The first serve is the pivotal part of the game. The better the first stroke, the easier the point. Almost all players try to make the most of their initial ball strike.
A few players in the history of the game have taken the serve to a new level using power, racket speed and timing to make the ball nonreturnable.
Prior to the “Open Era” in tennis, however, no one kept track of individual serving statistics except perhaps during Davis Cup ties and Grand Slam tournaments.
Therefore, much of the evidence we have concerning the serving prowess of particular players has never been fully documented. In the absence of verifiable match statistics, the testimony of contemporaries and sports writers is the best evidence available.
Since 1991, the ATP has consistently tracked and reported serving statistics. Now finding raw data on the number of aces and the percentage of first serves won is much easier.
But we do not know this information about players in seasons prior to 1991. That is a considerable gap. It is too bad tennis as a sport never developed baseball's compulsion for statistics.
We know that players from the past like Bill Tilden, Ellsworth Vines, Pancho Gonzalez, Colin Digby, Neale Fraser and Geoff Brown were well-known for serving the ball with power and accuracy. But even players of a more recent vintage like Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Kevin Curren, Steven Denton and Slobodan Zivojinovic were brilliant servers.
Using the best evidence available, however, here are the most lethal servers in the game for the past 30 years.