The Decline of Serve & Volley

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The Decline of Serve & Volley Empty The Decline of Serve & Volley

Post by Guest on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 1:18 pm

I have come across a very interesting article that I wanted to share with you for your thoughts on the serve & volley tactic and its decline in the modern game.

“We’re in a situation that if we don’t take [the decline of serve and volley] seriously, we might be in a position in two or three years’ time when we’ll have extremely boring tennis with guys just standing on the baseline. If that happens I think tennis will die quite a lot” ~ Jonas Bjorkman, then Chairman of the Player Council, speaking in 2001.

In 2001, there was little indication that the era of serve and volley tennis was living on borrowed time in its spiritual heartland of Wimbledon. Players at every stage of their career, and of every stature, were following their serves into the net with great effect. The mighty Sampras and the ever-hopeful Henman, the giant veteran Ivanisevic and the rising star Federer, all used the same basic game plan. Whether following booming 130mph serves, or more modest deliveries, there could be little doubt which style was ascendant on the skiddy, low-bouncing grass, with Andre Agassi the only baseliner in the semi-finals.

Wimbledon 2001 is especially famed for being the first and only time Sampras and Federer met competitively. Of course, they would go on to meet each other eternally, in the unwinnable game of ‘Who is the Greatest Tennis Player Ever’. It is obviously wonderful to watch Federer at a time when all the world could have scarcely guessed the towering heights of his dominance to come. Another remarkable aspect of the match, however, is the style of both men. Federer was very like Sampras. He served and volleyed, and though his serve lacked the venom of Sampras’, these minor details were outweighed by the great similarities between the two as they vied for control of the net.

Federer went on to lose to the serve and volley of Henman, who went on to lose to the serve and volley of Ivansevic, who went on to beat the serve and volley of Rafter, to win the title.

This was not to last. The balance between serve and volley and baseline tennis would be tipped decisively, and in 2002, now Tim Henman was the only serve and volleyer in the semi-finals. Hewitt and Nalbandian went on to play the first Wimbledon final without a single player attempting the tactic, even as a surprise change-up. Even Agassi would serve and volley as a change of pace, a different look, something else for the other guy to think about. Now Wimbledon was winnable without even needing to do it. The factors for this change go down like accessories to murder in the minds of many tennis fans. What were they, then? What had turned the attacking game of serve and volley into endless metronomic rallies[1]?

Before all else, tennis players themselves have changed. Nobody would doubt that the current top 20 is fitter, faster and stronger than at any point in history. In 2011, the world’s best serve and volleyer, Michael Llodra (ranked 24th), hit a heavy kick serve, in the deuce court, to the backhand of the world’s best baseliner, Rafael Nadal (ranked 1st) on the ‘quick’ clay of Madrid.

Nadal, standing about 10 feet from the baseline, hit a backhand crosscourt, dropping relatively tamely at Llodra’s feet. The great touch-artist half-volleyed the ball at a sharp angle away from Nadal, bouncing very close to the net of Nadal’s ad court service box. To even reach the ball before it bounced twice would require dashing across almost the entire diagonal of the court at four-fifths the speed of an Olympic sprinter. This is exactly what Nadal did, covering 15 metres in less than two seconds, before deftly dinking the ball past a helpless Llodra cross-court.

The changes in racket equipment at the turn of the century had their impact, too. Often cited as a seismic shift in tennis, Gustavo Kuertern started using underwear elastic company Luxilon’s polyester strings in 1997, and went on to win three French Opens. With these strings the ball gained more spin and speed when hit with the ferocious racket-head speed generated by modern, ‘windshield wiper’ swings. Taylor Dent, who continued to serve and volley deep into the 2000s, considers modern strings the main culprit for its demise[2] “I think that the biggest changes are in the strings, that’s actually a bigger change than from wood to graphite, because these guys can get so much dip on the ball at such a high pace. In the past, if you were serving and volleying, it was really tough for the guy to get a return down at your feet because you can’t generate that kind of spin off a first serve. Generally speaking, you’re just trying to keep it low over the net, but now, if you don’t really stretch a guy out, it’s coming back at your feet, and then they can hit passing shots so hard because they can generate so much spin.“ Furthermore, going into the 2000s were the first generation of tennis players who had played with graphite rackets since the age of 4 or 5. It became second-nature to them to use these new, powerful tools, whereas in the previous era many top pros had made this change mid-career. But though this change in technology certainly made life no easier for serve-volleyers, how to explain their disappearance even from the quick lawns of Wimbledon?

Well, they became less quick. And it is this change, above all, which is lamented by modern professionals. As Greg Rusedski remarked mournfully at Queen’s Club 2008 whilst commentating on the wholesale destruction of serve-volleyer Jonas Bjorkman by Rafael Nadal “these aren’t like the grass courts we used to play on”. The change in grass courts is such that all talk about serve and volley being the ‘ideal strategy’ for the surface is antiquated. Unlike the changes in racket technology and the fitness of the players themselves, this was a step-change. Allegedly motivated by a desire to lengthen rallies, due to the increased television spectator revenue promised by longer points, Wimbledon 2002 was utterly different to Wimbledon 2001. The substrate of the courts were changed to encourage higher bounces. The mix of the grass changed from a quick 70% Rye / 30% Creeping red fescue, to a slower 100% Perennial ryegrass. This, coupled with the slower balls[3], led to one thing – the first ever Wimbledon final that lacked a single serve and volley point, between the straightforward baseliners of Hewitt and Nalbandian.

Federer beaten by Henman, 2001The change in the tournament overall was mirrored in the change in a man, Roger Federer. Though he serve-volleyed extensively in his final against Philippoussis in 2003, he never again attacked as much as he did in 2001 against Sampras. In his subsequent finals against Roddick and Nadal, Federer primarily made his impact from the baseline, serve-volleying infrequently. In a 2010 interview[4], Federer remarked that “I obviously came here in the year when I played Sampras, let’s say, I was serve and volleying 80% of the first serve, 50% on the second serve. I remember once speaking to Wayne Ferreira who I was playing doubles with that year actually. He said he used to serve and volley always first serve, 50% of the second serve. And towards the end of his career at Wimbledon, he used to serve and volley 50% of his first serve and not anymore on his second serve. You wonder, how in the world has that happened? Have we become such incredible return players or can we not volley anymore or is it just a combination of slower balls, slower courts? I think it’s definitely a bit of a combination of many things. If I look back, I think we definitely had many more great volley players in the game back then. When you do have that, you are forced to move in, as well, because you don’t want to hit passing shots against a great volleyer over and over again. But because we don’t have that as much anymore, everybody’s content staying at the baseline”

Federer further notes that “unfortunately, they’ve slowed down everything, indoors, grass. Everything has become so slow, I think that is a bit of a pity.”

After this conspiracy of factors had successfully killed the last great serve-volleyers, what remains of serve and volley going into the new decade?

At the highest level, only three players consistently in the top 10 serve and volley regularly, in that they will serve and volley at least once in most matches. Those are Federer, Roddick and Murray. All three men have great variety in their shots and game plans. Federer idolized Edberg as a boy, and his attacking instincts, obvious enjoyment of the style, and practised technique, mean that he (comparatively) often serve-volleys, especially when comfortably in front, or when playing in practice/exhibition matches.

Roddick, by contrast, has no apparent love of the serve and volley game. He does, however, have a love of serving, and a tireless desire to try new strategies against any opponent. Thus, when Michael Llodra began chipping his giant serve back during Wimbledon 2010, Roddick began to serve and volley to force the Frenchman to go for more risky shots. And during the ATP World Tour Finals the same year, he came up with the daring tactic of serve-volleying on his second serves against Nadal, the rationale being that this was his best approach shot. It paid limited dividends, but the tactic remains a viable weapon in his armoury.

Murray is naturally fond of variety, and though this primarily means differences in his groundstrokes, he will occasionally change-up play with a serve and volley point. Temperamentally unsentimental, he will happily serve and volley when it works, as his fine use of serve and volley against David Nalbandian in the 2010 Paris Masters demonstrated. Down a set and losing badly from the back of the court, Murray switched to serve and volley tactics. This game-changing decision saw his play likened to that of Boris Becker and Pete Sampras, and he went on to take the next two sets to win the match. Providing more support for the view that slower court surfaces were the largest factor in the decline of serve and volley since 2000, the event was played on the fastest surface of a Masters 1000 event, the indoor courts of the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy.

Beyond these 3, most of the remaining top 10 are notable for their total absence of any serve-volleying. This is in contrast to 2000, when the year-end top 10 mostly had the will and ability to change things up with serve and volley, if only occasionally. Nadal tried it successfully a couple of times against Denis Istomin at Queen’s Club 2010, to the great surprise of all present, and the author knows of no other occasions. For Nadal, every point in every competition matters, whatever the score, so unlike Federer he is rarely or never ‘just playing’ with an opponent he has well beaten. His baseline play is outstanding, and consequently there is seldom a situation where serving and volleying will tilt the odds in his favour more than staying at the baseline – so to prevent any wasted points, he never serve-volleys. Djokovic uses it very rarely as a surprise tactic, but it is a trivial aspect of his game. Berdych, like Nadal, has been known to serve and volley (ineffectually) on grass courts, but again it is essentially non-existent. Soderling never serve-volleys despite his 140mph+ serve. Ferrer, Del Potro and Verdasco are much the same[5].

Just outside the consistent top 10, there are a number of players who incorporate serve and volley as a non-trivial aspect of their game. Tsonga used it occasionally to great effect to reach the final of the 2008 Australian Open, as did Mardy Fish in his 2008 US Open run. Jurgen Melzer, too, can use it as an effective change-up, helping him reach the 2010 Wimbledon fourth round.

But only when climbing down to the rank of 24 in the world do you hit the first true serve-volleyer, Michael Llodra. A tricky lefty and doubles Grand Slam champion, with a serve branded ‘unbelievable’ and volleys which are ‘the best on the tour’ by Robin Soderling, he has been making some inroads into Grand Slams and Masters 1000 events – notably a semi-final run on the quick fastcourts at Paris, where he was only just edged by the much higher ranked Soderling. He has claimed some remarkable scalps including Querrey, Berdych and Djokovic. He is, in his own words, ‘like the Last of the Mohicans’, and the rarity of his game can cause some opponents to unravel. But not all. The great test of his game came in the crucial 2010 singles Davis Cup tie between France and Serbia. There, the unfazed baseliner Victor Troicki efficiently and consistently unlocked Llodra. Whether it is the rackets, the surface, or the athleticism of players, few tennis fans could have seen this as anything other than a final, superfluous nail in the coffin of serve and volley at the highest level.

To find other true serve-volleyers, further climb-downs in the rankings are necessary[6]. Here, three main categories of modern serve and volley emerge. The first, dwindling group are veterans from the 90s and early 2000s. Llodra (30 years old) and Stepanek (32 years old) are the main players in this category, following the retirement of Dent in 2010. The second are doubles specialists. Naturally suited to playing at the net and practised at serve-volleying, doubles specialists often trade on this unusual advantage when entering singles – a good example is Nicolas Mahut. And thirdly, are big (and usually tall) servers. Thus Ivo Karlovic usually follows his record-breaking serves to the net, as does the 6’7” Chris Guccione. But even armed with the biggest serves with the acutest angles in the game, younger tall players such as Kevin Anderson and John Isner frequently elect to stay back on serve.

The remaining reserves are in doubles play proper, where serve and volley remains a winning tactic at the very highest level, and a few of the 1,000+ professional journeymen singles players that play in Challengers and Futures level events across the globe. Indeed, it is worth noting that outside the very top 0.0001% of tennis players in the world, pure serve and volley remains a viable tactic. Llodra, after all, is the 24th best player on the entire planet. Thus unknowns like Takao Suzuki, Prakash Amritraj and Ivan Navarro can quietly ply their trade, winning enough matches to earn a living, and, very rarely, making enough of a run in a major tournament to feature as a brief blip on the radar of tennis spectators everywhere.

So what is the future of serve and volley? As a surprise tactic, it appears to remain safe. Two of the most prominent breakthroughs of 2011, Milos Raonic and Ryan Harrison, are competent serve -volleyers. Both players clearly practice the tactic as necessary, for one can be a great server and a great volleyer and yet be ineffectual at putting these together in serve and volley – look at the tenuous footwork of Djokovic on his rare attempts at serve and volley, compared to the fluid, razor-sharp mastery of Sampras. It of course helps that players like Raonic grew up idolizing Sampras. Without a similar influence around in the 2000s, it will be interesting to see whether many young players will feel inspired to put the dedicated time in necessary – Nick Bolletieri[7] says it takes three to four years to learn serve and volley well. Further, Bolletieri tells us it can take a talented player until their early twenties to master serve and volley– when college tennis scholarships are on the line, this is too late, as a player could instead be mastering a more straightforward baseline game likely to garner more wins.

A few predict the return of a new, great serve and volleyer, almost as a Messianic figure sent to save tennis from its baseline tedium. Thus McEnroe foresees an ultra-athletic player that will serve and volley, and start beating the baseliners. Sampras, too, believes that his game would continue to work well against modern players. But this view is in the minority. Federer, a talented serve and volleyer, knew that the age was at an end, and changed in time to be a great all-court player. Dent and Henman both attempted to re-work their games much later in their careers to a more all-court focus, with less success. Indeed, a weary Dent came to say at the end of his career “serve and volley is not a viable way to play tennis – you have to serve aces to make it work”.

For those desperate for a glimmer of hope for a future tennis containing serve and volleyers, perhaps one thing can be said – should serve and volley ever become viable again through changes to courts or racket technology etc., it will come to the fore again, perhaps discovered by a lowly ranked singles player, or a doubles specialist causally playing a singles tournament.

For now – quasi-religious predictions of a resurrection aside –we can see that Bjorkman was right in 2001. Top-ranking serve and volleyers have died. And tennis has died quite a lot, too.

Taken from - http://essentialtennis.com/spotlight/2011/05/313/

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Post by sirfredperry on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 1:58 pm

Very interesting, if a tad on the long side ! Was watching some highlights of the Sampras-Fed 2001 match recently and what was nearly as interesting as the number of times each Sd and Vd was the high number of times that the incoming server was passed at the net.
Also saw recently some highlights of an early 90s AO final in which Edberg came in behind absolutely everything and was constantly passed by a rampant Courier or had to dig awkward half volleys off his toes.
Sadly, I reckon if anyone consistently Sd and Vd these days - is Llodra the nearest to it? - they would get roundly smacked, as returning, rackets, heavy balls, and fitness seem to be making it a dying art.
:: As a footnote - Just watching Tsonga v Baggy at Dubai and JWT volleying excellently !

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Post by barrystar on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 2:11 pm

S&V was massively boring in the late 1990's because the conditions favioured powerful servers but not powerful returners, and whilst Wimbledon 2002 was something of an odd aberration, seeming slower than the year before and subsequent years, I have generally preferred the attacking baseline play of the last decade.

As I have said many times my view is that the pendulum is swinging too far in favour of defensive play and long rallies with impossible gets and I believe that in turn will become dull to spectators after a while when the novelty has worn off and the pure amount of time you have to commit to watching a match, or even a point or a game, shines through a bit more - I'd like to see (a) enforcement of time between points and (b) a small increase in speed at least on hard and grass courts so that "winners" are rewarded earlier in the rally and perhaps we see more use of S&V as a tactic - but I'd not like to see it dominate again.
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Post by Tenez on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 2:29 pm

Decline of SV is due in that order:

1 - Strings - the volleyer receives a harder ball but not a ball he can volley but a ball he has to dig up from his ankles. Therefore almost impossible to put away.
2 - Slow conds (balls essentially)
3 - Amazing fitness from players.

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Post by newballs on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 2:34 pm

Interestingly Berrer tried coming in a few times against Andy. His volleys didn't look too bad either but the end result was he was like a sitting duck for Murray to exploit.

S&V in other words (in the words of Baldrick ) are as dead as some do dos.

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Post by Tenez on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 2:34 pm

barrystar wrote:- but I'd not like to see it dominate again.

I agree. If you watch Raonic and the many aces he can throw, it can bring back bad memories....especially if all players start to serve like that.

The best tennis year in terms of balance were 2000 - 2007.

I made a comaprision of pace of play between Pete and Agassi pre 2000 compared to Federer Blake 2006. Federer v Blake played roughly 10% faster. Whether that is done to courts conds or Federer and Blake simply hitting harder is hard to say....but it just shows that USO 2006 was still pretty fast contrary to some who want to make us believe that the courts have slowed down since 2000.

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Post by JuliusHMarx on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 2:36 pm

Interesting that he sais that in 2001, before whatever court condition changes were made after that.
He could only have been thinking about racket and string technology, allowing returners to have the advantage over all but the very best S&V'ers, and foreseeing a time when further advances in technology led to S&V becoming obsolete.
He certainly got that part right. Whether tennis has died 'quite a lot' is more open to debate, and an idea of what tennis, as a sport, should be. That part of tennis (S&V) has died completely, and tennis has lost a dimension to it as a result. That is, IMO, a damn shame.
Equally, as others have said, we don't want to return to the days when S&V almost became simply S, without the V.

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Post by laverfan on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 2:41 pm

Y I Man wrote:Nobody would doubt that the current top 20 is fitter, faster and stronger than at any point in history.

If that is the case, then S&V can and should be used to take away even more time away from the opponent.

If strings allow great passing shots, they should also allow great volleys, but that does not seem to be the case.

The lack of desire to volley, is probably the primary reason for it's slow demise. Is it the fear of being passed, that prevents players from the net? Doubles is a fast game, and now with the 'deciding point' system, even more so.

Annacone is trying to bring Federer up the court. Wink

Another peculiar factor is that, players at W who played S&V, did not have a place to sit down between changeovers, which started changing in 70-80s. S&V may have reduced the length of typical matches with shorter points, but there have been long S&V matches as well.

Agree with Barry about speeding up the courts, surface variations and enforcement of time rules to avoid battles of attrition. thumbsup


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Post by barrystar on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 3:01 pm

laverfan wrote:
If strings allow great passing shots, they should also allow great volleys, but that does not seem to be the case.

That's because what the strings do is enable the passer to put spin and power on the ball so the baseliner's shot either (a) dips to the volleyer's feet, and even strings don't help you dig out a fierce spinning shot from your feet when close to the net or (b) makes the dtl or cross-court pass a higher-margin shot because you don't have to hit it flat to have the necessary speed to out-do the reactions of the the man at the net - short-distance reaction time will not have sped up as much as court coverage and spinny passing shots. It's always been possible to wallop a ball at great speed to pass someone at the net - but that has been a shot with a very low margin for error save for a player who is perfectly positioned after a volley lacking depth - the strings have redressed that balance.

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Post by laverfan on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 3:08 pm

Watching Llodra-Federer (and a bit of S&V Very Happy).

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Post by Guest on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 3:19 pm

Fed looking sharp, 3-0 in 6 mins Shocked

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Post by legendkillar on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 3:27 pm

Doubles has become the sole bearer of anything resembling S&V. Bjorkman was more of doubles specialist and the game had clearly moved on since his statement.

It is not like tennis is mindless ball bashing from the back of the court. You need a good degree of accuracy. Those that lack that by the slightest margin will use their extreme fitness the find a more comfortable angle on court that plays to their strengths.

I guess the good thing about the big servers of today is that they are very poor at the net. Aside Isner's out of world performance against Nadal at FO 2011, there hasn't been much in the way of telling peformances that combines both serving and volleying.

The decline of S&V however has opened the door for dropshots which technically are more pleasing on the eye than a crashing serve and put away volley. In the past when you had rallies at the net when players such as Borg, Connors, McEnroe and Becker who should great touch and balance at the net, what Sampras effectively did was have a serve that had both power and accuracy and killed any chance of any returner being able to construct points on his service game. Ivanisevic and Philippoussis were more boom serves and less on the volley. Rafter was a joy to watch as he wasn't all power and serve, so there was a window for those who liked those encounters. I think Rafter v Agassi were very close encounters. I remember Wimbledon 2000 and AO 2001 being some of the best tennis in terms of variation.

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Post by hawkeye on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 3:32 pm

Have just watched a bit of the first set of Federer v Llodra. A bit of a warning for anyone thinking of serving and vollying...

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Post by barrystar on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 3:35 pm

hawkeye wrote:Have just watched a bit of the first set of Federer v Llodra. A bit of a warning for anyone thinking of serving and vollying...

What's Fed doing - is he stuffing Llodra's serve right back at him, and what's Fed doing on his own serve?
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Post by Tenez on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 3:45 pm

The fact is SVing disappeared before surfaces slowed down.....and that proves the strings are the main reason for teh decline of SV.

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Post by hawkeye on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 3:57 pm

barrystar

Feds just doing his usual stuff. Llodra runs to the net, Federer hooks the ball past him, clean hit well inside the lines but in the exact position that Llodra can't reach. All the time Federer looking elegant and beautiful. The crowd oohing and ahhing...

You can understand why people don't like him really don't like him...

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Post by Jeremy_Kyle on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 5:15 pm

I think the decline of S&V was already there in the last couple of matches between Edberg and Courier. It was apparent how the violent fh returns of the american couldn't anymore be handled effectively on the net.
I think Edberg has been really the last of the great S&V players. After him there was a long era, which began with the likes of Ivanisevic and Krajicek were more than serve and volley, was really just the dominion of the big servers. For those who didn't watch tennis at the time, it was one of the most boring period in tennis history and it was really rare event to see the ball returned back on court.
That explains, i believe, why all those measures to slow things down, surfaces and balls, were put in place and why the baseliners have ruled in the last few years.
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Post by hawkeye on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 5:18 pm

I dont think anyone watched tennis at that time...

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Post by JuliusHMarx on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 5:28 pm

hawkeye wrote:I dont think anyone watched tennis at that time...

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/TENNIS%3A+WIMBLEDON+2002%3AWIMBLEDON+diary%3A+Viewing+figures.-a088604825

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Post by Tenez on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 5:53 pm

Jeremy_Kyle wrote:I think the decline of S&V was already there in the last couple of matches between Edberg and Courier. It was apparent how the violent fh returns of the american couldn't anymore be handled effectively on the net.
I think Edberg has been really the last of the great S&V players. After him there was a long era, which began with the likes of Ivanisevic and Krajicek were more than serve and volley, was really just the dominion of the big servers. For those who didn't watch tennis at the time, it was one of the most boring period in tennis history and it was really rare event to see the ball returned back on court.
That explains, i believe, why all those measures to slow things down, surfaces and balls, were put in place and why the baseliners have ruled in the last few years.

It's a good point actually. If you check the record of Edberg and Becker v Agassi...it's not great. Becker however coudl handle Courier much better, though that was before Courier really took off, after 92.

However the second generation of servers (more servers than volleyers I agree) could really serve their way out of trouble. And I am sure some of today's servers are even better server than the late 90s era.

However, the new strings gave the returners a much better chance and certainly killed SVing.

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Post by barrystar on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 5:57 pm

I love this article from the economist about the dire state of men's tennis in 1997, it captured it all for me which is why I'd like the powers that be to change, but in small steps. First I'd like to see them enforcing the time between points and speeding up the non-clay court conditions a little, whether by using different balls or changing the surface a bit I don't mind, but not both at the same time because you can't tell which step is making the real difference and you might go too far. Then I'd see what happened and, if necessary, rinse and repeat....

Anyone for zzzz tennis?
Aug 21st 1997 | AUSTIN | from the print edition

..WHEN it begins on August 25th, the US Open will provide yet another painful reminder that men’s tennis has been haemorrhaging charm for quite some time. Tennis fans the world over are hoping that they will not have to witness another sleep-inducing Grand Slam final between one of the legion of dour Spanish clay-court specialists and Pete Sampras, the supreme exponent of soporific tennis.

Part of the reason for the yawns lies with the players themselves and their failure to understand what it is to entertain an audience, and part lies with the advent of space-age racquets. These have helped to raise women’s tennis to new heights, but they have reduced the men’s game to an aching blur of thuggish serves and whiplash rallies. The product (as Americans like to call it) is increasingly unappetising.

For players weaned on light graphite racquets, old-fashioned wooden ones are a revelation. They bend perceptibly on impact and make it almost impossible to hit a clean winner from the base line. When John McEnroe reluctantly traded in his trusty Dunlop Maxply for a new graphite model in 1983, wood was all but finished. Bjorn Borg’s dismal attempt at a professional comeback using a wood racquet (he barely won a match) showed how far graphite power had changed the game.

Miloslav Mecir was the last great player to win with wood. He reached the US and Australian Open finals and won the 1988 Olympics with a wood racquet. When he was at the top of his game, other players would slip out of the dressing room to watch his immaculate stroke play. He reminded them that tennis used to be all about angles and craftsmanship.

Rod Laver was probably the greatest exponent of this, and it is no coincidence that the 1972 WCT final in Dallas between Mr Laver and fellow Australian Ken Rosewall is widely cited as one of the greatest matches of all time. Mr Rosewall was the winner (4-6,6-0,6-3,6-7,7-6).

Most of today’s young players are power baseliners (“PB’ers”), a style of tennis almost unknown in the days of wood. Jimmy Connors introduced the concept; Ivan Lendl developed it; and contemporary players are perfecting it.

Making men’s tennis more entertaining will be difficult. The sport needs to think carefully about the effects of new racquet technology. The governing bodies for baseball and cricket both banned metal bats, arguing that they would fundamentally alter the character of the sport. It is too late for tennis to do the same, but it could initiate rule changes that would extend the time the ball is in play and reward strategy and stroke play over raw power.

So far the tennis authorities have tinkered only with the weight and pressure of the balls. Significant change—banning powerful racquets, for example, or allowing only one serve instead of two—might invite lawsuits from manufacturers and from players who would argue that their livelihood was being threatened. A delayed rule change—to come into effect in, say, ten years—might be the solution.

Making tennis players more entertaining should not take so long. Fans, of course, have unrealistic expectations. They want their tennis heroes to play turbo-charged rallies with vintage elegance and to come across as insightful, rounded human beings as well. Fans delight in the smallest hints of life off the court—the way, for example, that Jim Courier, a former number one, leafed through a highbrow novel during the changeover.

Professional tennis players might argue that they are under no obligation to be anything except competitive. Yet, as a gladiatorial sport, tennis is dependent upon charisma. Much of this comes in the language of the game, in the syntax of grips and spins, and in the vocabulary of volleys and lobs. Some of it, however, must emanate from the players themselves. All the legends, in their own way, exuded it. Without charisma, a champion is easily forgotten.

Still, today’s game is not all gloom. The semi-final between Gustavo Kuerten and Michael Chang in the Montreal Open recently offered some hope for die-hard fans. Though one-sided (Mr Kuerten won 6-3, 6-1), the contrasting styles of play and personality made for an intriguing match. On one side of the net was the terrier-like Mr Chang, an old-school defensive player whose Herculean legs help him run down every ball. On the other side was Mr Kuerten (or “Guga”, as he is known), a happy-go-lucky 20-year-old Brazilian who surprised everybody by winning the French Open this year (a feat the precocious Mr Chang accomplished at the age of 17).

The looping forehands that Guga unleashed were enough to get any armchair fan gasping. But it was the Brazilian’s cheery disposition which really caught the eye. Here was a player who looked as if he was having fun. He smiled when he let rip a top-spin backhand, and he even smiled when he netted a volley.

Perhaps it is infectious. A notoriously po-faced Austrian, Thomas Muster, allowed a smile or two to pierce his Tyrolean gloom at a recent championship in Cincinnati. Mr Muster has been through some hard times. A few years ago he was knocked down by a drunken driver and doctors doubted he would be able to walk again. Within a year, however, he was back on the tour and winning. But even when he became the world number one (replacing Mr Sampras for a short while), he faced a barrage of insults from the crowds. They thought him aloof and arrogant.

The other week in Cincinnati, though, they cheered, even though Mr Muster is today only fifth in the world rankings. Muster v Kuerten for the US Open final? Now that might be fun.

from the print edition |
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The Decline of Serve & Volley Empty Re: The Decline of Serve & Volley

Post by Josiah Maiestas on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 5:58 pm

Who the hell is Michel Kratochvil? Shocked
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Post by Guest on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 7:13 pm

Jeez I have just returned from the future, where we have had the first stale mate draw in Wimbledon history after Jonny Lungbuster tied the final with Ludovic Marathonovic after the first four sets lasted five years and 64 days.

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Post by socal1976 on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 7:33 pm

For now – quasi-religious predictions of a resurrection aside –we can see that Bjorkman was right in 2001. Top-ranking serve and volleyers have died. And tennis has died quite a lot, too.


Very good and interesting article. Again this is another well researched piece that further illuminates how the slow court theorists are missing the boat. It is the racquet and strings that have killed serve and volley. Bjorkman points out here that even at the start of 2000 serve and volley was dying out. I remember in the late 90s basically rafter, henman, and sampras were the only real S and V practitioners of note. Serve and volleyers dominated the early history of the game. But since the late 70s and early 80s the baseliners have continually gotten stronger and stronger.

First the graphite racquet, then modern training and fitness, and then new strings came in long before the slowed conditions and that was when the trend cutting against S and V started and kept gaining steam all the way till the present day. Slowed conditions play a role but this trend from the early 80s late 70s on was when the S and V ers started losing ground.

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Post by Henman Bill on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 9:50 pm

Superb article. In my opinion they need to try and do something. It would be nice if a number of tournaments including Wimbledon and the US Open featured more than 50% of first serve points being serve volley and less than 50% on second serve. That would be my target for balls and court adjustment.

Is there a possibility thought that you can't achieve it because of strings?

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Post by hawkeye on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 9:53 pm

Henman Bill wrote:Superb article. In my opinion they need to try and do something. It would be nice if a number of tournaments including Wimbledon and the US Open featured more than 50% of first serve points being serve volley and less than 50% on second serve. That would be my target for balls and court adjustment.

Is there a possibility thought that you can't achieve it because of strings?

Tim would probably second that. In fact he might even make a come back...

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Post by laverfan on Tue 28 Feb 2012, 10:11 pm

Josiah Maiestas wrote:Who the hell is Michel Kratochvil? Shocked

Does this help jog your memory? Wink

2000 French Open R32: Roger Federer def. Michel Kratochvil (7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-7, 8-6)

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Post by socal1976 on Wed 29 Feb 2012, 5:36 am

If that is the case, then S&V can and should be used to take away even more time away from the opponent.

If strings allow great passing shots, they should also allow great volleys, but that does not seem to be the case


Laverfan

The strings don't work that way Laverfan. I am a decent club player and I switched to a mix of luxlons and natural gut, rather expensive but its what the pros do. My best shot has always been my forehand. But it favors big swings and groundstrokes, not volleys. The reason being is that the luxlons are dead strings. They are not live like gut. They favor the player taking big cuts. If you have a good forehand it just makes volleying too much of risk to get passed or what if you flub a volley.

At the net because the strings are dead they hurt your feel, that is the one of the main drawbacks I have found with the luxilons. It becomes a bit more difficult to select the right weight for your volleys.

I think you raise a good issue people really don't know how revolutionary these strings are if you keep restringing regularly and if you start taking big swings with them. I hated them first time I played with them after a month I became a fanatic constantly restringing the racquet and just cutting away.

Not only do the luxlons make the returns better they make the cross court forehand passing shot as well very easy. I remember when I started out my coach said never, never go for a passing shot cross court from behind the baseline. As a broken down club player with a good forehand I can hit that shot almost as easy as down the line. So if a club player can now pass you cross court which line do you cover as a volleyer. Now what do you think the pros will do to you with these racquets and strings if you don't come in when in a commanding position?

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Post by sirfredperry on Wed 29 Feb 2012, 10:38 am

Seem to remember Kratochvil giving Tim Henman a devil of a match at Wimbledon one year

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Post by dummy_half on Wed 29 Feb 2012, 5:14 pm

The Economist article barrystar posted above makes interesting reading 15 years down the line, where men's tennis is held in very high esteem, with a possible GOAT, arguably the best clay courter of all time and someone whose form over the last year has been right up there with the best ever, while women's tennis is perhaps slowly emerging from the doldrums of the last 3 or 4 seasons, where there has been a lack of both quality at the top of the game and any variation in style (baseline sluggers all, many without an effective serve or any inclination to volley, slice, play a touch shot or in any way deviate from the plan of hit hard, and if in doubt, hit harder).

It all shows that, despite the reservations some of us have about homogenisation of the game, what really matters is the quality of competition more than the style.

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Post by Tenez on Wed 29 Feb 2012, 5:23 pm

dummy_half wrote:
It all shows that, despite the reservations some of us have about homogenisation of the game, what really matters is the quality of competition more than the style.

Completely disagree. When we have only one style dominating, we can actually question the quality of teh competition....at the top.

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Post by noleisthebest on Wed 29 Feb 2012, 5:29 pm

Personally , I don't like to watch S&V, get boring pretty quickly. I love volleys as shots, part of all-court game, serving fest, not thanks.

Those who love volleying should watch doubles more.

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Post by Tenez on Wed 29 Feb 2012, 5:53 pm

noleisthebest wrote:Personally , I don't like to watch S&V, get boring pretty quickly. I love volleys as shots, part of all-court game, serving fest, not thanks.

Those who love volleying should watch doubles more.
But we want to see volleyers v non volleyers and give them both equal chances. As boring as volleying can be it cannot be worse than sitting five hours to watch a match having the same rally....and having that same match on all slams' finals.

And solid consistent players does necessarily mean quality players as dummy suggests. Bruguera was a very consistent payer on clay (as he would have been on all surfaces nowadays). it does not make him a quality one.

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Post by socal1976 on Wed 29 Feb 2012, 6:34 pm

Have to agree with Nitb. We get enough volleying even in singles. The beef of the no S and V guys is that they don't rush in after every serve or most serves. Well nowadays when you want to volley you have to work yourself into a position of strength better than what you had to do with wood racquets and gut strings, you could run in behind almost any garbage and have a good shot at the point. Players have to wait longer in points to get to net, you do still see players who like to work their way in eventually. Even Novak and Nadal do that a few times a set. Murray can and does do it from time to time. Tsonga, volleys a great deal as well. Raonic and Harrison come in a lot, both of them. They just have to earn their trip to the net more, I am fine with that.

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Post by Henman Bill on Wed 29 Feb 2012, 10:18 pm

2002 Wimbledon R4 Henman bt Kratochvil 7-6 6-7 4-6 6-3 6-2
http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2002/jul/01/wimbledon2002.wimbledon

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Post by sirfredperry on Thu 01 Mar 2012, 12:49 pm

Dummyhalf.
...."baseline sluggers all, many without an effective serve or any inclination to volley, slice, play a touch shot or in any way deviate from the plan of hit hard, and if in doubt, hit harder......


Fear your description of the women's game over the last few years is only too accurate. It was lovely seeing Date Krumm playing with such lovely touches at Wimbledon last year. Best women's match I've seen in a long time.

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