The dying art of serve and volley

There used to be a time in tennis when the serve-and-volley style of play ruled the courts. It first began with early greats like Ken Rosewall, Bill Tilden, Don Budge, Jack Kramer and Pancho Gonzalez adapted this style and became masters at it.

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The great lefties, Rod Laver and John McEnroe, are fine examples of legends in the game with a similar style of play. Then, we had the likes of Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and Patrick Rafter who won multiple titles by implementing the serve-and-volley game. There were others too like Michael Stich, Pat Cash and Goran Ivanisevic who did well in their careers with such a style.

Though it was seen a lot in the men’s game, the women also have their fair share of serve-and-volleyers. The legendary Margaret Court still holds the record of winning the most Grand Slams and was a master exponent of this style. Martina Navratilova, widely regarded as the greatest player ever, was well-known for this type of game. Jana Novotna and then Martina Hingis, Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin were also exponents of serve-and-volley. The Williams sisters had a similar playing style early in their careers and developed a more baseline game as they made progress.

TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP

Today, in men’s tennis, it is only Roger Federer who has won Grand Slams with a serve-and-volley game. He has actually toned down this style and mixed his game up with an exemplary backcourt game. He recently used it to telling effect in the Wimbledon and was only stopped by a brilliant Novak Djokovic in the final.

So, what exactly is serve-and-volley all about? It is a style where the player quickly approaches the net after serving, attempting to hit a volley. This also helps in shortening the points, thereby conserving energy. Other examples in the men’s game today are Vasek Pospisil, Michael Llodra, Ivo Karlovic, Feliciano Lopez, Gilles Simon and Nicolas Mahut among others. All of them have failed to win any Grand Slam so far. Why is it that a style which served so well in the past, almost extinct in today’s age?

The reason for this are the modern-day racquets which have seen a lot of technological advancements. Racquets have become bigger and they help in generate a lot of spin to the groundstrokes. There have also been a slowing down of surfaces like grass and hard courts in a bid to promote longer rallies and generate more excitement to the viewers. The balls too aren’t as hard as before making the overall general play a little slower. It is also been said that the serve-and-volley style requires a lot of strength which makes it difficult to coach the youngsters.

The revival of this playing style does involve a lot of factors and they are definitely not favourable to those who only depend on serve-and-volley. Today, it is extremely important to have a good baseline game with the occasional serve-and-volley used as a surprise weapon to just mix things up.

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