Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Best Shots In Tennis - Part 1

With the tennis season in slumber mode, it’s time to start coming up with pointless and completely subjective analyses of any and every thing to do with the technicalities of the game. So here we are, unfurling a series of articles on what we believe are the best shots owned by players active in the tennis world today. Like all things in tennis, the discussion begins with the single most important stroke in any racquet sport – the serve.

Men – The Contenders: Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Sam Querrey, Taylor Dent, Mardy Fish, Kevin Anderson

As you’d expect, a player’s height plays a crucial role in the quality of his serve; in fact, so much so, that it almost seems unfair. Of the 12 contenders I listed above, only 3 (Federer, Fish and Roddick) are less than 6’3” tall. It’s all about the physics – the greater the height from which the ball comes crashing down off the racquet, the better chance it will have of clearing the net, consequently enhancing all the major factors that are responsible for the effectiveness of a serve. You get more pace, greater consistency, sharper angles and higher bounce – in short, everything that you need for a good first serve.

But before we hastily give the award to the tallest and strongest of these players, we should take note of another critical component of the serve – the second serve. There’s a saying in the tennis world that goes something like “You’re only as good a player as your second serve”. What do you do when your first strike fails you? Here, again, a good height does come in handy, but the advantage is not as pronounced. Andy Murray would have found his name up there in the contenders’ list if he didn’t have such a creampuff second serve. Rafael Nadal may not have the most lethal first serve (although his recent exploits at the US Open seem to indicate otherwise), but he is one of the best at outwitting his opponents with cleverly disguised and subtly varied second serves. Speaking of disguise and variation, few people in history have mastered either of those arts on the serve the way Roger Federer has. Any professional player will tell you that returning a 140 mph missile that you know is coming down the T is a lot easier than getting back a 125 mph serve that you have no idea is going in which direction.

So who has the best combination of a blowtorch first serve and an unattackable second serve? Speaking purely from a technical standpoint, Roddick should marginally edge ahead of the rest of the field – he owns the record of the fastest serve ever, his first serve percentages usually hover above 65%, and he’s got a decent enough second delivery. And what of Karlovic and Isner? They don’t need as much pace on their first serves as everyone else because of their ridiculous height (Isner is 6’9” and Karlovic is 6’10”), and their first serve percentages can rival those of Roddick. But serving is about more than just pace or angles. The ability to produce your best serves when you most need them is the factor that really separates the good servers from the great ones. Federer scores highly here – I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s saved a breakpoint with an ace or an unreturnable. The one player who does well in ALL of the criteria I have mentioned, however, is the one player that we’ve been pining to see on the court for about 7 months now – Juan Martin del Potro. Before he was sent into tennis oblivion by a debilitating wrist injury that forced him to have surgery, he just about had it all on his serve – pace, bounce, consistency, variation, angle and most importantly, the ability to unleash his mightiest bombs when under pressure. Here’s hoping we get to see more of that devastating weapon soon.

Winner: Juan Martin del Potro

Courtesy: SportsKeeda

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