The World’s Best Server
August 1, 2012 in Tennis
When that question is asked, the average tennis fan’s mind goes to Andy Roddick, to Pete Sampras, John Isner, or the current favourite, Milos Raonic. All these players have one common trait: an exceptional serve, full of speed, spin and virtually indecipherable variety. Sampras was legendary for the amount of pace and spin he generated, and he had probably one of the best second serves in the history of the game. Andy Roddick revolutionalised the serve, and in all fairness probably introduced if not merely popularised the current, modern style of serving, which involves an abbreviated motion. John Isner and Ivo Karlovic shouldn’t get a lot of credit for serving as well as they do, for from their towering 6’9″ and 6’10″ frames, the net must seem a mere foot high, but they still produce more unreturnable serves than most. And Milos Raonic has risen into the top 20 in the world, almost solely due to his powerful serving ability.
But this still begs the question, “Who is the current best server in the game?” Out of the list above, only Sampras is retired, so all the others are viable candidates. Roddick’s serve is being returned efficiently by more players than perhaps since he was a junior, but it is still one of the best serves in the sport. Isner and Raonic remain nightmare opponents, even for the top seeds, due almost entirely to their big serves. But still, are they the best servers around? Recently, at the Wimbledon final, Darren Cahill mentioned on air that Roger Federer was perhaps the best server in the game today, and perhaps the best server of all time. The statement might have surprised many, because while the likes of Roddick and Raonic have struck serves in the mid 150s (mph), Federer’s average serves are in the low 120s, and at times even the mid 110s. They are accurate, well-placed and reliable, yes. But is that enough to earn him the title of the greatest all-time server?
Cahill’s reasoning stems from the longevity of Federer’s career, and the consistency of the serve throughout a career that has spanned over 15 years. Particularly in the last decade, during his meteoric rise to number one in the world, and en route to the 17 Grand Slams that he has thus far amassed, Federer’s serve has remained a loyal and trustworthy weapon in his armory. And perhaps more importantly, he has an “x” factor in his serve that even the likes of Roddick, Isner or Raonic do not: he has the game of Roger Federer backing it up. So in terms of numbers, in terms of holds, and in terms of the success that he has found when stepping up to serve, time and time again, game after game, match after match, tournament after tournament, yes, Federer’s serve is the best in history. He never went through a phase of prolonged double faults like Novak Djokovic; he never found his serve to be a liability on any surface, the way Rafael Nadal did, and even at his more advanced age of 31 now, his serve is still an efficient asset in his arsenal.
Every so often a great server is born, with a towering frame, a live arm, and an efficient technique. The world watches, the radar gun measures, and records are matched, if not broken. But there is more to serving than just pace, and there is more to being a great server than merely hitting aces. Roddick and Raonic can set all the serving records they want, but it’s Federer who’ll be taking the silverware home, once again.