How come Edberg has such a high unreturned serve percentage?

I never saw Edberg's serve as a major weapon. He had a great kick serve and used it brilliantly as a weapon to set up his GOAT contender volleys. But it wasn't a serve that blew people off the court. When he lost to Ivanisevic at Wimbledon 1992 he said,
"Every time he hits an ace, there's not a lot I can do. I mean, my serve is so far below his".
Edberg's serve wasn't as good as Ivanisevic's, or Sampras' or Becker's. I don't think it was as good as Lendl's or McEnroe's for that matter. Yet when you look at Edberg's stats he often has a very high percentage of serves that don't come back, as good as many massive servers. Is this because his serve was better than what I think and what Edberg himself thinks? Or is it that people were so petrified of his volleys when they returned serve they went for too much and made unforced errors? I tend to think the latter is the case. In any case Edberg's serve was very very effective.
 
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NicoMK

Professional
I'm not an Edberg specialist but as far as I recall, that's his kick serve that bothered most, as you mentioned it. That's why Lendl, according to himself, struggled a lot against him. The only (one-hander) who could handle his serve properly was Boris, who has a great head to head record against Stefan.

That kick serve and also the fact that he varied quite a lot.

Today, the current generation plays mostly with a two-handed backhand as everyone knows, so I'm not sure Edberg's serve would be as successful these days as it used to be. For that matter, Agassi didn't struggle that much against him.
 
I'm not an Edberg specialist but as far as I recall, that's his kick serve that bothered most, as you mentioned it. That's why Lendl, according to himself, struggled a lot against him. The only (one-hander) who could handle his serve properly was Boris, who has a great head to head record against Stefan.

That kick serve and also the fact that he varied quite a lot.

Today, the current generation plays mostly with a two-handed backhand as everyone knows, so I'm not sure Edberg's serve would be as successful these days as it used to be. For that matter, Agassi didn't struggle that much against him.
Connors also had a good record against Edberg despite being much older. The kick serve would often go to Connors leftie forehand which was great on return of serve. To counter Connors return the server needed to have a very unpredictable serve, like Curren and McEnroe. Edberg wasn't unpredictable enough a server to overwhelm the Connors return.
 
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California

Semi-Pro
I never saw Edberg's serve as a major weapon. He had a great kick serve and used it brilliantly as a weapon to set up his GOAT contender volleys. But it wasn't a serve that blew people off the court. When he lost to Ivanisevic at Wimbledon 1992 he said,
"Every time he hits an ace, there's not a lot I can do. I mean, my serve is so far below his".
Edberg's serve wasn't as good as Ivanisevic's, or Sampras' or Becker's. I don't think it was as good as Lendl's or McEnroe's for that matter. Yet when you look at Edberg's stats he often has a very high percentage of serves that don't come back, as good as many massive servers. Is this because his serve was better than what I think and what Edberg himself thinks? Or is that people were so petrified of his volleys when they returned serve they went for too much and made unforced errors? I tend to think the latter is the case. In any case Edberg's serve was very very effective.
A couple thoughts.

I think Edberg's serve was better than Lendl's and Mac's, but not as good as Pete, Becker, and the other top servers. He had a lot of action on his serve which caused problems for returners back when he played. He served better earlier in his career, later on I don't think he had the same flexibility and leg drive. He did have some lower back issues and tore a stomach muscle at the Australian Open.

I do think you were spot on with your assessment of returners pressing and trying for too much because they knew if they didn't hit it just right Edberg was going to volley it away or put them under pressure. This caused more misses on their parts. This was a big factor.

Becker had a great H2H with Edberg. But when you look closer many of his wins were indoors, faster conditions and lower bounces. Edberg couldn't get the kick up high, plus Becker would bomb serves not having to deal with the sun or wind. Becker was a great indoor player!
 

mental midget

Hall of Fame
A couple thoughts.

I think Edberg's serve was better than Lendl's and Mac's, but not as good as Pete, Becker, and the other top servers. He had a lot of action on his serve which caused problems for returners back when he played. He served better earlier in his career, later on I don't think he had the same flexibility and leg drive. He did have some lower back issues and tore a stomach muscle at the Australian Open.

I do think you were spot on with your assessment of returners pressing and trying for too much because they knew if they didn't hit it just right Edberg was going to volley it away or put them under pressure. This caused more misses on their parts. This was a big factor.

Becker had a great H2H with Edberg. But when you look closer many of his wins were indoors, faster conditions and lower bounces. Edberg couldn't get the kick up high, plus Becker would bomb serves not having to deal with the sun or wind. Becker was a great indoor player!
agree, the pressure to 'do something' with the return probably yielded many, many 'unreturnables.' disagree edberg had a better serve than mac though, in their respective eras, i think you'd have to say mac's serve was more effective and more feared.
 

andreh

Professional
It's because Edberg's serve was very good. Period.

People think it's not very good because they place too much emphasis on speed. They see 110mph on the radar and think it's not very good, but it's actually 110mph with superior placement and massive amounts of action.
 

MaxTennis

Semi-Pro
The one thing that surprised me was that Edberg had a pretty high double fault count. With a kick serve like his, I would expect him to have less double faults.
 

TheRed

Hall of Fame
Like everyone says, his serve is better than you think. Good placement with heavy spin. It's not a typical 2nd serve because he's not just throwing the serve into the general backhand side.
But there's a few other factors too. He was probably the best volleyer in his generation. Returners knew that there's no point in just getting a return back so if Edberg was serving, you would have to really go for that return. This definitely lowers the return %. And those guys were using natural gut mostly. It was exponentially harder to to return heavy serves with gut than poly.
 

Fedinkum

Legend
Edberg kick serves are difficult to return as they were, on top of that, he was a superior serve and volleyer, putting a lot of pressure on returners and forced them to come up with better return, this causing more return errors.
 

NicoMK

Professional
A couple thoughts.

I think Edberg's serve was better than Lendl's
Agree with all that you said in your post but I would debate on this very point though. Better than Lendl's, I'm not quite sure. Ivan had a really great serve, it was probably his best shot after his forehand and his 2nd serve was, as I recall it, more secure that Stefan's, who tended to double-fault quite a bit, as it was mentioned before.

"Different serve" for sure. "As good" as Ivan's… maybe, maybe not. "Better"… Mmm, we can debate :)
 

andreh

Professional
It's fun to discuss the difference between pro's serves but the reality is there isn't much difference between strong pro level serves. They're all great. Certainly the difference between them is exaggerated on boards like these.
 

NedStark

Rookie
But then people figured out Edberg serve and hence Edberg tennis from 1993 onwards. It began with the Courier Wimbledon SF match IMO, when Courier began to crush returns, even half-volleyed quite a lot of them (IMO borderline SABR), from well inside the baseline (I am sure that he never tried that in the 1991 USO final).
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
As the forum's resident compiler of this particular stat I can say the premise is wrong. I'm guessing it was arrived at from browsing recent match threads that show Edberg's # as high as 46%, but that was a fairly rare achievement for him.

But then such a % was rare for all but the biggest servers during Stefan's prime, and while it's easy to say he would struggle with his classic S&V now his serve would also gain in pace and especially spin which would largely mitigate whatever advantages for the returner. My guess is that Edberg's URS average would hover around 35-40% now - around or slightly below Fed's (which for the record is stronger than Edberg's but then you'd still need to do more with your return vs. Stefan), but higher than the 30-35% average of his salad days.

Oh and Mac definitely had the better serve than Stefan, I'd say even better than Fed's when equalized for everything.
 

TheRed

Hall of Fame
But then people figured out Edberg serve and hence Edberg tennis from 1993 onwards. It began with the Courier Wimbledon SF match IMO, when Courier began to crush returns, even half-volleyed quite a lot of them (IMO borderline SABR), from well inside the baseline (I am sure that he never tried that in the 1991 USO final).
Figuring out was certainly part of the problem but I think it was more a combination of lots more 2 handers on the tour, more non-gut strings and bigger racquets. It takes ungodly skills to consistently rip returns with a one hander but 2 handed backhands really allow players to do it more.
As a former serve and volleyer, I always had a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 standard to hold serve. I can hold consistently if 1/3 returns don't come back and I "win" another 1/3(essentially win 50% of balls that come back) . Any returner that starts getting much more than 2/3 serves back and I'd be in trouble. That's essentially what happened to edberg.
You also have to remember that even when Edberg was starting, he wasn't known to have a big serve. He could've lasted a bit longer if he had rafter's serve
 

Olli Jokinen

Semi-Pro
Figuring out was certainly part of the problem but I think it was more a combination of lots more 2 handers on the tour, more non-gut strings and bigger racquets. It takes ungodly skills to consistently rip returns with a one hander but 2 handed backhands really allow players to do it more.
As a former serve and volleyer, I always had a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 standard to hold serve. I can hold consistently if 1/3 returns don't come back and I "win" another 1/3(essentially win 50% of balls that come back) . Any returner that starts getting much more than 2/3 serves back and I'd be in trouble. That's essentially what happened to edberg.
You also have to remember that even when Edberg was starting, he wasn't known to have a big serve. He could've lasted a bit longer if he had rafter's serve
His serve lost its edge in '93, but I think it was mostly due to his back problems. He couldn't hit the kick serve with the same sting anymore. Pre 1993, I think his serve was better than Rafter's. He could actually easily crush it on serve, but he was a percentage player and chose the spin to set up his volleys.
 
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d-quik

Professional
OKAY so this thread concludes the reason for the high %unreturned serves is because the volleys, which backs up the serve, pressures the returners to press harder during the return, right?
 
OKAY so this thread concludes the reason for the high %unreturned serves is because the volleys, which backs up the serve, pressures the returners to press harder during the return, right?
Yes but Edberg's serve was a strength. If he'd had Connors' serve he would had to give up serve and volley off every serve. But Edberg's volleys were an even bigger strength than his serve and that made his serve even better.
 

DNShade

Hall of Fame
First - Mac's serve was much better over all than Edberg's.

Second - as someone who has been courtside when prime Edberg was serving - the amount of spin and kick on his serve was quite something. You could actually hear it HISSING through the air from the spin. That action on his serve plus his amazing speed getting to net really put the pressure on the returner to do "something" with the return and of course that combination would cause the return errors etc.

And I've still never seen anyone be further into the court when he actually made contact with the serve than Stefan. Seemed like he was already halfway to the service line when he hit the serve!
 
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Slowtwitcher

Hall of Fame
OKAY so this thread concludes the reason for the high %unreturned serves is because the volleys, which backs up the serve, pressures the returners to press harder during the return, right?
Not just that. Like many have pointed out here, Edberg had a combination of pace+placement+spin that made it hard to return.
 
It's fun to discuss the difference between pro's serves but the reality is there isn't much difference between strong pro level serves. They're all great. Certainly the difference between them is exaggerated on boards like these.
I'm not sure I agree with this. Edberg himself said Ivanisevic's serve was much better than his. I agree. Edberg was a much better volleyer than Ivanisevic of course.
 

Thetouch

Professional
And I've still never seen anyone be further into the court when he actually made contact with the serve than Stefan. Seemed like he was already halfway to the service line when he hit the serve!
Probably one of the reasons why he was know to commit many foot faults too.

Everything has been said about his serve but I also believe that his serve was less predictable as one might think. Becker's serve was more predictable imo, you could often tell where he was going to serve when under pressure but returning a serve at 125 mph is still hard enough even when you know where the serve is coming from. It wasn't as obvious when Edberg served.
 

urban

Legend
Edbergs second serve almost always was a kicker, which went to the backhand side. His right leg was forming a scissor figure in a 90 degree sideway movement. When Becker or even later Courier got into the groove on the backhand return, Stefan got into enormous problems. Indeed, often it looked like he already was on the t-line, when hitting the serve, and often enough his left foot landed there, before he actually had hit the ball. I remember watching him closely live at the WTC at Düsseldorf one year, and he made many more footfaults, than they were called by the linesmen and umpires.
 
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andreh

Professional
I'm not sure I agree with this. Edberg himself said Ivanisevic's serve was much better than his. I agree. Edberg was a much better volleyer than Ivanisevic of course.
One interesting thing that I once had the pleasure of observing, if we forget about effectiveness for a second, was how different these two players' serves were. I was at a champions tour event in Copenhagen in 2008 and had courtside seats when these two played. I got a really good view of both and it was clear then how much faster Goran's serve was, but also how much more spin Stefan had. Goran's skidded and stayed low, Edberg's kicked like mad and bounced very high, even the 1st serve. The grainy 80s and 90s TV images won't let you see the true amount of spin Edberg had on the serve. It was mad how heavy it seemed. Goran's meanwhile was like lightning. Just too fast to even react.
 
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California

Semi-Pro
First - Mac's serve was much better over all than Edberg's.

Second - as someone who has been courtside when prime Edberg was serving - the amount of spin and kick on his serve was quite something. You could actually hear it HISSING through the air from the spin. That action on his serve plus his amazing speed getting to net really put the pressure on the returner to do "something" with the return and of course that combination would cause the return errors etc.

And I've still never seen anyone be further into the court when he actually made contact with the serve than Stefan. Seemed like he was already halfway to the service line when he hit the serve!
It would interesting to hear your take on why you believe Mac's serve was much better than Stefan's. What about it other than the lefty aspect makes it much better? Thanks in advance.
 
It would interesting to hear your take on why you believe Mac's serve was much better than Stefan's. What about it other than the lefty aspect makes it much better? Thanks in advance.
I agree Mac's serve was better than Edberg's, though I wouldn't say much better. Mac had more variety and angles I think. Some days he destroyed Connors with his serve. Edberg could never do that to Connors.
 

DNShade

Hall of Fame
It would interesting to hear your take on why you believe Mac's serve was much better than Stefan's. What about it other than the lefty aspect makes it much better? Thanks in advance.
Just the overall variety of Mac's serve put it in another league than Stefan's. When John was in his prime and especially in 83-85 it was an amazing weapon and could be ridiculously hard for a returner - even a great returner like Connors or even later Agassi - to read.

John lost some pop and variety off his serve after his 86 hiatus (and his motion changed a little bit then too) and it was never quite the weapon it once was even though there would be flashes of it now and then and he'd go on streaks where it was clicking.

Stefan's serve was a really impressive kick serve as I said - designed to give Stefan time to close the net. But it pretty much had the same stuff on the ball with every serve and wasn't hard to pick up the direction. John could really spread the court from the same toss and never give the placement away and he could mix up wicked slice, kick and flat to all locations.
 

bluetrain4

G.O.A.T.
His serve lost its edge in '93, but I think it was mostly due to his back problems. He couldn't hit the kick serve with the same sting anymore. Pre 1993, I think his serve was better than Rafter's. He could actually easily crush it on serve, but he was a percentage player and chose the spin to set up his volleys.
Yeah. Remember his classic serve motion. He eventually shortened it - probably due to his back. I don't remember the specifics of his back problems because it's not something that kept him from playing, but he did have them. His serve was pretty hard on his body.

Yeah, he did start to drop in 1993, which isn't surprising. Most players just didn't have Big 3 level periods on top. Edberg won Slams over a nearly 8 year period (December 1985 to September 1992), which is a pretty decent run being Slam contender.
 

Cashman

Hall of Fame
Or is it that people were so petrified of his volleys when they returned serve they went for too much and made unforced errors?
Basically, this. Edberg did not hit a booming serve, but because he generated so much kick it was difficult to track. This made it very, very hard to hit a return out of the centre of the racquet.

Anyone can chip back an off-centre return to a player sitting deep, but it is very, very hard to hit an accurate and effective passing shot against an experienced volleyer when you are not getting a clean cut on the ball.

Had Edberg stayed back more, and put less pressure on his opponents' return, his serve would have been much less effective.
 

Slowtwitcher

Hall of Fame
Stefan's serve was a really impressive kick serve as I said - designed to give Stefan time to close the net. But it pretty much had the same stuff on the ball with every serve and wasn't hard to pick up the direction. John could really spread the court from the same toss and never give the placement away and he could mix up wicked slice, kick and flat to all locations.
That's just like... your opinion man...

And Mac's kick serve was crap. Sorry.
 

DNShade

Hall of Fame
That's just like... your opinion man...

And Mac's kick serve was crap. Sorry.
Well done with the quote first of all...LOL

And yeah - John's "kick" wasn't usually a kick serve like it's thought about now - he used more just topspin for placement. But John's serve always stayed low - like every shot he hit - you were always hitting from below the level of the net which worked well for him coming it at every opportunity. And his serve always seems to be moving away from you too.

But I stand by everything I said - and I've actually hit with and returned serve from both Mac and Stefan (granted not at their prime peak) so I have a pretty good first hand idea of what they have/had.
 

Slowtwitcher

Hall of Fame
But I stand by everything I said - and I've actually hit with and returned serve from both Mac and Stefan (granted not at their prime peak) so I have a pretty good first hand idea of what they have/had.
That's cool. What's the highest ATP ranking you achieved?
 

joe sch

Legend
As one of the best SV players ever and maybe the faster into the net, returners had most most pressure to hit a good return thus Edberg had "such a high unreturned serve percentage".
 

HBK4life

Professional
I think you’ll find guys with good upper body strength (Agassi Courier for example) had a good record against largely because they could handle the high bounce.
 

California

Semi-Pro
I think you’ll find guys with good upper body strength (Agassi Courier for example) had a good record against largely because they could handle the high bounce.
I have heard this theory before about Stefan. I don't know if I buy it completely... I think the strong two handed backhands has some merit. The reality is after about 1993 Stefan was done at the highest level. I really believe it came down to desire. I think he lost some interest and desire to push himself and had other things going on in his life (marriage, kids, etc..)

His records against Agassi (6-3) and Courier (6-4) are a little misleading with both of those guys winning several of their matches after 1993. Both won 3 matches a piece against Stefan from 93 onwards tilting the H2H in their favor.
 

HBK4life

Professional
I have heard this theory before about Stefan. I don't know if I buy it completely... I think the strong two handed backhands has some merit. The reality is after about 1993 Stefan was done at the highest level. I really believe it came down to desire. I think he lost some interest and desire to push himself and had other things going on in his life (marriage, kids, etc..)

His records against Agassi (6-3) and Courier (6-4) are a little misleading with both of those guys winning several of their matches after 1993. Both won 3 matches a piece against Stefan from 93 onwards tilting the H2H in their favor.
I think Boris did well with his OHB because he was as strong as an ox.
 

California

Semi-Pro
I think Boris did well with his OHB because he was as strong as an ox.
Yes, and tall enough to handle the kick serve. He also was truly great indoors and that is where the bulk of his wins came over Stefan. Plus he would attack and not let Stefan dictate play and play on his own terms.
 

HBK4life

Professional
I have heard this theory before about Stefan. I don't know if I buy it completely... I think the strong two handed backhands has some merit. The reality is after about 1993 Stefan was done at the highest level. I really believe it came down to desire. I think he lost some interest and desire to push himself and had other things going on in his life (marriage, kids, etc..)

His records against Agassi (6-3) and Courier (6-4) are a little misleading with both of those guys winning several of their matches after 1993. Both won 3 matches a piece against Stefan from 93 onwards tilting the H2H in their favor.
I go off my own experience as well. I grew up swimming and still do. I have good shoulder strength and have never had trouble with higher level kick serves. I am sure edbergs would murder me but stronger upper body players maybe not. I don’t recall him ever hitting a flat one.
 

bluetrain4

G.O.A.T.
I think Boris did well with his OHB because he was as strong as an ox.
And sometimes it's just matchups. For whatever reason, Edberg's serve might not have bothered Boris as much as a lot of other players. He is 25-10 against him, a lot of those matches coming in their overlapping primes. He had to be getting more serves back and in a better manner than most players to have that kind of record. Maybe part of it is due to strength, but I'd have to imagine another part is that he simply had a better feel for and read on Edberg's serve than most players.
 

Olli Jokinen

Semi-Pro
I have heard this theory before about Stefan. I don't know if I buy it completely... I think the strong two handed backhands has some merit. The reality is after about 1993 Stefan was done at the highest level. I really believe it came down to desire. I think he lost some interest and desire to push himself and had other things going on in his life (marriage, kids, etc..)

His records against Agassi (6-3) and Courier (6-4) are a little misleading with both of those guys winning several of their matches after 1993. Both won 3 matches a piece against Stefan from 93 onwards tilting the H2H in their favor.
His back did him in.
 

bluetrain4

G.O.A.T.
Edberg went downhill rapidly, he made the AO SFs early in 1994 and then it was pretty much a wrap for him as a top, champion-level player. The Slam results during the rest of 1994 should have been enough evidence, but for me personally, I really knew "he's never coming back" when he got throttled by Dick Norman in the second round at Wimbledon in 1995. The only Slam positives after 1994 AO, IMO, were beating 4 Seed Chang at the 1996 French Open (hardly full revenge for losing a the 1989 Final to Chang, but a nice win regardless) and making the QF at his last slam - the 1996 USO. But, if beating Chang to make the 4th Round of a Slam and merely making it to the QFs are the highlights of the year, then it's time for a player of Edberg's caliber to hang it up - which he did in 1996.
 
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California

Semi-Pro
And sometimes it's just matchups. For whatever reason, Edberg's serve might not have bothered Boris as much as a lot of other players. He is 25-10 against him, a lot of those matches coming in their overlapping primes. He had to be getting more serves back and in a better manner than most players to have that kind of record. Maybe part of it is due to strength, but I'd have to imagine another part is that he simply had a better feel for and read on Edberg's serve than most players.
The indoor match aspect is big circumstance in their matchup. Becker holds a 16-5 advantage over Edberg on any indoor surface. Becker was a fantastic indoor player! Yes, I agree it is often matchups. I think Becker was tall and strong enough to return the kick serve very well and since he could serve and volley very well, force Edberg on the defensive, having to pass him from the backcourt. This was a very enjoyable match to watch when both were playing well.
 

mental midget

Hall of Fame
Edberg went downhill rapidly, he made the AO SFs early in 1994 and then it was pretty much a wrap for him as a top, champion-level player. The Slam results during the rest of 1994 should have been enough evidence, but for me personally, I really knew "he's never coming back" when he got throttled by Dick Norman in the second round at Wimbledon in 1995. The only Slam positives after 1994 AO, IMO, were beating 4 Seed Chang at the 1996 French Open (hardly full revenge for losing a the 1989 Final to Chang, but a nice win regardless) and making the QF at his last slam - the 1996 USO. But, if beating Chang to make the 4th Round of a Slam and merely making it to the QFs are the highlights of the year, then it's time for a player of Edberg's caliber to hang it up - which he did in 1996.
most tennis players (most athletes, really) who rely on a particularly athletic, explosive approach to their sport tend to drop off a cliff at some point. edberg played a young man's brand of tennis. i think about mike tyson the same way--even had he not gotten bogged down by his various issues, that high intensity peek-a-boo style isn't the kind of thing you can 'coast' on in your later years, he was never gonna be a force past his mid-late 20s.
 

mcs1970

Hall of Fame
The one thing that surprised me was that Edberg had a pretty high double fault count. With a kick serve like his, I would expect him to have less double faults.
Double faults but how many games lost on his serve? He served heavy and didn’t look at kick serves as a safety serve as many do today . But it was still safe enough where he knew that going for it would still win him many more points/games than what he would lose with double faults.
 
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