Pete Sampras and the Top 25 Servers in the History of Men's Tennis

JA AllenSenior Writer IFebruary 18, 2011

Pete Sampras and the Top 25 Servers in the History of Men's Tennis

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    27 Jun 2001:  Pete Sampras of the USA prepares to serve during the second round of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship held at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, in Wimbledon, London. \ Mandatory Credit: Gary M Prior/Allsport
    Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

    It used to be that a tennis player while serving the ball could be moving––walking or running toward the service line.

    Furthermore he or she could use this running start to advance quickly to the net as part of the service motion. 

    That all changed beginning in 1903.

    The newly proposed rule stated “It is not a fault if one only of the server’s feet do not touch the ground at the moment at which the service is delivered. He shall place both feet on the ground immediately before serving, and not take a running or a walking start.” (New York Times, June 7, 1903). 

    This rule was arbitrated by the English who did not care for this practice employed by American players who often appeared to arrive at the net before the ball did.

    The Brits got this rule in place to quell the U.S. enthusiasm for rushing the net.

    So, from 1908 until 1960, a tennis player had to keep one foot on the ground at all times during the service motion. If both feet left the ground it was ruled a foot fault.  

    The rule was amended in 1961.

    Image what the serve would look like today if players had one foot nailed to the ground?

Prologue: Top 25 Servers In Men's Tennis

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    Of course, a serve in tennis is used by a player to start a point. The man or woman serving the ball tosses it into the air.

    The player normally hits the ball when it reaches the apex before it begins to descend.

    The player must hit the ball into the service box diagonally opposite him without allowing the ball to touch the net. The person serving may hit the ball under- or overhand––according to the rules.

    There are a number of different serves a player may use like a flat serve, topspin serve, slice serve, and kick (American twist) serve depending on his or her opponent and the playing conditions.

    A few players are satisfied to use the serve simply to initiate the point; however, the top players often try to hit a winning shot with their serve––an "ace".

    All players continually seek to maximize power and placement on their serves. Each component is equally important.  As we look at the top servers in the men’s game, speed and placement are keys.  

    It is important to remember that the requirements for serving have changed throughout the history of the game.

    Some men, however, have been taken their serves to levels few, if any, can approach or equal.

    All the top pros generally serve well because it would be impossible to win if they did not.

    The following men selected added their names to the serving legend list.

    Either that or––the player used the serve to achieve a place in the men's game they otherwise would not have reached.

    Each man displayed powerful and skilled serving abilities.

    In the end all tennis matches begin with The Serve.

25. Colin Dibley

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    25. Colin Dibley

    One of many tennis phenoms born in Australia, Colin Dibley once held the record for the fastest serve in the men's game clocked at 148 mph. 

    The record was set in 1974 at Forest Hills as part of a contest.

    Dibley who played most of his tennis in the 1970s and early 1980s was renowned for his enormous serve and his active "live" arm.

    He played both singles and doubles winning four singles titles and 17 in doubles.

    When people talk about his playing career, Dibley's serve becomes the center of their recollection.

24. Ivan Ljubicic

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 19:  Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia serves during his second round match against Benoit Paire of France during day three of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 19, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Ryan Pi
    Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

    24. Ivan Ljubicic

    Still active on tour, Ivan Ljubicic from Croatia was ranked as high as No. 3 in the world in 2006. Currently, however, Ljubicic holds down the No. 14 spot.

    Like former big servers Goran Ivanisevic and Roscoe Tanner, Ljubicic uses a low ball toss as part of his service motion to power the ball into play against his opponent.

    The Croat, however, does not employ his big serve as an entry into a serve and volley style of play––as did Ivanisevic and Tanner.

    Rather Ljubicic utilizes his powerful serve to follow with a punishing groundstroke as the Croat's second stroke. 

    Unlike his predecessors Ljubicic's one-two punch starts and ends at the baseline.

    In 2010 the Croat used his superlative serving abilities to win his first Masters Series event at Indian Wells by defeating Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on his way to meet American Andy Roddick in the final.

    Ljubicic served 20 aces and 42 winners to take the title defeating Roddick 7-6, 7-6. 

    There is much speculation that Ljubicic's serve is much like his countryman Goran Ivanisevic's. The Croat improved upon the similarities in 2010.

    The Ivan Ljubicic Serve.

23. Steve Denton

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    23. Steve Denton

    American Steve Denton was another top-rated server who hailed from Texas. 

    He played professional tennis in the 1980s. Denton was an accomplished doubles player as well as winner in singles.

    The American appeared in the finals of the Australian Open in 1981 and 1982 losing both matches to Johan Kriek of South Africa. 

    Denton achieved his highest ATP ranking in 1983 coming in at No. 12 at the same time he was ranked No. 5 in doubles. 

    In 1984 Denton broke the world record by firing a serve at 138 mph––a record he held for 13 years before Mark Philippousis broke it in 1997 serving at 142 mph.

    Denton had an usual service motion. He would take two steps forward before serving. 

    That is currently not allowed in ATP rules which state that no player shall have a moving start, walking or running, into the service motion.

22. Geoff Brown

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    22. Geoff Brown

    Born in 1924 Geoff Brown became another stellar Australian tennis player.

    Brown managed to utilize his right-hand to launch a rocket, an often unreturnable serve. 

    The Aussie appeared to hit his serve with the ball still on the rise but that may have been deceptive because his service motion was so quick.

    Although primarily a doubles specialist, Brown shocked the tennis world by advancing to the Wimbledon finals in 1946 without losing a set.

    He defeated Swede Lennert Bergelin and Czech Jaroslav Drobny on his way to a showdown on that final Sunday. 

    In the final he met and was defeated by Yvon Petra, a very tall and lean Frenchman. The two played their way into a fifth and final set that day with contrasting styles as well as contrasting physiques.

    With Petra standing at 6’7” and Brown at 5’4” the match turned in fifth set when Brown lost his first service game.

    This spelled doom for the Aussie because, although he could hold his own serve, Brown could not break the Frenchman’s serve.

    Brown lost the final set and the match.

21. John Isner

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 20:  John Isner of United States of America serves in his second round match against Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic during day four of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 20, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.
    Lucas Dawson/Getty Images

    21. John Isner

    American John Isner is an active tennis professional who towers at 6‘9.” He currently holds the No. 24 spot in the ATP rankings with points amassed on his massive serving potential.

    The American is using his strong arm to build his game.

    Isner owns the record for the most aces in a tennis match.

    The match, of course, is the 2010 Wimbledon first round encounter with Nicolas Mahut.

    Isner served 113 aces in that famous match with Mahut trailing at 103.

    Isner also stands alone serving 85 aces in a single set which, of course, is the fifth and final set of that same Wimbledon encounter.

    It finally ended 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 68-70.  The serving in that match became front page news around the world.

    The Isner Serve.

20. Slobodan Zivojinovic

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    Jun 1988:  Slobodan Zivojinovic of Yugoslavia in action at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships, London. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK/ALLSPORT
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    20. Slobodan Zivojinovic

    6‘6” Slobodan Zivojinovic [Bobo] emerged from Serbia, playing professional tennis. His highest ranking on the ATP tour was No. 19.

    Zivojinovic built his game on his big serve enhanced greatly by his height and his massive thighs.

    The Serb was an exciting player to watch and an exasperating one to play against.

    His ace total in a match often became difficult to overcome. No one looked forward to playing the big Serb.

    Ivan Lendl managed to put Zivojinovic away to get to his first Wimbledon final in 1986 where the Czech would fall to Boris Becker. 

    In 1985 John McEnroe lost to Bobo in a five set quarterfinal match during the Australian Open.  Zivojinovic went on to lose in the semifinals to Mats Wilander.

    His powerful serve remains part of the big-serving Serb's legacy.

19. Neale Fraser

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    Neale Fraser
    Australian Neale Fraser possessed a left-handed serve that was ranked as one of the best of his era in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

    Fraser used his powerful serve and strong ground strokes to win Wimbledon in 1960 as well as the U.S. Open in 1959 and 1960.

    His best results came in doubles winning 16 doubles and mixed double grand slam titles.

    During his career Fraser was ranked world No. 1 in singles and in doubles.

    Throughout his career, the Aussie's serve made Fraser a force to be reckoned with.

18, Kevin Curren

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    18. Kevin Curren

    South African Kevin Curren had a cannonball serve put in play using an abbreviated service motion.

    Curren made it to the 1985 Wimbledon finals defeating John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in succession before facing and losing to Boris Becker in the final.

    The South African was favored to win that match with the unseeded German.

    Curren also played in the Australian Open final in 1984, losing to Mats Wilander. 

    In total the South African won four grand slam doubles titles with his lively serve and net play.

    When playing inspired tennis, Curren could hold his own with the best with his big serve––but often with not enough game to back up that first big stroke.

    Curren did play outstanding doubles with his best surface on the hard courts.

17. Thomas Johansson

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    LONDON - JUNE 23:  Thomas Johansson of Sweden plays a forehand during the men's singles round one match against Vincent Spadea of United States on day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 2
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    17. Thomas Johansson

    Thomas Johansson, the big serving Swede, used that weapon to win the Australian Open in 2002, defeating Marat Safin in the final in a true upset.

    Injuries kept the Swede from reaching the heights his potential seemed to indicate were his.

    At 5’11” Johansson did not fit the mold of the big server. But what he lacked in height, he made up for in technique.

    With his deep knee bend, the Swede propelled himself upward into the serve, driving the ball forward while keeping his feet in line.

    He exerted considerable power on his serves.

    Johansson could also slice the ball out wide in the deuce court and up the middle in the ad court. 

    It was that kind of serving that gave him a grand slam trophy.

16. Greg Rusedski

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    LONDON - DECEMBER 07:  Greg Rusedski of Great Britain serves to Cedric Pioline of France during the final of the BlackRock Masters Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall on December 7, 2008 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    16. Greg Rusedski

    Greg Rusedski had a big lefty flatline serve.

    The serve was probably close to 155 mph using today’s radar–but clocked in at 149 mph during the 1990s.

    Many compare Rusedski’s serve to Roddick’s with the resulting consensus that Roddick was far more consistent than the Brit. 

    Rusedski resorted to more slice serves to keep his serving numbers respectable. But the slice was not nearly as effective as a weapon.

    Rusedski compiled ten matches with over 30 aces each from 1995-2003.

    The match where the Brit recorded the 149 mph came in 1998 at Indian Wells. 

    Rusedski had a big serve––he did not, however, have a big game.

15. Richard Krajicek

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    WIMBLEDON - July 4:  Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands in action against Xavier Malisse of Belgium during the mens quarter final match at the All England Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, England, on July 4, 2002. (Pho
    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    15. Richard Krajicek

    The perennial youthful-looking Krajicek had a powerful serve. 

    His serve and volley style of play left him in continual attack mode, serving big and hastening to the net.

    The Dutchman, standing 6’5” began his tennis career as a baseliner, but quickly reconsidered this approach to the game when he shot up 10 inches in one year.

    The Dutchman won Wimbledon in 1996, defeating MaliVai Washington in the finals 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

    In doing so Krajicek defeated Pete Sampras in the quarterfinals during a time when Sampras never lost at Wimbledon.

    The Dutchman’s career, however, was cut short by injuries.

    Check out Krajicek's serve.

14. Michael Stich

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    LONDON - DECEMBER 4:  Michael Stich in action during his match against Boris Becker during the Honda Challenge 2003 at The Royal Albert Hall on December 4, 2003 in London.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    14. Michael Stich

    Michael Stich stands slightly over 6‘4” and the big German possessed a very potent serve.

    Stich’s service motion was beautiful according to some proponents but not all agreed concerning that assessment. 

    But for most pundits there was no denying the effectiveness of the Stich serve. 

    In 1991 Stich won the Wimbledon championships defeating Stefan Edberg In the semifinals–serving up 64 service winners including eight aces.

    Stich went on to defeat Boris Becker in the Wimbledon final.

    For Becker that final match turned into a lackluster, straight set loss 6-4, 7-6, 6-4. 

    Becker seemed unable to do anything right that afternoon. 

    This was due in large part to Stich showing no mercy. He defeated his countryman serving impeccably and never letting Becker off the mat. 

13. Ivo Karlovic

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    MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Ivo Karlovic of Croatia  plays a backhand against  Fernando Verdasco of Spain in their second round match during the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on on May 11, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    13.Ivo Karlovic  

    No one is known more than the 6’ 10” Karlovic for his massive serve.

    He holds the record for the fastest second serve in men’s tennis at 144 mph which he achieved in August of 2007 against Paul Capdeville.

    His fastest serve is 153 mph, right behind Andy Roddick’s at 155.  

    For a period of time Karlovic held the record for the most aces in a single match but that record, along with several others, was demolished by the John Isner-Nicolas Mahut first round encounter at Wimbledon in 2010. 

    Karlovic recorded 78 aces in a match against Radek Stepanek during a Davis Cup match in September of 2009. 77 of those aces were on first serves.  

    In 2007 the Croat became the fourth player in the history of men’s tennis to hit over 1,000 aces in a single season.  Karlovic served up 1318 aces, placing him second behind his countryman Goran Ivanisevic. 

    His serve is a nightmare for any player to face. No one on tour likes to look at his draw and see Karlovic standing in his path.  

    Unfortunately, the serve is all that the big guy has. The rest of his game fails to live up to his serving potential.

    Karlovic plays serve and volley tennis taking advantage of weak replies to his big serve–but Karlovic suffers from slow feet and mediocre groundstrokes.

    Karlovic's Serve.

12. Mark Philippousis

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    3 Jul 2000:  Mark Philippousis of Austarlia celebrates beating Tim Henman of Great Britain during the fourth round of the mens singles in the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon, London. MandatoryC
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    12. Mark Philippousis

    Mark Philippousis, the big Aussie from down under, had a huge serve.

    In fact both his first and his second serves generated considerable speed, spin and bounce.

    With an expansive reach and aided by topspin, Philippousis was often able to put the ball out of reach by his opponents. 

    His game lived and died by his ability to serve well.  He made the finals of Wimbledon in 2003, losing to Federer.

    He also made the finals of the U.S. Open in 1998, losing to fellow Aussie Patrick Rafter.

    Philippousis achieved a top ten ranking in 1999, coming in at No. 8.

    In the 2003 Wimbledon tournament against one of the best returners in the game, Andre Agassi, the Aussie set a new Australian tennis record, serving 46 aces in a match.

    Injuries kept the Aussie off the court and shortened his career but his serve still ranks as one of the best in the men's game.

11. Stefan Edberg

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    11. Stefan Edberg

    Stefan Edberg, former world No. 1, used his infamous “kick” serve to climb all the way to the top of men’s tennis in the 1980s and early 1990s. 

    Edberg most often delivered his kick serve at 115 mph employing an Eastern backhand grip.

    The serve allowed Edberg the time he needed to appear, as if by magic, at the net to put away the volley.

    His fluid movements on the court exemplified “serve and volley” tennis more than any other player in the sport.

    It was sheer magic to watch Edberg serve starting with a lofty ball toss into the air and the deep knee bend.

    Edberg arched his back and exploded upward hitting the ball tossed just a little behind him, flicked his wrist coming over the ball.

    The ball would “kick” up as the opponent tried to return it.

    The Edberg Serve.

10. Roscoe Tanner

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    Roscoe Tanner in action on the court during Wimbledon in London, England.
    Don Morley/Getty Images

    10. Roscoe Tanner

    Long before the days of high-tech rackets, Roscoe Tanner was scorching the earth with serves that set many an opponent back on his heels wondering what just flew by.

    He is the father of the lethal serve—plus he was a lefty, which gave him a further advantage because the serve came from an angle his opponents were not used to or ready for–an advantage Rafael Nadal has evolved into an art form.

    Tanner’s February 1978 serve of 153 mph was the fastest recorded serve in tennis history until Andy Roddick broke it in September of 2004 with a serve of 155 mph.

    In the '70s, clocking serves was not typically done, nor was it accomplished with the accuracy it is today. But every player knew of the sheer power of Tanner’s serve and dreaded meeting Roscoe in any round of any tournament.

    Tanner had a very low toss which he completed with quick wrist action giving him enhanced racket speed on his serves. His entire serving motion is very compact giving opponents almost no time to react because the ball is upon them so quickly. 

    Plus, the Tanner serve was impossible to read. His feet never really leave the ground, much like his predecessors who played when rules forced one foot to remain grounded during the serve.  

    Tanner’s serve had to be perfect, hit with consistency because with the abbreviated motion, there was no room for error.

    But when the toss is so low it is much easier to play in the wind and the problem with sun or light glare is not as much of an issue on the toss.

    The Roscoe Tanner Serve.

9. John McEnroe

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    Jun-Jul 1984:  John McEnroe of the USA in action during the Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon in London. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    9. John McEnroe

    John McEnroe is a lefty and his serve, as was true for so many serve and volleyers, was a critical piece of his game.

    His somewhat convoluted-appearing service motion depended upon extraordinary balance to maintain his “tightrope” pose on the service line.

    Mac’s contortions as he hunched over and unwound during the course of his serve seemed painstaking. The result, however, could not be overlooked.

    The extreme unwinding resulted in extraordinary racket speed and power. The serve propelled McEnroe into the court.

    Plus, McEnroe's serve was unreadable. Until he hit the ball and it was on its way, McEnroe's opponents never knew what to expect.

    Former world No. 1, the American rose to prominence in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

    He is remembered primarily for intense battles with another superstar of tennis, Bjorn Borg.

    It was a clash of styles and McEnroe used his serve to usher in another wave of serve and volley tennis.

    John McEnroe Serve.

8. Ellsworth Vines

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    8. Ellsworth Vines

    The game of Ellsworth Vines was defined by his serve.

    Playing in the 1930s, the Californian won the national championships twice (the U.S. Open) and Wimbledon once.

    Vines, whose promise in tennis seemed unending, gave up tennis in the 1940s to play professional golf.

    Some who saw Vines play or who played against him swear that the Californian could not be equaled he hit his serves with such blistering force.

    One story reports that during the 1932 Wimbledon final against Bunny Austin, Vines rocketed a serve which scorched the earth passing the hapless Austin by–wondering if the ball had past him on his left or his right.

    Playing a serve and volley game, Vines averaged two aces per four point game. 

    There were times when Vines could crack four aces in a row. 

    In the 1932 final at Wimbledon, Vines scored 30 aces in in 12 service games, averaging over two per game. He won that match in 52 minutes, 6-4, 6-2, 6-0.

    Vines loved to come from behind. This thrilled the crowds who never counted the lanky American out.

    The remarkable thing about Vines is that he went for it on every shot. That meant he needed to be almost perfect to win.

    Vines' serve was absolutely flat, with no spin. Jack Kramer considered Vines along with Don Budge the two greatest players who ever lived. 

    Vines serve was regarded as the best––often unreturnable.

7. Bill Tilden

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    7. Bill Tilden

    During the 1920s Big Bill Tilden was the No. 1 player in the world. He held that title for seven years.

    Standing approximately 6’1” Tilden skirted the courts effortlessly as he dominated men’s tennis in the 1920s and 1930s.

    Almost single-handedly Tilden elevated tennis from a past time to a true sport in this country and around the world.

    One of the reasons for Tilden’s ascension to the top of the game was the man’s serve.

    During these years, players had to keep one foot on the ground when serving which resulted in many more foot faults. 

    Tilden’s serve looked completely at ease. His arm relaxed but the motion generated tremendous racket speed.

    At one point Tilden’s fastest speed was reported at 163.3 mph but there is nothing to verify that.  

    He stood upright and his service motion remained abbreviated. 

    It appeared that Tilden hit the serve on the rise but actually he timed his serve so perfectly that he hit it exactly when the ball hit the apex–just at that moment that the ball is stationary. 

    Tilden had excellent hand-eye coordination and pinpoint timing.

    His serve was not known as much for power as for its variety, movement and accuracy.

6. Andy Roddick

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23:  Andy Roddick of the United States of America serves in his fourth round match against Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland during day seven of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2011 in Melbourne, Au
    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    6. Andy Roddick

    Andy Roddick is widely known for his powerful and very fast first serve which often gives him numerous aces in a match.

    In 2003 his serve propelled him to the No. 1 ranking in the world. 

    Roddick is the No. 1 American male and has been since his rise to the top of the men’s game with only a momentary fall to the No. 10 spot recently.

    Roddick holds the record for the men's fastest serve at 155 mph which the American achieved serving to Vladimir Voltchkov during a semifinal Davis Cup match in Charleston on hard courts.

    Andy hits the ball much harder than Pete Sampras and surprisingly with as much spin––somewhere in the 2500 rpm range.

    Further, technically speaking, Roddick propels himself into the court using both legs simultaneously to spring into the court.

    Roddick pushes off the balls of both feet after a deep knee bend using the power of both legs to give him enormous power.

    His serve explodes across the net.  Check out the Roddick serve and judge its potency.

5. Roger Federer

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 27:  Roger Federer of Switzerland serves in his semifinal match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during day eleven of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Clive B
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    5. Roger Federer

    There comes a point where aces are not the whole story when discussing the impact of the service game.

    Sometimes it appears more significant to discuss service winners rather than aces. Ultimately,  a serve might allow for a return, but not a good one.

    The Roger Federer serve is the most underrated stroke in tennis.

    While Sampras has much more punch and Roddick's serve is faster, Federer’s serve while not as overtly dominant, sets up the rest of his game. 

    The Swiss uses a backhand grip known as a continental or eastern backhand grip.

    Federer’s serve is classic employing a slightly open stance and a whip-like motion which powers the Swiss into the ball and into the court.

    His service motion completely disguises the direction of the upcoming serve.

    Most of all, Federer maintains perfect balance as he lands on his front foot ready to react quickly to his opponent’s return of serve.

    Federer holds the record for the most aces served in a grand slam final.

    The Swiss sent across 50 unreturnable serves in the 2009 Wimbledon final against Andy Roddick.

    For Federer, his serve is the foundation upon which his offense is built and it has served him well for over a decade.

    Roger Federer's Serve.

4. Boris Becker

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    Boris Becker of Germany pumps his arms in the air to celebrate his defeat of Kevin Curren 6–3, 6–7 (4–7), 7–6 (7–3), 6–4 during the Men's Singles final of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship on 7th July 1985 at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet C
    Bob Martin/Getty Images

    4. Boris Becker

    Even though Becker did not care for it, his nickname when he arrived on tour was “Boom-Boom” because of his huge serve.

    At age 17, unseeded, Becker won the Wimbledon championship in 1985, upsetting everyone in his path.  
    Becker derived power on his serves from his legs and his very deep knee bend.

    After competing his service motion and making contact with the ball, the German leaned into the court appearing so far forward and angled that he might topple over–but he had perfect balance in that position.

    Becker had much upward motion on his serve and he landed on his right leg which was a little out of the ordinary but enhanced his considerable power off the serve.

    Most right-handers land on their left foot after the serve.

    Becker used a variation on the Eastern forehand grip while serving which was quite unusual––some called it an Aussie grip or a exaggerated continental grip. It made the German’s serve almost impossible to read.

    No small amount of Becker’s power came because he was a big man and he tried to get every ounce of his body weight packed into his serve. 

    His second serve was not light weight either. He used a little backspin on his serve to keep it low.  On grass it used to skip.

    From the time he burst onto the scene in 1985 until Becker stopped playing in the late 1990s, his serve was his primary weapon.

    Like all serve and volley players, the serve set up his offense allowing the German many free points as well as primary position on the court. 

    Boom-Boom was one of the best of the serve and volley players at the end of the 20th century.

    Boris Becker's Serve.

3. Pancho Gonzalez

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    3. Pancho Gonzalez

    Born in 1928 of Mexican parents, Pancho Gonzalez had to fight his way into tennis overcoming poverty and racial discrimination much as Jackie Robinson did in baseball. 

    But he succeeded making it all the way to the top of men’s tennis. Gonzalez perfected a serve that was one of the best in the men’s game.

    When Pancho Gonzalez served, he had to keep one foot on the ground. It was the rule in effect in men’s tennis until 1960.

    That inhibited the service motion and the impact of the racket on the ball.

    All male tennis stars who played prior to 1960 were encumbered by this rule.

    This fact needs to be taken into account when assessing the serves of the earlier generations in the men’s game.

    Some estimate that Gonzalez could hit serves in the 140 mph range today because of his fluid service motion and ease of movement. 

    Players who met Gonzalez on court feared the man’s game. They especially dreaded his big serve–along with his attacking, all court game that used every corner and angle of the court.

    Gonzalez perfected volleying skills equal to none, mastering the Big Game better than his peers.

    In the mid 1950s Gonzalez dominated with his serve, so much so that promoters changed the rules of the game to make points last longer.

    Pro promoters felt that fans would like tennis better prolonging the points rather than being subjected to the Gonzalez serve and volley style––typically producing a quick end to points, games as well as matches.

    Gonzalez’s serve was not simply a cannonball served with great pace. He used skill accuracy, variation and spins to help confound and confuse his opponents.

    Various innovations were tried and quickly eliminated because they were silly and Gonzalez still continued to win. 

    Gonzalez lived with immense anger that came from the lack of respect he felt from promoters on the professional tour and from some of his peers.  

    Pancho Gonzalez Serve.

2. Goran Ivanisevic

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    9 Jul 2001:  Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia in action during the men's final of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship held at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, in Wimbledon, London. \ Mandatory Credit: Gary M Prior/Allsport
    Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

    2. Goran Ivanisevic

    Goran Ivanisevic holds the record for most aces in a season. He scored 1,477 reported aces in 1996.

    Some report, however, that the Croat threw in excess of 1600 aces that year when you add in Davis Cup, the Olympics and the grand slam events missing from this 1996 total.

    Ivanisevic also once served 46 aces in one match against Magnus Norman during the second round of the 1997 Wimbledon Championships.

    The Croat also hold the record for the most career aces at 10,093.

    The lefty was feared on tour for his seemingly unreturnable serve.

    The serve was a product of a low ball toss and quick action on the service motion, often described as a bullet coming across the net. 

    It was virtually impossible to get a read on his serve because he hit the ball just before it reached its peak. Ivanisevic with his head perfectly still leaned into the court and uncoiled on the ball giving him fierce racket-head speed.

    His first serve averaged about 133 mph consistently.  The low ball toss is not often copied on tour because it rushes the shot and does not allow much margin for error.

    You have to be robotically consistent. The high toss allows for more topspin as well as more leeway over the net.

    Suffering from shoulder injury most of 1999 and 2000, Ivanisevic came back unseeded and ranked out of the top 100 to win Wimbledon in 2001, primarily on the strength of his unorthodox serve. 

    He served 213 aces during the 2001 Wimbledon tournament. Many consider the Croat's serve as the best ever in the men's game.

    Goran Ivanisevic Serve.

1. Pete Sampras

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    9 Sep 2001:   Pete Sampras of the United States serving the ball during the US Open Match against Llevton Hewitt of Australia at the US National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York. Llevton Hewitt defeated Pete Sampras 7-6, 6-1, 6-1.Mandatory Credit: Jami
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    1. Pete Sampras

    The Sampras serve was solid from every point of view.

    It was never the fastest even back in his No. 1 heydays, but it had more spin––topspin specifically––that made it harder to return with its high-velocity kick.

    The Sampras’ serve was a product of tremendous spin rates. 

    Although his serve seldom came in faster than 115––130 mph, his rpm on first serves averaged 2500 with a higher topspin component than other serves of similar velocity, especially during the 1990-2000 span. 

    The Sampras serve was heavier and bounced higher and spun with more force on the rebound.  This made it doubly difficult to return the Sampras serve effectively.

    Every aspect of his serve is perfect aided by tremendous shoulder flexibility as he turns into the serve and hits the ball.

    The spin is enhanced by the ball tossed further to the left. The serve gets its tremendous power from the uncoiling of his legs starting with the depth of his knee bend.

    The explosion as Sampras hits the ball, carrying his body forward all add to the heaviness or weight of the Sampras serve - the best ever probably in the history of the game.

    During his career, Sampras served a career high 1011 aces in 1993 and in 1994 he served 994 aces to lead the tour in both those years.

    No player appeared to get himself out of trouble by utilizing the serve more than Sampras––first or second serve.

    The Pete Sampras Serve.



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