Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Best Shots In Tennis - Part 3

The overwhelming importance of the serve in the game of tennis has been well-documented. But make no mistake – mastering the numerous intricacies of the complex phenomenon that is the service motion is not everyone’s cup of tea, which is why you see the physically gifted (read: tall) players having a clear and inherent advantage over their peers in this department. So what do you do when you give up considerable ground to your opponent on the one shot that is best-equipped to win a point? Why the next best thing of course: use the return of serve as your primary offensive weapon. Continuing with our series on the best shots in tennis among current players, we take a look at the best returners in the game.

Men – The Contenders: Rafael Nadal, David Nalbandian, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer, Nikolay Davydenko, Juan Martin Del Potro

If there’s one stroke in tennis that has undergone a complete revolution in the last 20 years or so, it is the return of serve. Superior racquet technology has liberated the players’ shot-making to such an extent that they now take full swings at serves delivered in excess of 135mph, often sending the ball back for a scorching winner faster than it left the server’s racquet. There was perhaps no greater pioneer of the aggressive service return than Andre Agassi, who used his superior anticipation to offset the power serving of his rivals (the chief among whom was that GOAT candidate with the canon-fire serve himself, Pete Sampras).

The key component of any effective return of serve is anticipation. If you can guess which direction the serve is coming, that’s half the job done. Roger Federer is so good at reading his opponent’s serve that he’s made a habit of taking a step or two to his right or left and getting even the fastest and most sharply-angled bombs back in play with nonchalant ease. Just ask Andy Roddick. Where Federer comes up short is in the second serve return – he’s been known to send more than his fair share of puffball serves tamely into the net, especially on the backhand side. Before Federer started dominating the scene, Lleyton Hewitt was busy making a career for himself, compensating for a lack of a world-class serve by hitting punishing returns that were vividly reminiscent of Agassi’s glory days. Then there’s David Nalbandian, whose attacking returns are in a league of their own – when Nalbandian gets hold of your serve, your best hope is to just get a racquet on the ball.



Rafael Nadal can unfailingly get into a neutral position in a rally by sending almost every serve back into play, while Del Potro uses his long limbs and tremendous reach to great effect, making sure he hits deep returns more often than not. Nikolay Davydenko and Novak Djokovic regularly use the return as a means to make amends for their serving woes , breaking their opponents’ serves just as often as they themselves get broken. David Ferrer can really blast the ball off the return too; one service return he made in the 5th set tiebreaker of his match against Fernando Verdasco in the just-concluded US Open moved Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim to call it ‘one of the top five returns you’ll ever see’. But no one on the planet today can combine offense, defense, consistency and accuracy on the return of serve better than that grumpy Brit, Andy Murray. Murray’s return, often hit from a foot or two inside the baseline, can be used in a coaching manual for its textbook correctness and, of course, its lethal effectiveness, revolving as it does on the trademark trait of his game – anticipation.

Winner: Andy Murray

Courtesy: SportsKeeda

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