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-   -   Who are the best players in handling net rushers? (http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?t=430794)

pc1 07-04-2012 03:12 PM

Who are the best players in handling net rushers?
 
We have a nice discussion about passing shots in another thread so I figured it may be interesting to start an individual thread for this.

By this I don't always mean passing shots but also lobs, topspin or slice, chips crosscourt angles, blasts at the net player etc. What players were able to handle net rushers the best and how?

There have been a lot of greats who had to develop ways to handle great net rushers. Some names that come to mind are Borg, Rosewall, Laver, Connors, Lendl, Tilden, Budge, Agassi, Wilander, Riggs etc.

Andres 07-04-2012 04:29 PM

In my opinion, the best guy in handling net rushers annd serve and volleyers was Lleyton Hewitt. His returns were nightmarish, always at their feet, and his passing shots were top notch.

He loved having a target.

And who can forget his lobs? That takes some serious skill ;)

pc1 07-04-2012 04:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Andres (Post 6693228)
In my opinion, the best guy in handling net rushers annd serve and volleyers was Lleyton Hewitt. His returns were nightmarish, always at their feet, and his passing shots were top notch.

He loved having a target.

And who can forget his lobs? That takes some serious skill ;)

Returns are obviously important and Lleyton Hewitt was one of the best plus his speed was fabulous. He certainly handled Sampras well in that US Open final they played.

Actually that's another important point, many of the top players in handling net rushers had excellent speed like a Borg, Nastase, Lleyton Hewitt, Rosewall, Chang, Wilander, Connors and Laver.

Limpinhitter 07-04-2012 05:40 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pc1 (Post 6693098)
We have a nice discussion about passing shots in another thread so I figured it may be interesting to start an individual thread for this.

By this I don't always mean passing shots but also lobs, topspin or slice, chips crosscourt angles, blasts at the net player etc. What players were able to handle net rushers the best and how?

There have been a lot of greats who had to develop ways to handle great net rushers. Some names that come to mind are Borg, Rosewall, Laver, Connors, Lendl, Tilden, Budge, Agassi, Wilander, Riggs etc.

That's a pretty good list, PC1. I'm not sure I can add anyone. Maybe Nastase because of his great topspin lobs on both sides, his masterful touch, and his speed.

pc1 07-04-2012 06:19 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Limpinhitter (Post 6693307)
That's a pretty good list, PC1. I'm not sure I can add anyone. Maybe Nastase because of his great topspin lobs on both sides, his masterful touch, and his speed.

Nastase's a great choice. He had a great running forehand pass. Plus as you mentioned, his speed was incredible so he could get to many volleys that most players couldn't reach.

NonP 07-05-2012 02:30 AM

I'm not sure I'd put Borg in there. OK, against net rushers maybe, but not against serve-and-volleyers, because if there was one type of players he struggled against it was those relentless net attackers.

Cases in point:
- Ashe in fact ended up with an edge in their H2H (yes, I know most of their matches took place before Borg's heyday, but Ashe gave him fits even in later matches, including one he won on HC in '76).
- The one and only guy he ever lost to at RG was Panatta, the S&V clay-court specialist.
- Pecci also troubled him with plenty of net play at the '79 FO.
- Though Borg does lead the H2H against Tanner by a fair margin (11-4 by the official ATP count), the scores indicate that most of their matches were quite close, including an upset by Tanner at the '79 USO. By contrast Tanner was miserable against Gerulaitis (0-5 in official matches, 1-5 if we include their '77 meeting at Hilton Head), while Borg thoroughly owned Vitas (of course).
- And we all know about his rivalry with Mac.

So I'd say Borg wasn't the best at handling net rushers, or S&Vers at least. Not bad, mind you, just not among the very best.

BTW this is also why I can't second the opinion that Borg was a returner on par or nearly in the same league with Connors and Agassi. It's generally agreed that his passing shots are among the very best ever, so if his return was similarly great, then why the struggles against net-rushers/S&Vers? (Again this is all relative. I'm not saying Borg was a mediocre returner.)

Orion3 07-05-2012 02:55 AM

PP - Borg returned serve from way behind the service line. In his book he discusses that the reasons.

The problem with returning serve this way (against S&V's) is that by the time you hit the return, the server is closer to the net than they would be if you could return early like Agassi/Connors or current players like Joker or Murray.

Against an incoming net rusher during open play - Borg was deadly.

NonP 07-05-2012 03:40 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Orion3 (Post 6694178)
PP - Borg returned serve from way behind the service line. In his book he discusses that the reasons.

The problem with returning serve this way (against S&V's) is that by the time you hit the return, the server is closer to the net than they would be if you could return early like Agassi/Connors or current players like Joker or Murray.

Against an incoming net rusher during open play - Borg was deadly.

Of course Borg's aim was "to get every single service return back so as to pressure the net man into missing" (from his book). It's certainly arguable whether it was the right strategy against the guys I just mentioned above.

And as a pure shot I don't think Borg's return was as deadly as Agassi's (Connors is a bit before my time, so I'll refrain from that comparison), but that's a separate topic.

Orion3 07-05-2012 07:04 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by NonP (Post 6694245)

And as a pure shot I don't think Borg's return was as deadly as Agassi's (Connors is a bit before my time, so I'll refrain from that comparison), but that's a separate topic.

Difficult to compare. I was lucky enough to see them both play at Wimbledon with a decade or so in between. In that time the court bounce had improved (a bit) but racquet technology was like night and day.

Given the equipment of the day I'd favour Borgs ability to pick a pass from play but would favour Agassi's service return every day of the year.

Borg and Agassi rank as my all time tennis heroes - never cared for Connors, but I did see him. At the time in 1980, his returns were unreal. I couldn't understand how anyone could return so quickly... And then a young Agassi turned up.

pc1 07-05-2012 08:26 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by NonP (Post 6694160)
I'm not sure I'd put Borg in there. OK, against net rushers maybe, but not against serve-and-volleyers, because if there was one type of players he struggled against it was those relentless net attackers.

Cases in point:
- Ashe in fact ended up with an edge in their H2H (yes, I know most of their matches took place before Borg's heyday, but Ashe gave him fits even in later matches, including one he won on HC in '76).
- The one and only guy he ever lost to at RG was Panatta, the S&V clay-court specialist.
- Pecci also troubled him with plenty of net play at the '79 FO.
- Though Borg does lead the H2H against Tanner by a fair margin (11-4 by the official ATP count), the scores indicate that most of their matches were quite close, including an upset by Tanner at the '79 USO. By contrast Tanner was miserable against Gerulaitis (0-5 in official matches, 1-5 if we include their '77 meeting at Hilton Head), while Borg thoroughly owned Vitas (of course).
- And we all know about his rivalry with Mac.

So I'd say Borg wasn't the best at handling net rushers, or S&Vers at least. Not bad, mind you, just not among the very best.

BTW this is also why I can't second the opinion that Borg was a returner on par or nearly in the same league with Connors and Agassi. It's generally agreed that his passing shots are among the very best ever, so if his return was similarly great, then why the struggles against net-rushers/S&Vers? (Again this is all relative. I'm not saying Borg was a mediocre returner.)

A lot of things to take into account here, first Pecci was in the zone during that French Open, crushing Connors and Vilas before the final. He played Borg and was getting crushed before he rallied to win the third set. Bud Collins said Borg had backhand passing magic in that match.

Roscoe Tanner had one of the biggest serves in history and if he was serving well, which was quite often, it would be very hard to beat him easily if you could beat him at all.

Ashe and Borg eventually ended up (according to the ITF) tied at eight wins apiece. Many of these matches were played before Borg reached his peak and yet despite that a young Borg gave Ashe problems. I think the main reason Ashe gave Borg problems was simply because at the times they played, Borg and Ashe was of a similar level and not just because Ashe was a great serve and volleyer.

If you check Panatta against Borg, Panatta did not beat Borg when Borg reached his peak. The 1978 Italian Open was actually in my opinion a match in which Borg clearly outplayed Panatta. The linemen in that match were incredibly, ahem, a bit partial to Panatta. The line calls was very poor. In that particular match objects were thrown at Borg like coins.

Jose Higueras was leading Panatta 5-1 in the second set and eventually walked off in that tournament.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/200...urt/index.html

http://blogs.tennis.com/thewrap/2012...s-adriano.html

Anyway to get back to topic, Borg in my opinion got the serve back far more than Agassi and he also hit his share of winners. Whether that's more effective is debatable.

Thing is how many players could do well against top serve and volleyers like Ashe, Tanner and McEnroe? They were just plain tough players.

Borg did well against Nastase, who regularly served and volleyed at Wimbledon, Brian Gottfried, Tanner, Gerulaitis, Dick Stockton, Tom Okker, Laver (past his prime but still terrific until 1975). His record against McEnroe and Ashe were even. Ashe played Borg many matches before Borg reached his peak.

We could argue that Connors didn't do well against these serve and volleyers too. Tanner gave Connors fits (didn't beat him often however) as did McEnroe. Borg could serve and volley at Wimbledon, especially in the 1978 Wimbledon final and crushed Connors. Stan Smith, until his decline after 1974 was 4-4 with Connors. Nastase was way ahead of Connors in head to head until Connors dominated the later years. These guys were top players who were tough against anyone. I won't count guys like Becker, Sampras and Edberg since they played Connors late in Connors career but these guys would be problems for Connors even at Connors' peak because they were great tennis players, not just great serve and volleyers.

pc1 07-05-2012 10:52 AM

There was a story that John Newcombe gave about a tournament in the early 1970's in which he was playing Laver. Laver won the first two sets and Newcombe won the next two. It was close in the fifth set. Newcombe was serving and having a lot of success volleying to Laver's backhand and smashing away Laver's backhand lobs. So Newk served to Laver, hit a volley to Laver's backhand and shifted his weight back to prepare for what he thought was a lob by Laver. Laver brought his racquet back like he was about to lob then hit a crosscourt chip to Newcombe's forehand! Newcombe realized that he was moving backwards so if he attempted a volley it would not be penetrating and Laver would move in, hit his great forehand and probably pass him. So he figured (all this in a fraction of a second) that he would just hit the ball back deep and start the point over again. Newcombe hit the ball out by a fraction. He give Laver and look acknowledging what a brilliant shot it was. Newcombe thought the crowd didn't even know what a brilliant shot Laver made. Laver broke Newcombe's serve and won the match.

Arafel 07-05-2012 12:46 PM

The best at handling net rushers was Chris Evert. Deadline backhand passing shots, both cross-court and down the line, amazing lobs, an excellent forehand passing shot, and fantastic return of serve. She played a lot of net rushers and serve and volley players, including Hana, Martina, Margaret Court, Pam Shriver, Evonne Goolagong, Billie Jean King, etc., and she has dominant head to heads over all except Martina, with whom she was virtually even.

Loose Cannon 07-05-2012 12:51 PM

Agassi...............Vicious FH and Great Top spin Lobs

pc1 07-05-2012 12:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Arafel (Post 6695713)
The best at handling net rushers was Chris Evert. Deadline backhand passing shots, both cross-court and down the line, amazing lobs, an excellent forehand passing shot, and fantastic return of serve. She played a lot of net rushers and serve and volley players, including Hana, Martina, Margaret Court, Pam Shriver, Evonne Goolagong, Billie Jean King, etc., and she has dominant head to heads over all except Martina, with whom she was virtually even.

Well you can't win 90% of your matches lifetime (amazing to write that when you consider greats like Sampras and Agassi never did that in one single year and Evert did that for her whole career) and 154 tournaments unless she had the goods to handle net rushers during her time. She may very well be the best among the women ever.

NonP 07-05-2012 06:01 PM

pc1, of course none of those guys I mentioned were slouches, S&Ving or not. The bigger point I was trying to make, though, was that Borg had a harder time against these net rushers than against other players of a similar caliber.

Let's take a closer look:

- As I said in my earlier post, Borg thoroughly dominated Gerulaitis but often struggled against Tanner, though Vitas himself led a convincing 5-0 or 5-1 against the big-serving American.
- While Borg led Nastase 10-5 who in turn led Ashe 4-3, Borg also trailed Ashe 8-9 in their extensive H2H (more on this in a bit). And Ashe won 5 of their last 8 matches in '75 and '76.
- Borg was also troubled by Panatta even in his peak years, the extenuating circumstances of the '78 Rome final notwithstanding, while Connors had Panatta's number from the get-go but was eventually forced to play 2nd fiddle to Borg.
- Mac was a thorn in Borg's side from the very beginning of their rivalry, winning 3 of their first 7 matches (and once leading 3-2) in '78 and '79 when Borg was at the peak of his powers while Mac was still a relative newcomer.

Now it's true that these guys' primes didn't always overlap, but these stats still show that Borg had more difficulties against the net-rushing daredevils than against other top players with a less aggressive game. So the question remains, why these struggles against the net rushers/S&Vers when his passing shots are justly celebrated as among the very best ever? That's why I think it fair to say that Borg's return of serve, great as it was, wasn't quite in the same exalted league as his passing shots, and probably a notch below Connors' or Agassi's.

As for the Borg-Ashe H2H, Arthur came on Charlie Rose's show shortly before his untimely death, and during the interview he said that he played Borg 17 times and won 9 of them (though he was careful to add that many of those matches took place before Borg's heyday). Not sure where that last missing (unofficial) match is from, or whether Ashe was just having a memory lapse.

BTW that was indeed a good interview with Ashe, and you can still watch it in full online. Besides discussing his background and physical condition he also comments briefly on his rivals and the American upstarts. I still have a transcription of those comments saved somehwere, some of them quite interesting (if not exactly news to us seasoned fans). Will post them when I have time.

jrepac 07-05-2012 07:03 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pc1 (Post 6693258)
Returns are obviously important and Lleyton Hewitt was one of the best plus his speed was fabulous. He certainly handled Sampras well in that US Open final they played.

Actually that's another important point, many of the top players in handling net rushers had excellent speed like a Borg, Nastase, Lleyton Hewitt, Rosewall, Chang, Wilander, Connors and Laver.

These guys would all be on my list...plus Lendl. He could just hit right through a net rusher if the serve/approach was not top notch.

jrepac 07-05-2012 07:06 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pc1 (Post 6695742)
Well you can't win 90% of your matches lifetime (amazing to write that when you consider greats like Sampras and Agassi never did that in one single year and Evert did that for her whole career) and 154 tournaments unless she had the goods to handle net rushers during her time. She may very well be the best among the women ever.

Yeah, she was amazing. Martina had to produce her best stuff against her on serve, otherwise she'd get smoked by the pass. That final backhand pass by Chris in the '85 RG final between them is an all time classic....

jrepac 07-05-2012 07:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Orion3 (Post 6694178)
PP - Borg returned serve from way behind the service line. In his book he discusses that the reasons.

The problem with returning serve this way (against S&V's) is that by the time you hit the return, the server is closer to the net than they would be if you could return early like Agassi/Connors or current players like Joker or Murray.

Against an incoming net rusher during open play - Borg was deadly.

Correct; Borg was more effective against the net rushers during a point than on the actual return of serve. He was much further back than a Connors/Agassi would be. Those guys had impeccable timing and reflexes, getting the ball back so fast (Connors) or so hard (Agassi) that you were handcuffed immediately.

jrepac 07-05-2012 07:13 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pc1 (Post 6694890)
I won't count guys like Becker, Sampras and Edberg since they played Connors late in Connors career but these guys would be problems for Connors even at Connors' peak because they were great tennis players, not just great serve and volleyers.

Connors first played Becker when he was 34/35yrs old, I think. Usually close matched, but never a win for Connors. He did quite well against Edberg tho'...Jimmy was a bad match up for him. I think he only played Sampras a couple of times when he was nearly 40.

Arafel 07-06-2012 10:32 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jrepac (Post 6696462)
Yeah, she was amazing. Martina had to produce her best stuff against her on serve, otherwise she'd get smoked by the pass. That final backhand pass by Chris in the '85 RG final between them is an all time classic....

I love watching that shot over and over again. Earlier in that set, she hit a buggy whip cross-court forehand pass on the run to break for 5-3 that was amazing. That whole match had so much drama. Evert saved like six break points, including coming back from 0-40, when she was serving at 5-5. It took tremendous mental fortitude to hold that off, especially after she was broken when serving for the match at 5-3 and then Martina held at love.

While I think Evert is the obvious choice for the women, some other contenders would be Steffi Graf, though she didn't have to face nearly as many net-rushers as Evert, as well as Tracy Austin. Andrea Jaeger was also pretty good at hitting passing shots, though she never won a major. I always thought of her as the female equivalent of Aaron Krickstein, a player who basically didn't come to net except to shake hands.

For the guys, I think the best players to handle serve-volleyers and net rushers were, in order: Borg, Connors, Lendl, Agassi, and Wilander. After that, I think Hewitt and Safin need to be in the conversation. Federer is good too, but really, the only player who comes to net against him is Roddick, and Roddick is undone by his horrible approach shots more than Federer's ability to pass at will.


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