kramer

    For the record I'm still not sure if Newcombe ranks above Tanner. pc1 cited a couple of sources giving Newk the edge and seconded the verdict himself, but west coast 2 hander gave the nod to Tanner and noted that the southpaw's peak came a few years later than Newk's. Anyone else wanna weigh in? I'll list a few pros and cons so you guys can decide better.

    Pros for Newcombe: Heavier serve, nasty spin, and more variations. Also one of the all-time great 2nd serves.
    Cons: Not the fastest one around and not exactly an ace machine.

    Pros for Tanner: Huge maximal speed. Perhaps gives the returner the shortest reaction time out of all these GOAT contenders, including Goran. And lefty to boot.
    Cons: Little margin for error. Less variety. Also his relatively low net clearance could lead to quite a few double faults.

    I'm also undecided on Stich vs. Newk (or Tanner). Stich not only had a big 1st serve but also a top-notch 2nd serve that Sampras picked out of all his top rivals' (though, of course, it's debatable whether Stich's was the very best), which is why I initially put him rather high, but Newk is no slouch himself in the 2nd-serve department. Any input from those who have seen both in their prime would be appreciated.

    And does anyone know what Tanner, Curren and Noah's 1st-serve percentages were like? I've penalized Rusedski for his rather low percentage, but now I'm beginning to think I'm either being too harsh on him or not being harsh enough on Tanner, Curren and Noah.

    On to the other candidates. You can read my earlier posts on Arthurs for more details, but to wit, I think his rather low 1st-serve percentages and relatively high double-fault counts put him below Krajicek, but still above Stich. Whether he ranks above Roddick is debatable. And I've mentioned that Philippoussis and Isner boast a great 2nd serve themselves in addition to a huge 1st serve. One could also make a case for Forget, Rosset and Joachim Johansson, but again I'm not too sure about Pim Pim because his time on the pro tour was so short.

    Rabbit has named Ljubicic as one of the greats, but among the currently active bomb-throwers I see only Karlovic, Roddick and Isner in the Hall of Fame. If you disagree, tell us why you think he should be up there. I won't mention Ljubicic again unless I see at least one strong case for his inclusion.

    Also this is the last time I'm mentioning these names. If you think any of the following should be included you'd better let us know now (I've already explained why it's too difficult to rank Denton and Dent with a fair degree of accuracy): Borg, Denton, Lendl, Leconte, Warner, Goellner, Rafter, Dent, Federer.

    BTW anyone else wanna comment on Sadri? So far west coast 2 hander is the only one who has given props to his serve.

    That leaves us with the (mostly) pre-Borg candidates. FYI pc1 ranked them in this order:

    Newcombe > McEnroe > Becker, Ashe or Tanner > Smith > Noah > Curren

    Besides placing Curren ahead of Noah (I've seen a fair amount of these two) and Tanner ahead of McEnroe (pc1 ranked Roscoe above Mac himself in an earlier post), I agreed with this ranking for the most part. Now some of you may think Mac ranks above Tanner as well, but let me again stress that we're trying to rate these players' serves as pure stand-alone shots. Yes, Mac's serve had top-notch disguise, variety and placement and, as pc1 pointed out, his great hook in the ad court won him many points, but would his serve be as effective for a non-S&Ver? That's the important question to me, whether the player's serve would suit all playing styles. (I suppose we could create two separate rankings--one for net-rushers and the other for baseliners--but that would make this discussion even more hopeless than it already is.) Also note that Tanner was a lefty himself and his serve all but impossible to read as well.

    And pc1 also said that Dibley's inconsistency and tendency to serve a little too many double faults put him out of contention, and that Vijay Amritraj's serve, while terrific, was a notch below Ashe's or Smith's. Anyone disagree? Make your case now or I won't be bringing up these two in my subsequent posts.

    Now the remaining question is where Ashe and Smith should be ranked. I refer you to pc1's extensive posts above on these two, but for those without much time to spare, here's a brief synopsis:

    Ashe was recognized as one of the top servers in the late '60s, along with Gonzales and Newcombe. He was also known for incredible serving streaks where he would serve lots of aces, perhaps better than Becker in this respect. Back then he had possibly the fastest flat serve plus the best slice serve, which could pull his opponent wide in the deuce court. Ashe probably had a better serve than Smith when he was healthy. Kramer himself compared Ashe's serve in the late 60s to Vines', no small praise as the latter was the peak in Kramer's mind.

    Smith's serve, if perhaps lacking the variety of Newcombe's or Ashe's, had great power and was at its best comparable to Becker's. And while Ashe's was probably superior on his good day Smith in his prime might well have served better. John Alexander wrote that Smith's serve was very fast and he got a lot of 1st serves in, but thought it was overrated.

    Any additional input on these two would be welcome.

    Finally let me remind you that I'm willing to give an honorable mention to Fraser among the old-timers. So far we have Hoad rating his serve above Gonzales'. A few more contemporary accounts praising his serve in similar terms would do the trick.
     
  27. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    NonP,

    On Newcombe being rated higher than McEnroe, I would lean that way but it's very close and if someone ranked McEnroe higher, it wouldn't bother me a bit.
     
  28. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    pc1, I think there's some misunderstanding. The one I was comparing McEnroe to was Tanner, not Newcombe. Or were you referring to that earlier part comparing Newcombe and Tanner?
     
  29. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    With all these great servers the differences aren't huge but yes I do rank Newcombe ahead of Tanner and McEnroe but only by a little.

    And yes I assumed that you thought I ranked Newcombe over McEnroe and I do so I was referring to McEnroe in the last post.
     
  30. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    pc1, I don't object to your ranking Newcombe above Tanner and McEnroe. I'm just not as sure about the first two, so I listed those pros and cons to see if anyone's got a different view. If no one objects the current ranking of these three will stay as it is.
     
  31. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    That's fine with me. I like the way you set up this thread. It's good that there is all this input and information shared.
     
  32. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    Thanks, pc1.

    And here are a few service stats for Newcombe and Tanner that I've pulled from the TT archives (hat tip to krosero). Do note that these are just for the record. I wouldn't put too much stock in these stats while comparing the serves of these two greats.

    Stats for Newcombe:

    '69 Wimbledon final against Laver
    - Made 49% (65/132) of his 1st serves. By set:

    45% (17/38)
    58% (21/36)
    43% (12/28)
    50% (15/30)

    '70 Wimbledon final against Rosewall
    - Hit 6 aces and 7 double faults.
    - Served at 54%, making 86 of 158 1st serves.
    - Got his 1st serve in on 10 of 17 break points (59%).
    - Won 100 of 158 points on his serve (63%).

    Stats for Tanner, all matches against Borg:

    Had 10 aces in the '76 Wimbledon SF and 19 aces and 26 service winners in the '80 USO QF.

    '79 Wimbledon final
    - Hit 15 aces and 4 double faults.
    - Served at 53%, making 89 of 167 1st serves. (The Washington Post has Tanner making 91 of 167 first serves, or 54.5%. The NY Times has 57%.) By set:

    58.14% (25/43)
    38.89% (7/18)
    52.27% (23/44)
    69.23% (18/26)
    44.44% (16/36)

    - Got his 1st serve in on 9 of 15 break points (60%). Was broken twice on 1st and on 2nd each.
    - Won 79% on 1st (70/89) and 46% on 2nd (36/78). Drew 9 return errors with a 2nd serve, a few by coming in and forcing Borg to do more with the return.
    - In the 5th set, made only 44% of his 1st serves (16/36) and had 4 aces (1 on 2nd serve) and 1 double. Won 11 of the 16 1st-serve points, a somewhat low 69%, and 11 of 20 2nd-serve points, a rather high 55% normally enough to win the match.
     
  33. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    This is what I've got for some of the top servers among the older players. It's all from various sources (my stats, Moose Malloy's, and print and television media).

    NEWCOMBE
    1969 W final (d. by Laver) – 49%
    1970 W final (d. Rosewall) – 54%
    1975 AO final (d. Connors) – 62%


    TANNER
    1976 W QF (d. Connors) – 49%
    1977 WITC final (d. by Borg) – 46% in first set
    1979 W final (d. by Borg) – 53%
    1979 USO QF (d. Borg) – 49%
    1980 W QF (d. by Connors) – 43%
    1980 USO (d. by Borg) – dropped in the last two sets to 53% and 54%
    1981 USO QF (d. by Borg) – 49%


    ASHE
    1968 USO final (d. Okker) – 62% in first 26 games
    1969 W SF (d. by Laver) – 63%
    1975 W SF (d. Roche) – 60%
    1975 W final (d. Connors) – 73%


    SMITH
    1972 W final (d. Nastase) – 64%
    1973 WITC final (d. by Laver) – 64%
    1974 W SF (d. by Rosewall) – 71%
    1974 WITC SF (d. by Borg) – 65%


    CURREN
    1983 W, R16 (d. Connors) – 72%
    1984 AO final (d. by Wilander) – 51%
    1985 W final (d. by Becker) – 46%


    NOAH
    1983 RG final (d. Wilander) – 58% (after 30 games)
    1986 Forest Hills SF (d. Lendl) – 52% (first set)
    1986 Forest Hills final (d. Vilas) – 72%


    Rusedski served at 60% in the 1997 USO final (d. by Rafter) according to the Hartford Courant. The ATP has him at 62% because of a problem they have with their stats in 1990s; it tends to inflate the service percentages of anyone who serves a lot of aces. Not sure if you're using their stats, but for anyone who's not aware of it, I did a thread on the problem: http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?p=2812426#post2812426

    Thanks to NonP for using my stats above (nice to see posters digging in the archives).
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2010
  34. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Ashe did say that at Forest Hills in 1986, but he might have judged it differently after seeing more of Becker's career. In the spring of '86 Becker had not even won his second Wimbledon.
     
  35. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    Krosero, I think your stats support what I mentioned about Tanner's serve percentage, and margin for error. Let me also add, and I think I mentioned this to previously. Rusedksi's numbers can be misleading. In that sense, he could be a little old school in his strategy. He tried to keep his percentage up, by putting in a lot of relatively mediocre spin serves as 1st serves. I say mediocre in that they weren't particularly well placed, or powerful. They were....solid..even strong....but didn't put fear in anybody. When Rusedski had a great day, he could put in his heaters with a decent percentage, but relative to people like Krajicek, Sampras etc. he really didn't get his heater in very much. It was the fastest gun on the block, but he couldn't even use it all that much. Especially if the other guy could make him pay on his second serve, and again, I didn't think Rusedski's second serve was all that great.

    incidently, I don't know much about Sadri. I remember seeing a couple of his matches...that's it. He did have a huge serve however. Curren once said in an article that his serve was not even in the top 10 fastest serves on the tour, and he mentioned a few other players by name...I THINK one of them might have been Sadri...I'd have to find the article. In any case, I also always remember that in the NCAA final when Sadri faced Mcenroe, which Mac won in 4 very tight sets, Mac aced him 3 times. Sadri aced mcenroe 24 times.
     
  36. droliver

    droliver Professional

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    What do you think of the correlation with the differences in racket materials as to serving % (wood -> metal -> graphite)? It would seem that we're seeing the raquets facilitating more margin for error with bigger strokes.

    The fact that Andy Roddick can put the % in play at the pace he generates is one of the more remarkable strokes in tennis history I'd submit.
     
  37. okdude1992

    okdude1992 Hall of Fame

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    karlovic
    ivanisevic
    sampras
    tanner
    roddick
    krajicek
    becker
    rusedski

    in that order
     
  38. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    A tennis magazine a few years ago did a serving speed test with Mark Philippoussis using a wood racket and the best current rackets of that time. I think when he used the wood rackets it was only slightly slower than the modern rackets. I would tend to think (just a guess) that the modern rackets and strings allow for more spin and like you wrote it allows for more margin of error allowing a higher percentage of first serves in. More surface for spin also with the larger modern rackets.
     
  39. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    krosero, thanks for those stats. I also think the stats for Tanner do show that his serve indeed had little margin for error. At the same time I think that's the only valid conclusion we can draw from those stats, as the sample sizes for the other players are unfortunately rather small. For example that '83 4th-round Wimbledon match was the infamous one where Curren served Connors off the court with 33 aces (and in 4 sets, against a returner pretty darn hard to ace!). We know Curren rarely served over 70%, and with that many aces to boot.

    Hopefully someone else can provide more stats for Newcombe. If he consistently served around, say, 55-65% it'd be hard for me not to give him the edge over Tanner.

    I believe I've read that post of yours before on the inaccuracy of the official ATP stats. Anyway thanks for the correction of Rusedski's 1st-serve percentage in the '97 USO final. Not sure if you've read my comment on his serve in the OP, but to wit, Greg often struggled to get more than half of his 1st serves in play (not as much as Arthurs, but pretty close). His percentages did improve a bit later in his career, but at the expense of effectiveness, as Data pointed out above.

    No problem at all. I actually think the roles are reversed here. :)

    Point taken. We're almost splitting hairs anyway. Mac and Becker are very close.

    I do think the bigger racquet heads can and do facilitate serving % somewhat. Has Roddick served with wood for an official test (a la Philippoussis)? The speed won't change a whole lot, but I'm interested to see if he'd get as many 1st serves in.
     
  40. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Here's a quote from an Atlantic Monthly article in July/August 2006 on wood rackets versus the modern rackets then.

    The tale of what tennis did not become begins with the racket, perhaps the most misunderstood implement in the history of sports. The composite, or “graphite,” racket, made from carbon fibers and other materials including Kevlar, took over the game in the 1980s. Composite rackets are routinely cited as the villain behind the surge in power in tennis, yet it is these rackets that saved the game from becoming an utterly boring one. The fact is that composite rackets help players hit better ground strokes, impart more spin, and return rocket serves, but they do very little to speed up serves. In 1997, in a comparative test done by Tennis magazine, Mark Philippoussis, the six-foot-five, 217-pound Australian renowned for his powerful serve, averaged 124 mph when serving with his own composite racket. With a classic wooden racket, he averaged 122 mph.


    Here's the link to the article which I find very interesting.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200607/tennis

    Considering that serving speeds have gone up substantially and that serving percentage is WAY UP I would tend to think racket technology has improved serving effectiveness in almost everything since Philippoussis did the test over a decade ago.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2010
  41. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Just wanted to second that, not to repeat the obvious, but it's worth repeating: those samples are really small.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2010
  42. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    I've read that article before, and it's hit-and-miss. While Perrotta gets the "graphite doesn't make one serve much faster" part right, he then predictably attributes the recent increase in average speed to the new generation's superior "raw physical power." Of course those of us who know a thing or two about radar technology in tennis can detect the BS right away: the increase was due to the radar guns, not the supposedly much stronger field of players.

    And one can dig just a little deeper to recognize the absurdity of this claim. As you may know, there was a piece in TENNIS Magazine a few years ago featuring a table of serve speeds over demarcated periods, which showed a slight increase in 120/130-mph serves from ’94-’99 but a disproportionate increase from ’99-’04. One needn't be a rocket scientist to see something was up here, as the tour in '04 consisted of many players from the older generation and overall ace counts were lower than in '99 and before. And it really should be common sense that people don't get so much more powerful so quickly, but the careless/ignorant media trot out the rigmarole and the gullible consumers buy it.

    But we can at least appreciate the irony on Perrotta's part: he hypes up the supposedly superior raw power of today's players while mentioning Philippoussis, no doubt one of the hardest hitters ever in the long history of tennis.

    Yes. That's why I hope someone who has seen these servers in their prime could tell us a little more about them and particularly Newcombe, Curren and Noah's 1st-serve percentages.
     
  43. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Unfortunately while I can say I've seen many of them in their prime, I never charted the matches to check first serve percentage, ace, service winners etc. I wish I had access to the information.

    One match I wished I had the information for the Newcombe-Connors match of 1973 at US Open. I believe Newcombe served about 15 aces and wasn't broken. In fact I'm 99.9999% positive he wasn't broken but I would be curious of the serving percentages, points won on first serve and second serve etc. All I remember is Newcombe had very few if any break points against him and Connors rarely threaten him when he was serving. Connors was only broken once the entire match and lost in straights.
     
  44. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    It's an interesting idea, and in fact, that's exactly what Tennis magazine tried to float...a conclusion that extra long graphite racquets don't increase power, but they do increase your percentage! (a common theory at the time...racquet companies also spouted this regularly, to assuage fears the game was becoming to fast!)

    Having said that the conclusion with Flipper was bunk. Too unscientific. The writer himself noted how inconsistent Flipper was, and how much trouble he had adjusting between frames, hitting serves into the back wall etc. At one point, he even declared he would just have to spin it in with the extra-long...now whether he did or not...they didn't bother mentioning except to say that after he adjusted "gone" was the talk of spinning it in. (note, I"m doing this by memory...so i'd have check details again). But then they touted the increase in his percentages with the extra-long! Too many variables, so wildly uncontrolled, (note as well, I believe he went LAST with the extra-long, so he'd also had the most time to get into a groove by then). I THINK his percentage with wood was also higher than with the regular graphite! In any case the average speed were all withing a couple mph of each other.

    I do think from anecdotal experience that you get more spin with a bigger headed racquet on the serve, but, it's hard to say how that tranlates...does it make a difference on the flat serve or not? Very difficult to know.
     
  45. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Recently I saw some articles on Google News with a little info. He had 13 aces and he wasn't broken though he fell back love-40 once in the first set.

    He won 6-4, 7-6 (5-4), 7-6 (5-4), so that's 17 straight holds.

    He also said after the match that he'd never served better.
     
  46. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Newcombe was such a smart percentage player that if more data on his service percentages turned up, I wouldn't be surprised if they were high. In the few matches I've seen of him, he's not just going for aces (though he hits a lot of them) but is trying to do various things with the serve (moving it around and using spin).

    Plus I've also seen articles here and there reporting how he got in a high percentage of first serves (without reporting an actual number).
     
  47. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

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    Newcombe also had a great second serve. It was one of the best of the Open Era and arguably the best. So even when he missed his first serve, he still had an excellent chance to win the point because of the high quality of his second serve.
     
  48. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I made a post in another thread about the 1978 W final, and how big a story Borg's serve was when that match was reported.

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showpost.php?p=4385134&postcount=282

    I've seen much of that material before, but I've been reading more articles from past decades, and I'm still impressed just how much of a story Borg's serve was in that match -- specifically, how much people thought it was a factor in Borg starting to dominate Connors (even with Jimmy having the best return in the game).

    I don't know whether or not Borg should get an honorable mention in this list. I know too little about too many of the servers to say where Borg belongs. But I think the articles I linked to (and the stats I gave for his serve in 1980-81) are probably the best evidence you're going to get for him.
     
  49. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

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    Well, Data, of course I don't think the test with Flipper was a scientific one. That would involve at least a controlled study that I doubt most players would be up for. But, like you said, it's an interesting idea.

    BTW do you have any opinion as to Rusedski's place on this list? I looked at the service stats of dozens of his matches, and they're quite impressive: lots of free points and some decent 1st-serve percentages--markedly better than Arthurs', actually. I still feel comfortable putting Newcombe and Tanner above him, but I'm not too sure about him vs. Curren and Noah.

    pc1 and krosero, given your input I see no reason to revise the current ranking. Newcombe over Tanner it is, unless one provides proof to the contrary.

    Just read the post. Here's what I've said about Borg's and other world-class serves in general on this thread:

    I don't mean to sound dismissive here. I've no doubt many a tennis player would be proud to have the serve of Borg or any other player on that "leftover" list. I just think there are a few elite ones that are even better, and that we're trying to rank and include on the "greatest" list.

    And just in case you don't already know, I've given honorable mentions to Tilden, Vines and Kramer because the evidence we have for these three is lacking, not because I consider their serves inferior to those on the numerical list.
     
  50. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    No it doesn't sound dismissive at all. The best way to make any list is to be rigorous about it -- and there's no doubt that there have been countless great serves in tennis. Particularly as stand-alone shots.
     

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