John McEnroe and the 10 Most Dominant Serve-and-Volley Stars in Tennis History

Eduardo AfiniContributor IIIMarch 28, 2012

John McEnroe and the 10 Most Dominant Serve-and-Volley Stars in Tennis History

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    Everybody agrees these days that the serve-and-volley style of play is a lost art in modern tennis.

    Equipment evolution and the advent of the two-handed backhand were the main factors contributing to the vanishing of the serve-and-volley players. The return of serve, which once was a defensive play, became a weapon and turned the act of following your serve to the net a mission impossible.

    Tournaments held on fast surfaces, Wimbledon included, had to slow down the courts on account of criticisms that the matches were becoming boring and losing people’s interest. Modern rackets and taller and stronger players were making serves nonreturnable and points were lasting two or three shots at the most.

    Indoor carpet courts, the fastest of them all, practically don’t exist any more.

    Nevertheless, serve-and-volley has played an important role in the history of this sport, and many great players who dominated the game were true serve-and-volley players.

    The last pure serve-and-volleyer to hang around the courts was American Taylor Dent, who retired in 2010. Within the last decade there were only two other players—Tim Henman and Patrick Rafter—who managed to have success adopting this aggressive and classic style of play.

    The following slides are an attempt to recall the 10 most dominant serve-and-volley players in tennis history.

10. Richard Krajicek

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    Richard Krajicek played professionally in the 90s, and was ranked as high as No. 4 in the world.

    Krajicek won his only major title at Wimbledon in 1996 when he defeated Pete Sampras in the quarterfinal. He was responsible for Pete’s only singles defeat in the tournament between 1993 and 2001.

    He also reached the semifinals of both the Australian Open, in 1992, and the French Open, in 1993.

    The Dutch was a pure serve-and-volleyer, had a beautiful game and a service technique that was a real pleasure to watch.

9. Tim Henman

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    Tim Henman retired in 2007 and was ranked as high as No. 4 in the world.

    The British player reached the semifinal round of Wimbledon on four occasions—1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002. He also reached the semis at the US Open and French Open.

    Henman won a total of 11 singles ATP titles and was the most successful player and greatest hope from Great Britain until Andy Murray broke into the scene.

8. Patrick Rafter

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    Patrick Rafter retired in 2002 and is a former No.1 player in the world.

    The Australian’s main accomplishments were his two titles at the US Open, in 1997 and 1998. He also reached at least the semifinal round of every other major event, including two Wimbledon finals.

    A natural and classic serve-and-volley player, he became the first person to win Montreal, Toronto, Cincinnati and the US Open in the same year—1998.

    Probably his greatest regret is losing a five-set thriller to unseeded Goran Ivanisevic in the 2001 Wimbledon final.

7. Boris Becker

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    Boris Becker retired in 1999 and is a former No. 1 player in the world.

    In his six major title runs, he only failed to win the French Open, where he reached the semifinals on three occasions. Becker won Wimbledon three times.

    Although categorized here as a serve-and-volley player, he is probably the most complete among them all. Boris could play very solidly from the baseline as well. It was a true treat to watch him play.

6. Jack Kramer

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    Jack Kramer is a former number one player in the world. His name comes up in every “greatest of all time” discussion. He won three major titles: two US Open and one Wimbledon.

    As a major advocate of the Open tennis and one of the founders of the ATP, he was a great leader and highly responsible for what the game is today.

    Kramer’s intimidating factors were his big serve and powerful forehand. He was the first top-level player to adopt the pure serve-and-volley style of play.

    His physique played a major role in his dominance of the game. He was slim, fast and stood at 6’2”.

5. Pancho Gonzales

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    Richard “Pancho” Gonzales was an American who was No. 1 in the world for eight years in the 1950s and early 1960s.

    He won the US Open in 1948 and 1949. Some experts still consider him one of the greatest who ever played the game.

    Gonzales stood 6’3'' and weighed 183 pounds, having the serve as his most intimidating weapon, which was measured once at 112.88 mph, the fastest in the era of wooden rackets.

4. Pete Sampras

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    Pete Sampras is considered one of the greatest players of all time and won a total of 14 Grand Slam titles.

    Perhaps the best all-court player the game has ever known, Pete could be aggressive from the baseline and at the net.

    He had the ability to choose between playing serve-and-volley and staying back, without losing his offensive characteristic either way.

    He had his serve as a huge weapon and was capable of serving aces on crucial points.

3. Stefan Edberg

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    Stefan Edberg is a former No. 1 player in the world who retired in 1996.

    Edberg won a total of six major titles, equally spread among Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open. He also reached the final of the French Open in 1989.

    Contrary to players like Pancho Gonzales and Pete Sampras, Edberg’s serve-and-volley style relied more on the volleys than on the power of his serve.

    His extraordinary volley technique could easily place him among the finest volleyers of all time.

2. Rod Laver

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    John McEnroe’s idol won 11 Grand Slam titles and was ranked number one in the world for seven consecutive years.

    He won a calendar Grand Slam twice (1962 as an amateur and 1969 as a professional). He is also the only male player in history to have done it in the Open era of tennis.

    Laver’s dominance was due to his all-around ability. He was a serve-and-volley player who also managed to be steady from the baseline.

    Rod Laver is considered one of the best players of all time.

1. John McEnroe

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    The former number one player in the world won seven Grand Slam titles—three Wimbledon and four US Open.

    McEnroe can easily be seen as the most talented player to have ever picked up a tennis racket, even nowadays with Roger Federer around. His unorthodox style of play, which included a continental forehand in an era when it had practically disappeared and his absurd volleying ability was capable of embarrassing opponents on the court.

    His short temper and confrontational on-court behavior, with frequent verbal abuse to opponents and umpires, illustrates a strong and intimidating personality that seemed to be more harmful to his opponents, than capable of throwing himself off the matches.

    In this author’s opinion, John McEnroe is not only the best serve-and-volley player of all times, he is also the greatest player who ever stepped on a tennis court.


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