Greatest Serves of All Time
I've noticed that among the zillion GOAT threads in this forum there isn't a single one ranking the greatest serves ever (for real), and since the serve is the shot least affected by outside variables (including racquets and strings) I've decided to create a new thread myself. Here's my preliminary ranking:
McLoughlin, Maurice - perhaps the first distinguished cannonball serve in tennis history
Tilden - yet another storied power serve, which he bolstered with spin and accuracy
Vines - by all accounts, the best and fastest serve of the pre-WWII era
Kramer - in addition to a formidable first serve, perhaps the best second serve before Newcombe and Sampras
Denton - his unusual service motion notwithstanding, could bring enormous heat
Edberg - for his legendary kicker, arguably the best ever for serve-and-volley
Johansson, Joachim - Denton of the 2000s
Now a couple of things:
1) The purpose of this thread is to rank the serve as a pure stand-alone shot mostly free of outside factors. That is, McEnroe'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 an important question to ask, 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.) By the same token, Edberg and Rafter had great kick serves that they could follow up with their tried-and-true forays to the net, but I think we can agree that most players would pick Goran's or Karlovic's serve over that of these S&V masters.
Similarly, Goran and Stich were headcases and as a result their whole game suffered on occasion, but not when they kept their head together. On the other hand Rusedski often had trouble getting a high 1st-serve % without sacrificing pace and power, which tells me the problem was more technical than mental. And my ranking is weighted more toward the 1st serve and based on serves as opposed to service games. Also a high % of unreturned serves certainly helps and is in fact a more accurate measure of a serve's potency than the more-oft consulted number of aces. These are the reasons why Sampras doesn't rank at the very top as some of you have fairly argued, though Pete certainly was no slouch in scoring freebies himself, in fact very much in the conversation with anyone on the list.
2) Let's limit this list to the best of the best. Put more bluntly, we can talk about mere big servers like Safin and Tsonga on another thread.
3) Given the lack of sufficient visual evidence and the different rules they had to serve under (like keeping one foot on the ground), I think it all but impossible to rank such old-timers as Tilden, Vines and Kramer with a fair degree of certainty. And players like Johansson had too brief a career for there to be meaningful comparisons between their serves and their more fortunate counterparts. Hence these guys' honorary mentions.
Now it's your turn to sound off and tell us where these and other servers should rank. Just try to give some reasoning behind your rankings especially of the pre-1980s candidates. Much as I appreciate your input I can't take anyone's word on faith. So instead of just stating the obvious like "X could crank it up" or "Y had a great 2nd serve," say something more helpful like this (hat tip to poster encyclopedia): "[Noah] threw the ball fairly far forward (and later in his career way to the right)....this gave him a beautiful lean [motion], and allowed him to hit through the ball for absolutely blinding pace. I believe his fastest serves may have been up there with a Roddick/Rusedski....but it also made his serves fairly low margin...even being 6'4. That, along with an occasional tendency to drop his head made his flat serve percentage not so good as the best." You get the drift.
Last edited by NonP; 03-28-2015 at 03:18 PM.