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Who has the best combination of serve and return?

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Who has the best combination of serve and return? Empty Who has the best combination of serve and return?

Post by HM Murdock Sun 18 Oct 2015, 8:40 pm

I think one of the reasons for Novak's success this year is the improvement in his serve. It has become a very reliable and effective weapon.

Which got me thinking: has there been a player with a better combination of serve and return? i.e. taking them as a pair?

Players like Isner have huge serves but much weaker returns, so their 'average' across the two shots is much lower.

Players like Ferrer and Nishikori are kind of the same thing but in reverse - great returns but weak serves.

What about someone like Federer? Not top of the tree at either serve or return but very strong on both (particularly the serve).

What do you all reckon then? Which player, past or present, has the best serve and return pair?

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Post by socal1976 Sun 18 Oct 2015, 8:57 pm

Novak has the best combo now. In the past Lendl, Borg, and Mac come to mind as good combo returners and servers. Mac was dangerously underrated as a returner in a different way. He was a lethal chip and charger. Borg was a very good server and highly underrated as it was pivotal to his success on grass. Agassi also is on the list he had a better serve than he got credit for because he didn't hit many aces. Novak is as good as any of them I think he could be better on his serve if he didnt go on walkabout in at least one service game a match, where he usually strings together a gift game of errors from the Fh in quick succession. He did it again today.

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Post by HM Murdock Sun 18 Oct 2015, 9:10 pm

Socal, yes, I'd place McEnroe right up there too.

An excellent (and very idiosyncratic) serve with great disguise, placement and spin, and a return that I think was the product of the touch and timing that characterised the rest of his game.

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Post by paulcz Sun 18 Oct 2015, 10:22 pm

Absolute agreement here with you. Novak has really improved his serve to the level of the best. Today, Novak served better in the first set than Jo-Wi and the all game derived from that (Murray was totally lost in that area). The second set Jo-Wi found his serve and the game was more balanced.

Novak's returning must be the best of all times. He has absolutely the best reaction on the ball, he sees the ball mark very clearly and can even choose what a return to play. His level is unbelievable.

As I have always been told that serve is the most important strike and it is, then return gets more importancy just due to a new level Novak shows.

We must mention Federer, who served this whole year brilliantly I would say the best in his career, but Novak is on return better of him. IMO, Novak's combo edges Federer and after them is a huge gap.

It is not fully comparable with a period of Mc and Connors, because they played with diferent rackets, but don't forget that also Boris Becker was a superb server and very good returner as far as I can remember him.
Pete Pistol is possibly the best server due to his superb second serve, but he was not as good on return.

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Post by Born Slippy Mon 19 Oct 2015, 11:46 am

I don't think anyone has bettered Novak. I remember being astonished watching Enqvist for the first time as he was the first player I could recall with a big first serve AND good return. He underperformed in his career though. Similarly, Murray is the first player with a giant serve (over 140 mph in his younger days) who will go down as an all-time great returner. However, he has never made full use of his gifts in his serve - with the second serve being beyond pathetic for a 6'3 man.

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Post by Guest82 Mon 19 Oct 2015, 3:23 pm

Yeah agree. The reason Djokovic is looking near on unbeatable is because he's giving nothing away on serve.

Add into that his return of serve, as a singular shot. Then he's always in returning games.

The fact is that once the rally gets started he is also favourite too.

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Post by HM Murdock Mon 19 Oct 2015, 3:55 pm

Interesting stat: in 2015, Djokovic has the highest winning % on both second serves (60%) and second serve returns (57%).

I also couldn't help noticing this:

1st serve return points won
Djokovic 33% - 32% Murray
2nd serve return points won
Djokovic 57% - 56% Murray
1st serve points won
Djokovic 75% - 75% Murray
2nd serve points won
Djokovic 60% - 52% Murray

That Murray 2nd serve is such a liability!

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Post by socal1976 Mon 19 Oct 2015, 6:19 pm

Yeah Murray's career second serve win percentage is not bad but in bigger matches against great opponents it is a liability. To me I always wonder how he has not improved much in that respect I mean wouldn't any coach work that aspect religiously if hired by Murray.

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Post by Born Slippy Mon 19 Oct 2015, 6:25 pm

Be intriguing to see what happens if you take out their matches against each other from those stats. I suspect Andy's return stats would then be at least equal against the field and the serving stats would move a lot closer.

Worth noting that between them they have lost a total of 5 matches this year at Masters/slam level not to each other (Murray to Fed x2 and Anderson and Novak to Fed and Stan).

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Post by paulcz Mon 19 Oct 2015, 6:34 pm

HM Murdock wrote:Interesting stat: in 2015, Djokovic has the highest winning % on both second serves (60%) and second serve returns (57%).

I also couldn't help noticing this:

1st serve return points won
Djokovic 33% - 32% Murray
2nd serve return points won
Djokovic 57% - 56% Murray
1st serve points won
Djokovic 75% - 75% Murray
2nd serve points won
Djokovic 60% - 52% Murray

That Murray 2nd serve is such a liability!

That is really interesting. Thanks to getting them here HMM..  Murray is a great returner as well, he has a really good reflexes and body dynamics.
Despite the fact that he is a great returner  I still cant get why he chose to be on return instead of taking the serve at Wimbledon semi with Fed.

I have a point  to the stats, as they  dont consider playing  against different opponents and it is sure that  Novak played against much tougher opponents.

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Post by Danny_1982 Mon 19 Oct 2015, 9:14 pm

HM Murdock wrote:Interesting stat: in 2015, Djokovic has the highest winning % on both second serves (60%) and second serve returns (57%).

I also couldn't help noticing this:

1st serve return points won
Djokovic 33% - 32% Murray
2nd serve return points won
Djokovic 57% - 56% Murray
1st serve points won
Djokovic 75% - 75% Murray
2nd serve points won
Djokovic 60% - 52% Murray

That Murray 2nd serve is such a liability!

Fascinating. Also makes you wonder why he doesn't address it.


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Post by CAS Mon 19 Oct 2015, 10:27 pm

A small shout out to Marin Cilic who I think has a great serve and return combo, his forehand can just be a bit too flimsy at times which let's him down

He returned and served so well against federer last year, that was the key.

Also Gael Monfils can serve and return amazingly, he is the biggest underachiever tennis has ever had in my opinion. Has everything

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Post by Born Slippy Mon 19 Oct 2015, 10:54 pm

Monfils isnt a great returner - its one of his key weaknesses in my view - together with fitness and mental application.

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Post by Born Slippy Mon 19 Oct 2015, 10:56 pm

Cilic is a good call though. For someone 6'6 he's a great returner. Serve can be oddily ineffective at times though. US Open last year he was scary good at both!

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Post by laverfan Tue 20 Oct 2015, 12:57 am

I am surprised that Nadal is missing from this discussion. He does not serve aces, but he has a very good serve/return combination.

Lendl, Edberg, Connors were darn good serve/return players. Forhenado Gonzalez, Nalbandian, Lopez are some other names that I consider pretty good in both departments.

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Post by HM Murdock Tue 20 Oct 2015, 8:46 am

laverfan wrote:I am surprised that Nadal is missing from this discussion. He does not serve aces, but he has a very good serve/return combination.

Lendl, Edberg, Connors were darn good serve/return players. Forhenado Gonzalez, Nalbandian, Lopez are some other names that I consider pretty good in both departments.
I'd say that Nadal's serve is a relative weakness in his game.

He uses it effectively as a support to the rest of his game but I don't think it's a great shot in isolation. Its purpose seems to be to start the rally at least on neutral terms so he can get that forehand firing.

Good suggestions on the former players. They are the kind of names I particularly wanted to hear, because my memory is hazy on some of them and others I missed completely!

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Post by Belovedluckyboy Tue 20 Oct 2015, 10:38 am

In the past, during Rafa's heydays, Rafa was clutch and could serve an ace down the T to save BPs, regularly. He was also serving with more varieties than what he's serving now. Serving good enough to get him into an advantageous position to hit his FH is to me a very good serve in its own right, it's not always about the aces. Rafa's lefty serve out wide was another weapon that could trouble anyone. He was also posting very good returns stats as evident by his return games won stats. For him, it's not so much about first strike winners from his serves or his returns, it's more to set up the point for him to win in the next or next few shots. The current Rafa however, is way off from his heydays.

If we're talking about straight winners from serves and returns, fhen we may not include Rafa in the list though.

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Post by CAS Tue 20 Oct 2015, 11:43 am

Sampras also was a very underrated returner, mainly because he has the best serve ever. It amazed me how often he would burst into life at 4-3 and break serve out of nowhere

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Post by bogbrush Tue 20 Oct 2015, 2:06 pm

laverfan wrote:I am surprised that Nadal is missing from this discussion. He does not serve aces, but he has a very good serve/return combination.

Lendl, Edberg, Connors were darn good serve/return players. Forhenado Gonzalez, Nalbandian, Lopez are some other names that I consider pretty good in both departments.
I think considering Jimmy Connors played with something about the size of a large spoon and the feel of a pan, he was an incredible returner. Roscoe Tanner and others still piled those serves down as fast as any of them today yet Jimbo could get stuff back.

I'd like to see them all try returning big serves with this baby......

http://tinyurl.com/o82m33b
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Post by HM Murdock Tue 20 Oct 2015, 2:34 pm

^As far as I can find out, Jimmy's T2000 has a headsize around 68-70 square inches! Tiny!

Novak's racquet has a headsize of 100 square inches.

Sampras' Pro Staff had a headsize of 85 square inches.

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Post by socal1976 Tue 20 Oct 2015, 6:27 pm

I for one would like to see you wimps get to work on horseback all u girly men go to work on trains and in cars

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Post by bogbrush Wed 21 Oct 2015, 8:59 am

socal1976 wrote:I for one would like to see you wimps get to work on horseback all u girly men go to work on trains and in cars
Well, actually, our forefathers did have it tougher. Our definition of poverty today would have had the richest gasping in admiration in most respects a few hundred years ago.

That racquet still exists. I'd love to see, just for fun, Federer, Djokovic, Nadal & Murray play some games with this equipment. The result might allow us to reassess past players more objectively.
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Post by HM Murdock Wed 21 Oct 2015, 10:48 am

bogbrush wrote: Our definition of poverty today would have had the richest gasping in admiration in most respects a few hundred years ago.
Our definition of poverty today is nonsensical.

We have a definition where if Bill Gates moved the the country, more people would be classed as being in poverty.

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Post by barrystar Wed 21 Oct 2015, 12:43 pm

It's clearly Djoko this year, which is shaping to be one of best 3 or so of the Open Era. Federer has always had a pretty good combo looking purely at those two shots.

For most of his career Nadal's great strength on serve is his ability to back it up in the rallies, and he has used the option of a lefty swing out wide to right-handed opponents extremely well at bp down. But, what about Nadal at the USO in 2010? His serve was close to untouchable that tournament - I can only imagine that he didn't keep it up because it asked too much of his body.

One weakness with a big serve is that if your opponent gets a read on it the ball is back that much quicker - for great returners like Nadal or Agassi that introduces the nuance that a serve which is faster, but not fast enough to score loads of free points, does not invariably play to your strengths.
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Post by Henman Bill Wed 21 Oct 2015, 9:59 pm

HM Murdock wrote:Interesting stat: in 2015, Djokovic has the highest winning % on both second serves (60%) and second serve returns (57%).

I also couldn't help noticing this:

1st serve return points won
Djokovic 33% - 32% Murray
2nd serve return points won
Djokovic 57% - 56% Murray
1st serve points won
Djokovic 75% - 75% Murray
2nd serve points won
Djokovic 60% - 52% Murray

That Murray 2nd serve is such a liability!

Great stats, just saw this.

I think 52% win on second serve points is actually not bad at all as an aspiration for your average player on tour.

But for a player as highly ranked as Murray with his great abilities once you get into the rally, it's not where it should be is it.

Presumably that 52% is in all matches in tour. I guess he gets 60% against a lower ranked player, but something like 45% against Federer or Djokovic.

The stat is saying that Murray's second serve puts the returner at a slight advantage, because we assume Murray has the better ability vs the average player from them on, and yet he still only wins half the points.

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Post by laverfan Thu 22 Oct 2015, 2:50 am

HM Murdock wrote:^As far as I can find out, Jimmy's T2000 has a headsize around 68-70 square inches! Tiny!

Novak's racquet has a headsize of 100 square inches.

Sampras' Pro Staff had a headsize of 85 square inches.

Federer also played with a 85" racquet for a long time.

If you look at Yoneyamas of yesteryears or the Donnay that Borg used, it puts the current fishing nets in perspective. The skills required to manage such racquets do not exist anymore. Synthetic guts are also a factor in today's return game.

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