I'm actually with you with regards to the opinion that Edberg is probably the best volleyer ever...but this example / matchup you are presenting in the clip is not really representative.
Edberg absolutely owned Muster...he was a nightmare matchup for him. Muster was a grinder without great returns and/or passing shots...and he couldn't really take the ball early...giving Edberg way way WAY too much time to execute his game plan.
Somebody like Korda...for example was a much tougher opponent for a guy like Edberg...because he was able to return aggressively and hit screaming passing shots by taking the ball early / robbing the net rusher of time. Same with a guy like A. Agassi.
That youtube clip was just...unfair.
Originally Posted by 6-2/6-4/6-0
In my way of thinking it is hard to separate greatest volleys from greatest net game. To me at least half of volleying is footwork and positioning. In this regard, I think that Edberg is in a class of his own. But then again, I am unabashedly an enormous Edberg fan.
I grew up as a player who watched and analyzed tennis matches like crime tech going over surveillance videos. I would watch matches over and over trying to get inside what players were doing, how they were doing it, what the variation on technique was that made them great and me average. As a budding serve and volleyer I watched Mac, Edberg, Becker and Sampras like I was watching great sculptors chipping away at stone to reveal what was spectacularly hidden within. I watched pretenders like Lendl trying to make their way to net each June and sought to understand what the inherent difference was between one supremely talented tennis player coming to the net and another while having entirely opposite results.
In all my years of watching, studying, analyzing I have a hard time thinking that there are many players that can give Mac or Edberg a run as better volleyers or net players. Certainly, watching film of players like Newcombe, Rosewall, Laver, Emerson, Hoad, etc. shows a history of brilliant volleyers competing against similarly well-rounded players and crafting scintillating points where offense and defense were fluid positions which could change on a single stroke. But in all the hours that I have poured over, I have never seen two players who could own the net like Edberg and Mac.
From there, I see the designation of Greatest as very much a matter of style.
Mac undeniably had a brilliance about him. He covered the net with the passion of a teen-age boy in the back seat of his dad's car for the first time with his girlfriend. The movements were not necessarily smooth or practiced, but nothing was going to get by him if he could help it - he was was going to make the most of any situation regardless of how prepared or well-positioned he was. He had inspiration and relentlessness, everything else flowed from there.
In great part Mac's brilliance was the entirely unorthodox, almost in-duplicable way that he volleyed: the angles that he created; the way he could drop a ball over the net and make it die; the lunging/flailing volleys that seemed to land in the most perfect and unexpected spot. The volleys that he created are like scientific anomalies, the results unable to replicated in any other setting.
McEnroe was nothing if not thrilling to watch.
Edberg was almost entirely the opposite. He floated on the court. His instincts and ability to always be in position bordered on super-natural. As Tony Trabert once said, "He doesn't take any more steps than anyone else, he just gets there quicker."
If there is a knock against Edberg it would have to be that he made it look too easy. His volleys were not some sort of magical shot that even the gods could not have seen coming, they were a surgical response based on exacting preparation and the sort of precognition that you see in movies like 'The Last Samurai' where a fighter sees an entire battle sequence play out choreographically before the first punch is thrown. There is a sense when watching him play that he is almost like an instrument of destiny and that in the natural world his volley - no matter how difficult or routine - could land no where other than where it did.
Sure, he was able to hit brilliant shots when they were necessary. But he was so fluid, so graceful, so correct in knowing what was going to happen next that those brilliant shots weren't necessary as often.
In the end I see it like this:
John McEnroe fought everything, lines-people, umpires, opponents, and most often physics and probability. At the net he was often victorious in these disputes. There is no one who has played the game that can match him as "The Most Brilliant Volleyer of All Time."
Stefan Edberg was like the Tao on the court, seeming to have the greatest effect while doing the least. His precision and ability to repeatedly make perfect, elegant volleys made the kamikaze act of rushing the net look positively serene. In terms of Greatness, to me Stefan Edberg takes the title with the same aplomb with which he dispatched Lendl/Courier/etc. on the way to the 91 US Open title.
Beautiful post and argumentation. Very much agree with the spirit of that analysis.
With regards to some other posts in this thread...I find it mildly amusing but also disturbing that people are introduced in this artificial "top" based on newspaper articles.
I'm all for supporting older guys from the 60's or 70's where we have video and people actually saw them play live. I'm a great admirer of Laver...and agree that him and many of his contemporaries were great volleyers and great PLAYERS.
However...like previously stated...this is where my sympathy for the "old style" ends...bringing up people from the early 19xx into discussion based on books and articles from the time...well...let's just say those writing those books/articles never saw a guy like Edberg...or yes...Laver play...otherwise they would have "redefined" their notion of great tennis and/or great volleying.
Other comments I've seen related to Sampras when compared with other great volleyers like Cash/Rafter/Henman ... etc are also puzzling to me. Because he was clearly a much better/more efficient/accomplished player than those listed ... that automatically means that he must have had better volleys. Really ??
He DIDN'T...but he was so much better at everything else that it didn't matter in the end.
Yeh...even a guy like Henman had better volleys than Sampras...if we're to talk STRICTLY about volleying. Obviously ... Sampras was better at everything else related to tennis (ok...his 1 handed drive was also weaker than Henman's...) ... serve, ground strokes, movement, athletic ability, confidence/mental aspect...etc etc etc.
Even a guy like Stich had better volleys than Sampras in my book. Too bad he was a mental case and is probably the biggest waste of talent/potential in the open era (honorable mention to guys like Pioline, Korda, Nalbandian and others...from the "waste of talent" point of view).