Men's Tennis: The Greatest Servers of All Time
What do we mean when we talk about the greatest serve in the history of tennis? Go on any tennis forum, and you're likely to see a number of different criteria used to determine the answer. Some focus solely on the first serve, neglecting the second delivery entirely; others are more interested in how effectively the serve is backed up, regardless of its potency in and of itself; and yet others follow the old adage that 'you are only as good as your second serve'.
This list will attempt to take all of the above into consideration. In other words, the serve as a whole will be factored into its placement on the list, weighted slightly in favor of the effectiveness of the first serve. Without any further rambling, I present you with the 10 greatest servers of all time.
10. Roscoe Tanner
Although not the most illustrious name on offer, Roscoe Tanner is well worth his place on any list of the game's greatest servers. Indeed, the American was bombing down 153mph serves while Andy Roddick was but a glint in his mother's eye.
More amazing still, these feats were accomplished before improvements in racquet technology. Also, Tanner was only 6' tall—which is modest by today's standards.
Unfortunately, his second serve suffered by comparison, accounting for his relatively low placement on the list.
9. Joachim Johansson
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The 6'6" Swede is yet another member of the 150mph+ club, bombing down a 152mph serve during a Davis Cup match in 2004. Johansson is perhaps best known for firing a then-record 51 aces past Andre Agassi at the 2005 Australian Open, while still managing to lose in 4 sets.
The Swede's monstrous first serve was backed up by a very solid second delivery, with plenty of pace and good direction.
8. Taylor Dent
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The Californian is perhaps an unlikely member of this list, not often talked about as being amongst the greatest servers of all time. However, it is worth remembering that Taylor Dent was firing down 148mph aces after a severe back injury that required surgery. With that speed, he currently holds the record for the fastest-ever serve at Wimbledon.
Dent would often beat the returner purely with pace, sometimes lacking the accuracy required to climb a little higher on this list. His second serve was occasionally unreliable, lacking pace and thus being somewhat attackable.
7. Boris Becker
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Boris' nickname of 'Boom Boom' was well chosen. His game revolved around his fast and accurate first serve, backed up by a spectacular net game. Becker's second serve was effective in that it was generally well-placed.
It is perhaps fair to say that his high placement has a lot to do with how well he backed up his serve. In other words, his serve was fast and accurate, but he also knew exactly how to make the most of it.
6. Roger Federer
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The Swiss possesses arguably the most accurate first serve in the history of men's tennis. The 17-time Grand Slam champion rarely serves over 125mph, but he really doesn't need to. Sacrificing speed for control, Federer adds a little extra spin to his first delivery and regularly cleans the lines as a result. Elegant in its simplicity, one feels it would almost be un-Federer-like for him to hammer down 140mph aces. His less-is-more approach could not be more fitting.
Federer's second serve is also worth mentioning. Much like the first serve, what it lacks in pace it more than makes up for in its precision.
5. Andy Roddick
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If the serve is associated with one player, it is probably the Texas native. Although his arm doesn't quite have the juice it once did, the Roddick serve is one of the game's great weapons. He held the world record for many years, serving a 155mph lightning bolt in a 2004 Davis Cup match—and it wasn't even an ace.
Roddick's second serve is similarly potent, bounding off the court like a kid on a trampoline.
4. Goran Ivanišević
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The Croat may have possessed the most feared first serve in the world during the 1990s. Perhaps lacking in other areas of the game, Goran made the most of his mammoth first serve, reaching 3 Wimbledon finals before unexpectedly taking the title as a wild card in 2001.
His second serve was similarly reliable, with pace and precision. It earned him plenty of free points and was rarely vulnerable, even against the best returners.
3. Pete Sampras
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Second only to Federer in terms of its precision, the Sampras first serve was as reliable as they come. So effective was his serve, he would often settle for one break and then coast for the rest of a set, seemingly convinced that he would remain unbroken.
Unlike most of the players on this list, Sampras' second serve was particularly special. Indeed, one could argue that he simply hit two first serves. More than any other part of his game, Sampras' serve is responsible for his 14 Major titles.
2. Ivo Karlovic
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The 6'10" Croat wields arguably the most potent first serve in the game's history. The phrase 'serving out of a tree' was coined for this man. Karlovic holds the record for the fastest serve ever recorded, having been clocked at 156mph during a Davis Cup doubles match...what is it with Davis Cup matches and big serves?
The pace isn't the only problem facing his opponent, though. In fact, the height and subsequent angle of the ball's bounce are perhaps even more problematic.
The only thing keeping Karlovic from topping this list is his relatively poor second serve. While one could never classify it as a weak second delivery, it suffers by comparison to the first serve.
1. John Isner
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In this writer's opinion, the Florida native possesses the best all around serve in the game's history. Karlovic may have a marginally better first serve than the 6'9" Isner, but the true difference here is the second serve.
Isner's kick serve on the second delivery is more potent than most first serves, routinely exploding off the court and over his opponent's head. Like Sampras, Isner arguably hits two first serves. His serve is a remarkable weapon, made all the more so because of its consistency.