Join Date: Jul 2009
Note to those who may be interested: I've made a few changes to the OP, the most important of which is the honorary mentions given to Tilden, Vines and Kramer. Considering the lack of sufficient visual evidence and, as Datacipher pointed out above, the different rules they had to serve under (like keeping one foot on the ground), I believe this is the best way to give the old-timers their due without rampant and potentially unfair speculation.
So here's the list as it stands now:
Honorary mentions: Tilden, Vines, Kramer
And here are the other players that have been mentioned so far: Gonzales, Ashe, Newcombe, Colin Dibley, Smith, Tanner, Vijay Amritraj, Steve Denton, John Sadri, Curren, Noah, Leconte, Forget, Scott Warner, Rosset, Arthurs, Rafter, Philippoussis, Joachim Johansson, Isner.
Now I'm sure some of these names belong on the list--especially Gonzales, Newcombe and Tanner--but I want to reemphasize that we're trying to rank the best of the best. The "GOAT" label would be meaningless otherwise.
Scott Warner (hat tip to Blade0324) is a case in point. His highest career ranking is no. 180. And his number of career titles? Zero. Not a single title. Now, I know I've said that I want to evaluate the serve as a stand-alone shot, but at the same time I find it hard to believe that a player with an all-time great serve could end his career with such a whimper. (But don't get me wrong, I'm glad that his name was mentioned. One aspect of the GOAT debate that appeals to me is its educational value, and thanks to Blade0324 we've learned that this dude named Scott Warner could serve big.)
The fact is that each era has its share of journeymen with big serves. The '70s had Dibley, the (early) '80s Denton and Sadri, the '90s Goellner, the '00s Arthurs and Isner. And no doubt a few other names have been left out. Admittedly these players boast a more substantial resume than Warner, but is that enough to land them on the GOAT list? I'm inclined to say no, with a few possible exceptions. IMO the server should have won a major or reached the major finals (preferably outside of the AO before the early '80s) at least once, and also won a few smaller titles for good measure. By those standards Curren, Noah and Flipper could be considered solid candidates. As for the others, here are their career records for your perusal:
Dibley - career-high ranking of no. 35, 1 AO SF and 2 Wimbledon QFs, 4 career titles
Denton - no. 12, 2 AO finals and 1 4R each at Wimbledon and the USO, 0 titles
Sadri - no. 14, 1 AO F and 1 Wimbledon QF, 2 titles
Arthurs - no. 44, never advanced beyond 4R at the majors, 1 title
Johansson - no. 9, 1 USO SF and 1 4R each at the AO and Wimbledon, 3 titles
Isner - no. 28, 1 USO 4R, 1 title
Perhaps you might feel differently, but these stats don't impress me. I'd say Amritraj, Forget and Rosset are better candidates, if just slightly. (And just for the record, I don't think Leconte or Goellner belongs up there. Neither does Rafter. In fact I decided to add Edberg to the list only because he might well have had the greatest kick serve ever.)
That should do it for now. Hopefully some of you will have something to share about any of the above names. And again when you rank these players I'd like to see some reasoning behind your rankings especially of the old-timers before Curren. So instead of just stating the obvious like "Tanner could crank it up" or "Newcombe had a great 2nd serve," say something meatier like "Tanner's great disguise and swift delivery put him ahead of (fill in the blank)." Thanks in advance.