Every once in a while, we see conventional shots being made brilliant by the genius of a tennis player. Whether it's the stance or the toss, something's different and it captivates our senses. Here are some of my favorites.
Do feel free to add more amazing shots in the comments to build on this list. I tried to keep it to one shot per player. I will add your suggestions to this slideshow. Hopefully we can make a compilation so that us tennis fans can have something to come back to.
The Slam Dunk was one of the most prolific shots by Pete Sampras. While most people liked to serve and volley, he would serve and smash. When he jumps up and bends his knee in the air, you can see that he is nearly as high up as the net cord. I don't remember anyone ever successfully returning this smash. But I have seen one or two rare occasions where Pete missed.
A quick smash with a really fast racquet head motion and he dips the ball with a sharp acute angle that has the ball flying out of the court. It was tantalizing and great fun to see him fly! He owned this smash. No one does it with as much pizzazz as this man.
The Stefan Edberg serve and volley is a treat to the eyes. He was the original renaissance man before Roger Federer. A fluid motion from serve to volley, he was wicked at the net. A high straight toss with a serve you can't read, he was quick to follow it up with a volley at the net with a soft deft touch.
Watching Edberg volley is like art in motion. Both his forehand and backhand volleys were just as good, although I personally prefer his backhand volley. He could always put the ball away at an unbelievable angle. No one does that shot as well as Edberg.
John McEnroe was an immense talent packed in a volatile man. In my opinion, he didn't achieve as much as he could/should have. Part of it was, of course, also the era. So many ridiculously good tennis players packed into the same period of tennis.
Johnnie Mac's volleys may not have Stefan's beauty but they were really effective. He was so quick and so precise. He also had a short toss serve. His aces were appreciable especially against someone like Jimmy Conners or Bjorn Borg. He was someone who used his lefty serve to its full advantage.
The Ivan Lendl forehand, in my opinion, should be licensed as a firearm. He was the predecessor to Rafa Nadal's topspin forehand. They both had that buggy whip swing motion although Ivan never completed the full swing. Sometimes it would seem as though the topspin was a consequence of his grip and forehand motion rather than a calculated move.
He would take the ball on the rise and send it ripping forward. It was effective for both forehand winners and passing shots. The original modern tennis player, he had a fantastic baseline game and a great net game. They all did, in those days. Did I also mention that he could knock people out with it?
Andre Agassi deserves the title of best returner tennis has ever seen. We don't know yet if this can be questioned in a few years because of Novak Djokovic; but for now, he stands tall. He made return winners from some of the best servers in tennis history such as Pete, Roddick, Ivanisevic and Federer.
Both his forehand and backhand returns will bullet down the line or cross-court. He could use the opponents serve speed well against them. If it's not a winner, it's the set up to some amazing points! You can watch Andre Agassi tracking the ball with his eyes through to a winner. This man had an enviable hand-eye coordination.
He may have been a playboy or a flirt, but this tennis talent should have had more than two meager slams. He could have been up on the list of Grand Slam winners with JMac and Mats. The Marat groundstrokes are explanation enough as to why he was considered an immense talent.
He was all man with power and placing. The two-handed backhand of his deserves a separate pedestal given the wonders he could perform with it. Too bad for us fans, it was more of a confidence shot and was not as reliable as we would have wished for it to be. But it is definitely drool-worthy because when clicking, its nearly unstoppable.
Roger Federer is the heir apparent to Stefan Edberg's style of serve. But there is one special serve that he does which stands above the rest. It's his monster kick serve. Though he doesn't have a top spin quite like Rafa Nadal, he is able to add just the right amount to his serve, such that it spins out of the opponent's reachable area.
It is most effective as a second serve because opponents don't expect it. It's helped him through his break points and tight situations. You just don't see that kind of serve often enough.
Of all his wicked shots, Rafa Nadal's topspin forehand with the banana curve has got to be the ultimate crowd favourite. Its a combination of his next to perfect footwork, the topspin he unleashes on the ball and his placing, giving him that shot which makes us fans go wild.
The difference between him and another excellent mover, Novak for example, is that Rafa's movement makes changing directions much more fluid while Novak's movement is focused on the acceleration with which he gets to the ball. Both are excellent movers and a credit to the game. Enough has been said about Rafa's topspin abilities.
The Del Potro forehand is an example of a power shot. It rockets down at extreme speeds reminiscent of Gonzales. But Del Potro is better. He uses an eastern grip on the racquet and takes the ball on the rise (thanks to his height), and just rips it either down the line or cross court.
When you see his forehands in the same frame as Federer's, Delpo's forehands appear much flatter and much more forceful. Federer uses just a little bit of spin to give him even more control while Del Potro likes to hit it like someone who is going for broke. But make no mistake. He is completely in control. However, he is starting to look like the second coming of Marat Safin. Loads of talent punctuated by injuries. Let's wish him all the best to return to that amazing 2009 form.
Novak Djokovic belongs to a small group of people who have a stronger and more reliable backhand when compared to the forehand. His forehand is pretty good. But his backhand is on another level. He can do literally anything with it.
The two hands give it a lot of power and he hits it with topspin using a swinging golf clubbing motion. Given his movement, he always gets into position ahead of time to set up a jaw dropping shot and has wowed the tennis world through 2011. Will the steam rolling continue next year? 2012 is a year to look forward to.
From the next slide forward, I will be compounding to this article, reader suggestions and I hope I do justice to the fans with my write up. The reader's name will be included in the write-up, if the information is available.
Pete Sampras is an extremely unique man. Even though Roger Federer has surpassed him in the Grand Slam tally, personally, when I compare them shot for shot, I am more inclined to be impressed by this man. I could be biased since he was the first tennis player that hooked me to the game back in 1993. His serve is a study for tennis aspirants.
Not only did he have an extremely heavy delivery in his first serve, but he could also produce an equally fast second serve. He is the only one who has known to be able to produce such a dangerous second serve. He also had great disguise in both serves. All that power might have something to do with the fact that he is a SPARTAN! (Imagine Pete dressed like one of the soldiers from 300). Now there's a man who could get around low first serve percentage.
Thank you to reader Shashank Kamble for suggesting this shot.
We all know the famous shot at the US Open 2009 that brought up match point for the Fed Express during the semi-finals against Novak Djokovic. He hasn't used it all that much, but it excites the crowd every time whether he does this during a match or during an exhibition.
The reason why people like to watch Roger do it, is because he makes it seem so easy. Others have tried this with some success. But no one does it as often and as successfully as Roger. The only tweener better than Roger's was when Rafa had that amazing tweener lob at Madrid 2011 finals against Novak (he lost though.) But he has done it only once so far and hence, cannot be counted here.
Thank you to reader Ramesh Prabhu for suggesting this shot.
We rarely see dives in tennis. Its not usually a get down and dirty sort of sport. But this German born 3 time Wimbledon champion (who was also the youngest Wimbledon winner at 17), made the dive volley a signature shot. The volley at 1:25 in the video against Ivan Lendl had to be the defining moment of that match.
He was basically a serve and volley guy with some great serving (remember Boom Boom?) and he seemed to have as many dramatic shot names as he had shots. Becker was and still is a legend around the tennis court and that dive volley is one of the reasons why. In the video above he talks about how he came upon the shot instinctively and his training methods. I'd better leave a disclaimer "Do not try this at home"
Thanks to Mahesh Sethuraman for suggesting this shot.
Speed, placing, court position, angle. Somehow, Nadal forces all these facets to converge at that moment so that he can produce shots that leave the opponent feeling baffled. Some of his best passing shots come from that hooked cross-court backhand which is made amazing by his dominant right hand.
Fans have gotten so used to Nadal's passing shots that nowadays they are considered routine. He can pass even great defenders like Davydenko, Ferrer or Nalbandian. We haven't seen many of those against Novak this year. But the video above compiles a hey day Nadal vs a Djokovic who was already starting to show signs of what was about to come, at the US Open final in 2010. Their roles reversed this year.
Thank you Anders H for this suggestion.