Greatest Serves of All Time

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

  1. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Do you remember how the crowd reacted?
     
  2. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    I didn't get the impression that the crowd was into the match. Lendl dominated so thoroughly that there wasn't anything for anyone to cheer about. Of course it's a long time ago and my memory could be failing me.

    It just seemed to my friend and I that every time McEnroe had a break point against Lendl's serve, Lendl would put in a huge serve, get a short return from McEnroe and he would put it away with his big forehand.
     
  3. sliceboy33

    sliceboy33 Rookie

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    The greatest serves of all time

    Tennis magazine editors along with a panel of seasoned tennis journalists have selected the greatest strokes of all time. The article can be found in the Dec 2002 / Jan 2003 edition.


    " SERVE - PANCHO GONZALEZ

    There had been monster serves before (Bill Tilden´s and Ellsworth Vines', to name two) but Ricardo Alonso Gonzalez's was the complete package and the foundation of a ruthless attacking game that made him the dominant force in pro tennis throughout the 1950´s. Jack Kramer pioneered the serve-and-volley "Big Game", but the 6-foot-2 "Lone Wolf" from East Los Angeles turned it into a brutal art; Lew Hoad, a frequent foe, said he "swatted the ball with a fierce, almost mean air." Gonzalez's delivery was compact, explosive and seemingly effortless; his serves, both first and second, combined power, versatility, and consistency under pressure and kept him in the game's upper echelon well beyond his prime. In 1969, at age 41, he finished No. 6 on the world. Take that, Jimmy Connors.

    Special Mention

    First serve - Ellsworth Vines:

    An elegant risk-taking player from California, Vines was most famous for his howitzer-like serve - he hit 30 aces in 12 service gaes en route to winning the 1932 Wimbledon final. Bunny Austin, his opponent that day, said that on the final ace he didn´t even see the ball go by.

    Second serve - Pete Sampras:

    Many players would be happy to have Sampras' second serve as their first, and for good reason: He hit it harder and disguises the location better than anyone in the business.

    Kick serve - Stefan Edberg:

    The form - he tossed the ball well behind him and arched his back into a crescent - looked painful, but the way Edberg kicked the ball high, rushed the net, and hit his first volley from well inside the service line was elegance in motion. "
     
  4. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Nice job. I saw the issue but I don't remember who they picked for the other strokes. Can you check it out and mention what strokes they picked?
     
  5. Changmaster

    Changmaster Rookie

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    I read that issue, too. If I remember correctly, here's who they picked for the men as best strokes ever:

    Return: Agassi

    Forehand: Lendl

    Backhand: Budge

    Volley: McEnroe

    Overhead: Sampras

    Passing Shot: Borg

    Drop Shot: Manuel Santana

    Lob: Bobby Riggs

    There were also numerous honorable mentions for each stroke. They also had best strokes for women as well.

    Remember, though, that it is a slightly dated issue; that is, I'm sure there would be some slight modifications if they redid the article today. Here is a more recent article, though by a different panel of experts:

    http://ontennis.com/content/tennis-shots

    Here's the list of experts for this article: Joel Drucker is a contributing editor at TENNIS magazine. The author is grateful for the assistance of many experts and former pros, including Brent Abel, John Barrett, Steve Flink, Mary Carillo, Trey Waltke, Chris Lewis, John Newcombe, Owen Davidson, Fred Stolle and Brian Gottfried.
     
  6. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Thanks Changmaster.

    Every one of the strokes look like reasonable choices. I don't agree with all of them but considering it was 2002, it's reasonable. It's funny how for years Budge was the default choice for backhand.

    Who were the choices among the women?
     
  7. Changmaster

    Changmaster Rookie

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    IIRC, they were:

    Serve: Navratilova

    Return: Seles

    Forehand: Graf

    Backhand: Evert

    Volley: Navratilova

    Overhead: Navratilova

    Lob: Tracy Austin

    Drop shot: Evert

    Passing shot: Evert?

    Funny how the choices for women are much less diverse than for the men. Basically the three greatest women players of all time: Navratilova, Evert, and Graf, cleaned house. Seems to agree with the notion that it has been easier to dominate on the women's tour than the men's.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2010
  8. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    All reasonable choices again. I'm surprised they picked Austin over Evert on the lob.

    Most of the male choices were fairly predictable also.

    The Agassi one to me is actually in some ways funny to me now because Michael Chang, during the 1990's actually broke serve more often by percentage than Agassi and isn't that the most important stat in returning serve?

    Nevertheless, it was a reasonable choice considering how Agassi is viewed. I would have picked a number of players over Agassi in that category.

    It's also amusing that Pancho Gonzalez was at one time Agassi's brother in law so in one family they had (according to the magazine) the greatest server and the greatest returner.
     
  9. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    umm, that's interesting. Any links to those stats ?

    But its not as simple as it looks because the quality of opponents played/surfaces etc matter a lot.
     
  10. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    I found it in an old tennisweek.com article. The website doesn't exist anymore but I printed the article so I'll see if I can find it.

    It was over the entire period of 1991 to 2000, a ten year period and considering it was Chang and Agassi, I sure the quality of the opponents were fairly close. I'm sure the surfaces were fairly close too as far as the amount on various surfaces. Neither one of them avoided certain surfaces.
     
  11. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    hmm, ok, I thought you were referring to year by year stats. And chang was ahead in a few years
     
  12. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Chang was ahead in a number of years.
     
  13. akv89

    akv89 Hall of Fame

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    Not necessarily. Nadal has been the tour leader the last couple years in returning games won despite not really having the best return of serve. He simply got the ball into play and then used his speed to take over the point, similar to what Chang used to do.
     
  14. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    That's always been something I've struggled with on this subject. Some players like Chang (and Chang could drive the ball back very well also but not quite on the level of Agassi in my opinion) may get the ball back more but not for the spectacular outright winners as much as Agassi and his physical speed and defensive ability may fit in better with this style to break serve. Rosewall could blast the serve back (he was known for destroying second serves) but usually angled the ball back at unusual angles and relied on his speed and defense to try to win the point. Chang and Rosewall may not have been as effective if they tried to return like Agassi and Agassi, with his lesser mobility may not have been effective if they tried to do it like Chang and Rosewall.

    Nadal may not have technically the best return but perhaps he had the best overall return game in some years if you include his speed. Like I wrote, what good is the best "return" if you don't win a good percentage of the return games. Isn't that the point?

    As with anything in tennis, the return depends on the style and the player's physical gifts.

    In this way I think Rosewall, Connors and Laver are among the best I've seen here because they could hit winners on both sides, got a lot of returns back and had great speed and defensive ability.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2010
  15. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    Interesting and good that you noticed Chang's numbers. Over the years, I often found that Agassi was not leading in various return of serve categories...in fact, sometimes he wasn't even near the top of the list in any area. Of course, sometimes those stats are skewed by clay-courters, who obviously tend to get a higher percentage of returnable serves, and a better chance of winning a return point. Not to mention, the reduced pressure from the luxury of having no worry that an SV is imminent.

    However, it also illustrates that the "experts" we sometimes turn to, are generally going off very subjective impressions. An Agassi for return, or certainly now a Federer for many categories, jumps to the mind of not only the fanboys but also the frequent observers due to exposure alone...

    Even among the players themselves, these opinions come with the same caveats: 1.that they obviously think of players they have played, and their impression will be HIGHLY skewed towards them....that's a no brainer
    2.they are more likely to be fearful of the 10% more power in the Agassi return than remember(or realize) that Chang actually breaks them 5% more often!
     
  16. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I would expect Agassi's numbers in all categories to be unimpressive in many years simply because of his inconsistency, meaning when he didn't put in his best effort or was otherwise absent. And Chang, in that sense, is Mr. Consistency.

    A comparison in 1995 would be interesting, because Agassi had such a great year, and Chang was also at his peak.
     
  17. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Here's the year by year
    1991
    Agassi 29% service games won 56 matches
    Chang 36% 67 matches-3rd in ATP
    1992
    Agassi 34% 57 matches-6th in ATP
    Chang 37% 80 matches-1st in ATP
    1993
    Agassi 37% 44 matches-1st in ATP
    Chang 33% 87 matches-5th in ATP
    1994
    Agassi 34% 66 matches-5th in ATP
    Chang 33% 87 matches-6th in ATP
    1995
    Agassi 36% 82 matches-2nd in ATP
    Chang 32% 84 matches- 8th in ATP
    1996
    Agassi 31% 52 matches-8th in ATP
    Chang 35% 84 matches-1st in ATP
    1997
    Agassi 28% 24 matches
    Chang 33% 68 matches-2nd in ATP
    1998
    Agassi 32% 86 matches 3rd in ATP
    Chang 30% 52 matches
    1999
    Agassi 33% 77 matches-1st in ATP
    Chang 26% 52 matches
    2000
    Agassi 28% 55 matches
    Chang 29% 68 matches-5th in ATP

    To quote the article-"As far as I can see here, there doesn't seem to be much difference between Agassi and Chang and both players played on a variety of surfaces. In fact if I just used the simple (and somewhat inaccurate method) of just adding up the percentages of breaking serve, Chang comes out ahead by two points over the 10 year period. This even looks better for Chang when we consider that he played 130 more matches than Agassi over this 10-year period."

    So what does this mean here? How can Agassi be the greatest returner of all time when perhaps he wasn't even the greatest returner of his own era?

    Chang had injury problems the last few years here.

    Agreed. That's why you cannot go just by impressions. It's the results that count. People remember the occasional fabulous shot by a player from one side and they immediate get an impression that that side is unbelievable but sometimes if you examine the facts, it's far from the truth. I find this happen quite often in tennis as opposed to other sports. Perhaps it's because the statistics aren't readily available and aren't as complete as some other sports.

    In the same article it shows that Sampras was far more dominant in holding serve than Agassi was in breaking serve. Sampras led the ATP six times in that same ten year period in holding serve and in the other years he was second, fourth, third and second. Sampras was a machine in holding serve.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2010
  18. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Incidentally Bjorn Borg in some of his great years could very well have been over 40% in percentage of breaking serve when you considered he AVERAGED an astounding 65% of Games Won over a period of years. To put it in perspective, Federer's best year has only been over 61% which is a huge difference. Federer's usually in the low thirties in breaking serve.

    McEnroe in 1984 may have been over 40% also considering his Games Won Percentage was 65.32% that year.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2010
  19. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    interesting, thanks for posting those stats . I'll probably post more on this after looking into some more things . Can you tell me the date/month when that article was posted ? I could probably retrieve it from wayback machine

    I'd caution against using stats at face value though !

    not surprising at all !
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2010
  20. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I want to thank PC1 for posting those stats too. Delicious food for thought, and I'm going over them now.

    For now I have a minor question. Is there any indication in the article how the percentages were added, leaving Chang ahead by two points? Does this mean that the percentages were simply added up into totals? Or were they taken up and an average taken? Because if it's just totals, Chang leading, let's say, 350 to 348 is virtually nothing. But if it's averages, and Chang leads, let's say, 37% to 35%, that's statistically significant.

    And of course the author notes that adding up percentages is a slightly inaccurate method (true whether averages are taken or not), but I'm just curious what Chang's lead is.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2010
  21. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    The article was from Tennisweek.com and I printed it in May of 2009. It is called "Merit or Myth: Examining Tennis' Title written by Raymond Lee.

    Yes I do understand using stats at face value but stats can also show some assumptions are wrong. On the opposite end stats can be misleading if not put in the proper context.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2010
  22. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I think the numbers, at the very least, raise the possibility that Agassi was not the best returner of his time. Statistically he's essentially in a tie with Chang over the ten-year period.

    Agassi's yearly average -- 32.2%
    Chang's -- 32.4%

    And those averages are taken from yearly figures that I presume were rounded to the nearest whole number. With more exact figures Chang's lead might grow slightly smaller or larger. So for all intents and purposes, it's a tie.

    From there, though, my first thought is how Agassi went AWOL for a couple of years. His numbers would be higher if he had, basically, Chang's mental consistency.

    But then, that just brings up the whole question of how to rank a stroke, or something like a service return. Are we just talking about the technical capacity, at a player's peak, when he's fully present mentally? Or when we say such-and-such player had the greatest return of the 90s, are we saying that this player BROUGHT IT day in and day out, year after year, better than anyone?

    I'm sure we all answer it a little differently, but when I talk about best strokes I tend to focus on best years. So here I tend to go with Agassi more than Chang, because I know Agassi's service break numbers for the decade dropped because his overall level of play dropped for a couple of years. His return numbers didn't fall due to any weakness in his service return; it was all mental issues.

    The other question I have is how much of the return are we seeing here? These are numbers for service breaks, which tells us about the quality of a player's entire game, when receiving. Specifically the quality of defense. And Chang's defense was much better than Agassi's.

    By that I mean that Chang was much faster, more nimble, more capable of stealing points after he's been put on the defense. I don't mean that he had the better return (though it's possible). What made Agassi's return great was his ability go on the offense with it; to get aggressive. But on the full stretch, whether on the return or in rallies, Chang had the edge.

    Lee says himself in the article (I have an old printout): "Andre was more aggressive on the returns while Chang, who could also be aggressive on returns, tried to make a high percentage of returns then relied on his incredible speed and defensive skills to keep him in the rallies."

    So for all those reasons I'd still vote for Agassi over Chang, purely in the category of service return, as a single stroke (separate from the rest of his game).

    I have no numbers to isolate the service return, though, so there's no way to prove it. Sometimes you have to fall back on impressions, and I think most people who are impressed with Agassi's service return are thinking, for example, of how he returned at Wimbledon in 1992 against the big servers (Becker, McEnroe, Ivanisevic). I can't imagine Chang returning like that.

    But, tennis is more than one surface, or one tournament. And Lee says in his article: "The bottom line is that there are countless effective ways of returning serve" (talking about the different return styles, and strategies, among Rosewall, Laver, Connors, Mac, etc). Agassi's style was impressive and extremely effective in certain settings against many opponents, but sometimes he went for so much, particularly against Sampras, when it might have been more effective to dip his returns and set up passing shots, rather than aim for the lines with those return winners.

    So it's complicated. And the stats are very interesting.
     
  23. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I'm surprised but Moose and I have done only one Chang match, the 89 RG final. Moose did it, and he counted the return errors.

    Chang made 23 return errors (and saw another 6 aces go by).
    Edberg made 13 return errors (and saw one ace go by).

    That's virtually nothing to go on, though Chang's numbers are good (and would have been even lower if he'd not been facing someone who kept serve-and-volleying).

    We do have plenty of stats for Agassi in old threads. One I always found impressive was the 99W final. Agassi drew 31 return errors from Sampras, but Sampras was able to draw only 27 return errors from Agassi. Pete had a considerable 16-5 edge in aces, but I think the stats show Agassi keeping his return errors down (that is, returning with consistency, not the flashiness he's usually known for).
     
  24. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    Just calculated the averages (using the no of matches data ) ( although its not the most accurate way )

    chang = 32.743%
    agassi = 32.549 %

    not much of a difference
     
  25. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    agassi returned pretty well in that match.

    As far as the return errors he drew from sampras, despite serving ONLY at 44% , that was because, contrary to popular belief that sampras played flawlessly in that match, his returning was nowhere close to impressive ( though otherwise he played brilliantly )
     
  26. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    But wait how did you get these numbers? I'm not sure how you used the # of matches.
     
  27. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    I took the weighed average

    sum of ( return % points won in a year * no of matches in that year )
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    total no of matches
     
  28. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Got it. So this method weighed how much they played -- good to know that the number of matches didn't affect the overall picture in any big way.

    (BTW, I plugged the numbers into Excell just now -- to see if I actually understood the steps you took -- and I got your number for Chang, but 32.559% for AA).

    And as you say it's not exact. The way I did it wasn't exact either, since of course I was just averaging out percentages. The only exact figure would be the total number of breaks over a ten-year period, divided by the total number of receiving games. We don't even have those numbers for the individual years, much less ten-year totals.

    But I would guess the final results wouldn't change much.
     
  29. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    yeah, just checked again , it is 32.559% for AA
     
  30. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    That is ONE possible interpretation of many. Another is that Agassi served a low percentage because he was going for so much on his first serve. Since it still was not enough to get as many aces or service winners as Sampras, Sampras had to to deal with a lot of challenging balls and thus made a fair number of errors. Yet another interpretation is that Sampras made more errors because he was using a strategy of going for bigger returns to take offense. In any case, since the outcome was clearly in his favour, he made the correct choice.
     
  31. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    sampras was indeed going for bigger returns, being more agressive ... in the process missed more than a few simple returns. He didn't even get enough return winners ( unlike their USO 2001 match where he did get a few ) or force errors from agassi with his return . Which is why I said his returning wasn't impressive ...

    He won because he was playing great { apart from his return } ( he matched andre from the baseline { one of the very few matches in which he did that } and served and volleyed brilliantly )
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2010
  32. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    The statistics are very interesting to me. When I first saw the return stats and realized Chang may have had superior serve breaking percentages over Agassi it frankly annoyed me that some experts would arbitrarily throw out statements like Agassi has the greatest service return ever. Now I understand that it was said in the early 1990's when all the statistical information wasn't available but it starting becoming available in the early 1990's and all the info indicated that perhaps Agassi being the greatest returner ever may be a bit of hyperbole. Another reason the commentators would say it was probably to hype up the player and the match.

    It's a shame we don't have the service return statistics for players prior to the early 1990's because I am convinced players like Borg, Connors, Rosewall, Laver have superb statistics in that same service return category.

    Sampras' stats in the holding serve category is interesting because while he led the ATP in most years he was playing (since they kept statistics) and he was consistently in the top few, his percentage stats are somewhat lower than the serve holding stats today. What does that indicate to me? Well the myth is the rackets of today help the service returner when perhaps it also helps the server just as much, maybe more so. Andy Roddick, who is no giant (I mean size wise not talent) has held serve for an entire tennis season at I believe 92%, which is I believe higher than Sampras ever was by little.

    Does that mean that Roddick is a better server than Sampras? I am not sure but not necessarily. Clearly the rackets today allow Roddick to serve at higher percentage than players in the 1990's and as we all know, first serve percentage among world class players is very important in holding serve. Roddick over the last few years has been around 70%. And of course the strings and the rackets now allow for great action on the ball as opposed to the rackets of the 1990's. The rackets would seem to me (at least in the statistics) to help the server as much as the returner. So if that is true I see no reason why there cannot be serve and volleyers today if the players are taught at a young age. I see so many big serves that cause poor returns that could easily be put away at the net.

    I know it was an exhibition but in the Sampras/Federer matches a few years ago Federer was having a lot of problems with Sampras' serve and volley game. I remember in the one match that Sampras won that Federer complained the court was too fast and it was too much of an advantage for Sampras' serve. That seemed ironic to me since Federer was in tournament shape and Sampras wasn't. It occurred to me that while it was an exhibition that Federer was annoyed he could not return the old man Sampras' serve or else he wouldn't have said that. And of course Sampras was using the current rackets at the time. Better technology. Sampras hit a few backhands during the exhibitions I had never seen him hit.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2010
  33. Li Ching Yuen

    Li Ching Yuen Legend

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    If we're talking first serve. Than it's without a doubt Ivo Karlovic.

    If we take service shots overall, than it's Sampras.
    Because he could aces that were heavy and hard (which is common for most of the people in these lists) and also had the best 2nd serve of all time.
     
  34. slice serve ace

    slice serve ace Rookie

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    Their exhibition match no.2 (7-6 7-6 Federer) was the only one with speed gun. I wrote down speeds every time when possible or when comentators said the speed. Sampras played with Federer's type of racket.
    Sampras opened the match with 217 kmh (135 mph). In all i had 20 first serves for Sampras. 3 of those were wide sliders in the deuce court, around 176 kmh (110 mph).
    Slowest of other 17 first serves was 200 kmh (124 mph) and fastest was 221 kmh (137 mph). 10 serves were 210 kmh (130 mph) or more.

    Federer's first serves were between 182 kmh (113 mph) and 208 kmh (129 mph) which is consistent with his usual speeds.

    Sampras served at around 70% first serves in, or a bit more, can't find the exact number right now. Surface was really fast, like 90s indoor carpet. No wonder Federer didn't break.

    Anyway, i have around 70 matches with Sampras, and never have i seen such consistency in speeds over 130 mph. Either this new rackets give extra power or the speed guns of the past showed lower speeds.
     
  35. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    there isn't much of a difference at all. If there was quite a bit of difference, then your point would've been valid. Agassi when not in one of inconsistent streaks, was clearly the better returner

    umm, because sampras played more top players on an average ?

    1. it was an exo , a 19 year old federer handled sampras' serve fine on wimbledon grass

    2. federer also said sampras would be in the top 5 if he came back to the tour :roll:
     
  36. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Yes but if Agassi is CLEARLY the greatest returner of all time, you normally would assume he is head and shoulders above all returners and he definitely isn't. There is doubt and people make it out that all service returner are far below Agassi. Agassi is not the clear answer as the GOAT of returns.

    Your conclusion that Sampras playing better players may be true but we cannot assume that until we research further.

    Yes I know it was an exo as I pointed out but it doesn't take away from the fact Federer complained about the speed of the court not allowing him to handle the Sampras serve.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2010
  37. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    maybe, but return games won % isn't the sole statistic for determing the better returner, is it ? Ask of any of their peers, they'd tell agassi was the better returner, he was the best returner of his era ... Best of all time ? that's a different argument ....

    sampras went deeper into tournaments, faced more top players. Its so obvious . I would want to see who faced more top 10 players b/w chang and agassi though

    It was an exo and he was just praising pete's serve by saying that . If as a teenager he could handle him serving at 69% on wimbledon court , he sure could handle him anywhere
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2010
  38. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    That's my point you can argue he is the best returner of his era and even on this point there is doubt. Best of all time is major doubt and when people write or say Agassi is definitely the best returner ever, well it may be true but frankly in this case I don't think so. For example I think Connors is superior to him but I can't prove it. I think he returned more serves and was probably every bit as good in hitting return winners. He was better defensively also that probably would allow him to steal more games when his opponent serves. It's the thing that people take it as FACT that Agassi is the greatest serve returner and it's not fact but opinion that is disturbing. And there is not strong evidence to indicate Agassi is the GOAT of service returns.

    But I do wonder that if return games won % isn't the sole most important statistic here, what is? Isn't that the point of returns, ie to win the games that your opponent serves? What good is two great flashy returns that wins two points and you fail to return any other serves (which happens with Agassi at times because he's not as quick as some) when perhaps four dull returns at the feet wins the game. Isn't that the point...to win the game? The information we have now seems to indicate over a period of ten years, Chang probably was superior in winning games on his opponent's serve over Agassi. Peers often can be wrong.

    I would tend to agree with you but it still is an opinion and in order to be somewhat sure you have to examine other information and perhaps statistics that may be relevant. You want to impartially examine the information and reach the conclusion. Let's face it, Roddick fans would disagree with you on that assumption.

    I think you're almost certainly correct with the first sentence. As far as the second sentence is concerned, that's not important as far as what we are discussing. I'll give you the fact Federer at a young age handled Sampras' serve well.

    As far as the discussion is concerned I would tend to think Sampras was every bit as dominant as Roddick is now in the serving categories but I just wonder why the slightly (and it is slight) lower percentages. It's enough for me to think it's not a coincidence.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2010
  39. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I probably would take Connors too.

    And I agree, Agassi being the best returner of all time is not a fact. It's an opinion. The numbers above at least show how the opinion is debatable.

    The numbers are facts. Titles like "best returner" are opinions.

    The purpose of returns is certainly to win the games, but then so is everything else a player does in those games. I tend to define return (and serves) as the stroke itself.

    However, tennis points are often won as shot combinations. A low return, setting up a pass. A wide serve, setting up a volley. So I think I see what you're driving at.

    But I look at this way. A dipped return that doesn't win the point outright, and instead sets up another shot, may often win the point -- but it may not. The opponent is still in the point. An outright winning return ends all chances of losing the point. The outright winner is, objectively speaking, a greater stroke than the return that allows the point to go on. The question is, can you hit that outright winner without making too many errors? What's the cost?

    That's why I think the best way to judge returns, statistically, would be to look at return winners and errors, plus the number of aces made on the returner. Do that, and throw in the return games won % for perspective -- to show how the player does in long points, after the return itself.

    For me, the latter statistic just reflects too much of the player's entire game, to say anything definitively about the return. It can call into question other grandiose judgments (like Agassi being the best returner of all time, fact), but I don't know what it tells us positively. Certainly it can suggest who were the players who used the return smartly in stroke combinations to successfully break serve. But unavoidably it includes a ton of long rallies that go well beyond three or four shots: rallies in which the two players are bringing their full game to bear.

    Here you lose me, because statistically they're in a dead heat. Not sure what superiority you're inferring for Chang, from the stats.
     
  40. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I think the return games won % might come closest to reflecting the effectiveness of the return itself in former generations, for instance on Wimbledon's old grass. Particularly with the wood racquets, where you couldn't hit return winners with any consistency and instead played to the server's feet, and rallies were very short -- in those situations I could see the break % saying a lot about who had the best returns.

    But in the 90s you've got baseliners like Agassi and Chang toughing it out in long rallies -- especially on clay, where the serve often just starts the point and the return might be nothing more than the second shot of a long rally. So I just see it as a different situation. Of course the return itself must impact the break percentage, and not in a small way -- but in these sorts of matchups a lot of other things will impact it too.

    It would be incredibly valuable to get more stats on the older generations.
     
  41. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    I think he is/was the best returner of his era clearly.. I'll give the stats in the next post for this. As for greatest returner of all time, that is pretty much debatable

    the percentages are about the same . nadal isn't the greatest of returners, but breaks a fair no of times due to his ground game and because he plays quite a bit on clay and is quite dominant on it. Doesn't make him even close to the best returners of this era viz. hewitt, federer,murray,nalbandian ....

    would they really ? well , maybe I'll get the stats in some time

    it was an exo, wouldn't read much into it ..

    well, I'll probably get the stats soon
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2010
  42. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    Here are the stats for chang vs agassi as far as returning is concerned . I checked from the atp website regarding the top 10 and top 20 players faced ..

    [​IMG]

    The last row shows the percentages

    I removed the david cup matches for both because I didn't the rankings for those from the atp website

    as you can see from this, agassi played quite a bit more against the top 10 ( more than 3% difference ) and against the top 20 ( close to 6% difference )

    Makes a huge difference ...
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2010
  43. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Chang played far more matches and despite a percentage per match against the top ten and top twenty that is less he did play against more in the top ten and top twenty. We also don't know how good the servers were even if they weren't in the top ten or twenty. Karlovic is a better server than almost anyone and he is not in the top twenty I believe. Still not convincing to me.

    Also if we consider how great Agassi was as a returner, he would have done better when he was younger and you notice Chang was still ahead of him by decent margin in the beginning years.

    Whether Agassi is the best returner of his era is subject to debate. However it's pretty clear to me that it's very doubtful he's the best returner of all time and that was the premise of the article.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2010
  44. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    well, that is one way of measuring. When the difference is that big, are the return stats really directly comparable ?

    As for your doubt, one could start picking the big servers, and check match by match, and find the break % . Well you could pick and check . I might do this for sampras ....

    I'd think agassi would win this too .....

    when was the last time chang took on a big server on grass and handled it well like agassi did at wimbledon 92, wimbledon 95, wimbledon 99 ? umm, like never ?

    that was because agassi was inconsistent and chang consistent

    based on what , really ? peers ? they'd undoubtedly say agassi

    as for stats , like I showed, agassi played higher ranked players more often , more than compensates for the tiny difference in return games won %

    agassi played far more matches on grass than chang , I don't have chang's no of matches on carpet though ...

    certainly debatable
     
  45. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    I just calculated break percentages for agassi and chang vs sampras from 91-2000

    agassi vs sampras : 24 matches, 57 breaks,333 return games , return games won % = 17.117

    chang vs sampras : 11 matches, 15 breaks, 144 return games, return games won %= 10.41667

    ( atp website doesn't have stats for their 2 grand slam cup matches )

    its not even close vs sampras !
     
  46. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    That I believe. I've seen Chang matches against Sampras and Pete dominated. Where did you get the stats from?
     
  47. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    from the atp website

    added up no of breaks and return games of each match to get the respective totals
     
  48. pmerk34

    pmerk34 Legend

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    Somehow you didn't manage so sneak 5'9" Laver in there :wink:
     
  49. TMF

    TMF Talk Tennis Guru

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    ^
    I don’t know if Karlovic should be ranked #16. He did set a record for averaging most aces per match in 2007. He hold serve at a very high percentage despite having a subpar ground game. The guy smashed a record 55 aces at RG, and then 78 at Davis Cup.
     
  50. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Makes you wonder whether the stats in Lee's article included the Davis Cup matches. At the ATP when you go those matches (on the H2H pages) there are no stats available. Same with the Grand Slam Cup.
     

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