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What Happens in Beverly Hills. . . 06/28/2007 - 1:00 PM

Mornin, Tribe. Due to the wonders of auto-posting, this entry is going up while I'm somewhere over Kansas, on my way home from Los Angeles. I had a good visit with Pete Sampras at his home in Beverly Hills, which is as tasteful and elegant as was Pete's game. There's not a sign of Pete's career anywhere in the common rooms in the house (and for all I know, none anywhere else, either), which is something I always like in someone who could surround himself with all manner of hagiogaphic fetishes.

But then, many of the trophies Sampras earned at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open have already been shipped to Newport, R.I., and the International Tennis Hall of Fame, into which he will be inducted in a few weeks time. Wimbledon champs, BTW, get replica's of the Championship Plate that are about a quarter the size of the originals (think large pizza vs. "personal" size pizza). Pete had those replicas tastefully displayed in his previous home, and I assume they'll find their way back to his living room at some point.


John Curry, the former All-England Club (Wimbledon) chairman called Pete a few weeks ago and asked if he'd be interested in a wild card for this year's event. Pete didn't have to think twice: He politely declined.

I wasn't tempted at all, although it would be interesting to see if the grass is slower, like everyone says. You know, I think I could still compete there, but the real problem is that there are so few guys in the draw who I've played. I never liked playing guys for the first time. It was always a bit of a struggle.

It took me a little while to figure guys out, so going out there could would be uncomfortable and distracting. I need to know the kind of ball a guy hits to be really effective against him.  I think Roger (Federer) is similar to me that way, and it helps explain why it took him a while to get into a comfort zone. Once he had a few years experience to figure out most of the guys, he saw what they had and knew how to beat them. It makes it a lot easier when you know what kind of stuff your opponent is going to bring. Believe me, that's huge. A lot of tennis is that kind of problem solving. You play a guy once and, win or lose, you know the two or three things you need to do in the future.

Pete has watched a little of Wimbledon, and he misses the place. He says he can sit in his chair, close his eyes, and conjure up the exact feeling he had - the nervous anticipation - walking out on Centre Court to play a final. You may have noticed that a locker room attendant walks onto Centre Court with the players for the final, carrying their bags. Ir's a detail that was always fraught with existential significance for Sampras.

It's like you're just walking out there, like naked, and you think, "Well, this is it. . .'" You don't even have that security of lugging that bag, having something to hold onto. You're just like. . walking out there, to meet fate. It's unnerving, in cool kind of way.

Last year, when serving-and-volleying U.S. player Robert Kendrick pushed Rafael Nadal to the limit, we had a spirited debate here about the viability of the attacking game at today's Wimbledon, against today's baseline players. I think the fact that Nadal subsequently reached the final only made Kendrick's performance more impressive. This was no attacking player beating up on some helpless clay-court expert. An attacker can still win Wimbledon; It's something I believed then, and still believe now. The problem is that nobody is attacking (see Ray Stonada's entry, below). Here are Sampras's thoughts on the subject:

I have a hard time watching how these guys play today. It's just amazing that everyone stays back, and hits with so much spin and everything. When you put spin on the ball on grass, it doesn't really do anything. Well, slice does, but topspin doesn't. I was watching (Igor) Andreev playing (James) Blake and Andreev hits that big topspin backhand and - god - it just sits up there, waiting to be hit. Granted the guy is a clay-court player who isn't real comfortable on grass. Fair enough.But still. . .

The bottom line is that nobody comes with heat, and can back it up. There's no Richard Krajicek around to really attack you and take your time away. That's they key to winning with the serve-and-volley game: Deny the other guy his time. Roger can win without doing it because he has so much game and such good hands.

I think the 1990s may have been the toughest time to win Wimbledon. The grass was fast, the balls were fast, and there were a lot of guys around who could turn it  into a craps-shoot: Stefan (Edberg), Boris (Becker), Goran (Ivanisevic), Krajicek. . . Those guys really made you uncomfortable. By contrast, I always loved seeing guys who wanted to play back against me - players who liked to load up and hit their shots. Andre (Agassi) was different, because he played up in the court and he played pretty flat, so  he was coming to the table with something - an ability not just to keep you from getting in but maybe even push you back. But with other guys who played back, I felt if I could hit one shot and be in there, I'd be in control. And control is what it's all about.

Now you can dismiss all this as a typical "old guy" rant about how much tougher it was in his era, but Pete isn;t that old, and his era is not too long gone - even though the sea change in the nature of the players may suggest it is. It certainly didn't seem to me that Pete had an axe to grind, or that he was trying to blow his own horn or boost his stock; this is a guy who'll admit that Ivanisevic's first serve was superior to his own. This is a guy who has no dog in the fight, just talking about what he sees and how he feels about it. One of the great things about working on this autobiogaphy with Pete has been discovering how much he knows about the game, and how what he knows is so often simple. Smack-your -your-forehead, lightbulb over head, how could I not see that simple.

It can't be the grass,  I just don't believe it. It's bullcrap. You can serve and volley on anything. If you go back and watch the tape, you'll see that when Roger beat me at Wimbledon (2001), ending my streak there, he served and volleyed a lot. And he's not doing that anymore.I asked Paul (Annacone, Sampras's former coach) about why Roger wasn't attacking more, and he said the same thing: "It's because the grass is slower." Bull, I said, I'm not buying that. I'm going to ask Roger myself.

So, when Federer worked out with Sampras for a few days before Indian Wells this year, Pete raised the issue. And Roger explained. It was one of those moments: two dominant champions, talking shop.

And, as we all know, what happens in Beverly Hills, stays in Beverly Hills.

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Posted by ptenisnet 06/28/2007 at 01:05 PM

And, as we all know, what happens in Beverly Hills, stays in Beverly Hills

You're killing me pete.

Posted by steveintheknow 06/28/2007 at 01:22 PM


Great cliff Hanger.

Posted by temes 06/28/2007 at 01:23 PM

"And, as we all know, what happens in Beverly Hills, stays in Beverly Hills"

How arrogant.

Posted by Vince 06/28/2007 at 01:23 PM

Great interview. I'm twenty-two and have only been a serious tennis player/fan since 2004. I remember seeing Sampras on T.V. growing up, but unfortunately wasn't able to appreciate it. But the more I hear him say and talk about the game in his heyday the more I am a Sampras fan. Does any one watch his play on the Champions' Tour? He tears those guys apart! He still has major game. I don't think there's any question but that the depth of play in the '80s and '90s was better. I'd like to see Federer have to play a great serve-and-volleyer. Andy Roddick is really the only guy to play a compelling match on grass against Rog in the last few years. But I agree with Pete. I'm learning (trying) to volley in my own game and the principles are very simple. They're just not emphasized by the Big Bad Bolletieri game, and that's why no one can push Roger, because nobody can get him off the baseline.

Posted by gvgirl 06/28/2007 at 01:25 PM

I agree with Sampras, Fed should be coming in more!

Posted by 06/28/2007 at 01:25 PM

Why does Federer act like a gay old coot now?
he really has turned into a little princess. :X

Posted by Beckham 06/28/2007 at 01:33 PM

*And, as we all know, what happens in Beverly Hills, stays in Beverly Hills*


Posted by Jenn 06/28/2007 at 01:35 PM

Pete - we are all really looking forward to this book! Thanks for the ongoing "previews."

Its interesting that Pete talks about serve and volley tennis because my memory of most of his matches is that he did not come in that much overall. He did more at Wimbledon, of course. I wonder what Roger's answer was to him?

Posted by ajv 06/28/2007 at 01:35 PM

Two reasons for not serving and volleying at Wimby:

First, the grass is slower than it used to be since even the Wimby folks realized that watching modern players play on real, fast grass is as exciting as watching grass grow. Players like Roger have figured out that there are other ways to win, safer alternatives if you have a killer groundstroke game, and a killer serve. You use your two weapons in combination. If Roger chooses to serve and volley exclusively or mostly, what does having the best forehand in the game get him? or the best movement? or the best slice backhand? All his eggs are in one basket, and Roger is a many-basket kind of guy. If you are Wayne Arthurs or Karlovic you thank the Wimby gods that fast grass rewards players with limited baskets (which is why i avoided the damn tournament like the plague).

Second, it's the return. The main reason for not serving and volleying in today's game, in general, is that the return of serve is lethal, much more so than in the 90s. How many guys were returning Boris, Richard, Pete, Patrick, Goran and Steffan's serves with two handed backhand taken at full swing? Only Andre and Jimmy did it consistently and effectively. It was mostly slice returns and let's hope for the best. Life would have been much more difficult and downright impossible for those guys if they chose to serve and volley against today's returners.

One more thought on serving and volleying. When you see Andy serve, as when you saw Lendl serve, and this applies to Marat and lots of other players with powerful serves (of varying power but still what we would consider serves powerful enough to allow the server to rush the net at an advantage) it's clear that the motion they use, although it generates power, does not flow in such a way that, athletically speaking, it puts them in a position where they can quickly approach the net for an effective volleying position. It's almost as if after they serve they are sort of locked in just inside the baseline, but with no momentum to allow them to get to the net. The techique employed by these players allows them to hit more for aces or short returns they can put away, than for the full serve and volley complement. Players like Pete, Boris, Steffan, Krajcheck, Rafter etc. had the full package. So, part of the reason for the lack of serve and volleyers seems to me to be this purely technical failure on their part. Copying the modern Lendl style (Ivan is the father of modern tennis) of big serve, followed by put away second shot ha left them without the necessary technical package to approach the net with effectiveness, no matter the surface.

Posted by L. Rubin 06/28/2007 at 01:57 PM

I don't understand why Sampras insists on downplaying the viable connection between slower surfaces and the demise of serve and volley tennis. After all, doesn't the slower surface give the returner more time to set up a solid return? I trust the Pistol on all things tennis, but his rather forceful dismissal of the slower grass is curious, indeed.

Posted by tina 06/28/2007 at 02:01 PM

Some Europeans use a big serve and then stay back (Ivanisevic, for example) simply because they've grown up on red clay.

Posted by ksajid 06/28/2007 at 02:08 PM

ajv -
Looks like you hit the nail on the head. No matter how great a volleyer Fed is, he will be much more consistent putting away the short return with his forehand than hit a winning volley the first time.

I watched Fed against Del Potro and noticed that he was passed almost every time he came to the net to volley.

Posted by L. Rubin 06/28/2007 at 02:10 PM


I'm not sure about that. If memory serves, Goran served and volleyed over 95% of the time. Becker also grew up on clay, but his game was decisively "un-clayish," and he, too, had a love affair with the net.


Posted by Sam 06/28/2007 at 02:17 PM

Liron: On grass and carpet, Goran served and volleyed the vast majority of the time. He mainly stayed back on clay and hardcourts, though.

Posted by Tokyo Tom (tt) 06/28/2007 at 02:21 PM

Perhaps if Pete actually played on the new courts, he might be more understanding- he always did show up and played his game and said = beat me if you can.

I saw Becker at Wimbley several times and ajv makes a good point. I was 1)amazed at how big Becker was in person and 2) he basically hit his serve landed, did a follow up step and was inside the service line. His natural service montion with a hop had him in a great position to volley.

While with Becker and Samparas (who I also saw there) their serves were part of a transition to the net, whereas most guys today view the serve as a stroke in itself and see what happens next from the baseline. Big, big mental difference.

Posted by Sam 06/28/2007 at 02:23 PM

Pete: Great piece - nice to hear Sampras' thoughts (and see the respect he has for Federer), though I'm surprised that he downplayed the speed of the grass.

Posted by temes 06/28/2007 at 02:25 PM

There must be a reason why players don't serve and volley anymore, there just must. It's not like it just died away with players. I think it is because it is simply a tactic among tactics, and you have to do it really, really well to be succesful, and be unbeliavably good in it to beat Federer. And I think that really, really great and versatile baseline play, what most players use today, is a more succesful tactic in the long run, because it gets easier to hit good returns on other surfaces than grass. And the grass is even slower these days.

So what I'm basically saying is, I don't think that todays players aren't realizing that there is a tactic so great that they would win much easier if they used it.
Although I do believe if you have a great serve, and good volleys, why not serve and volley sometimes. Might suprise the opponent these days.

Sampras is just trying to make Federer look worse than he really is. I think he'd handle serve and volleyers on grass. =D

But I agree, no one is going to have a chance against Fed if they stay back all the time.

Posted by Sam 06/28/2007 at 02:27 PM

Jenn: Early in his career, Sampras didn't come in as much, but after 1995 or so (when he started working with Annacone), he started to come in more. On grass and carpet, Sampras came in a lot. On hardcourts, he mixed it up, though he seemed to come in more later in his career.

Posted by DMS 06/28/2007 at 02:27 PM

*DMS looks up at Pete and waves as he flys over him in KC*

You are killing me could you not tell us what Rajah said for christmas sakes!! LOL

You quote Pete as saying "Deny the other guy his time. Roger can win without doing it because he has so much game and such good hands." Very interesting analysis...but Pete Sampras is the best player in the history of the game (Fed may some day be, I hope) and you see him make exceptions to the JMAC et. als of the world calling for FED to serve volley more. I am glad he said that.

Pete said, "Andre (Agassi) was different, because he played up in the court and he played pretty flat, so he was coming to the table with something - an ability not just to keep you from getting in but maybe even push you back" and again, making an exception to a general rule for someone as talented as Agassi.

Great stuff Pete, please oh please tell us what Roger told him!!!!

Posted by loreley 06/28/2007 at 02:35 PM

Thanx Pete & Pete,

I guess Roger told Pete that the grass became a bit slower ;)

Posted by Fed Fan 06/28/2007 at 02:42 PM

Darn it Pete, how can ya end a post like's what Fed said today:

Q. You were just speaking about perfection. Tennis is a fabulous game. If you could improve it, how would you do that?

ROGER FEDERER: I would like to come to the net much more often. That would be my ideal style of play. Serve and volley maybe a hundred percent of the first serves and once in a while on the second serve just to keep mixing it up. Like this, you'd have so many maybe more, you know, like points sometimes you can't control but you react to them because at the net you'll always have a lot of passing shots, volley winners. Sometimes that's really exciting. I wish I could play much more this way. If I would, I don't think I would win that many matches. That's why I prefer to stay back.

Posted by JC 06/28/2007 at 02:56 PM

Federer doesn't rush to the net all the time, because he remembers what Hewitt and Nalbandian used to do to him when he did--and what Hewitt did to Sampras, which Pete has apparently conveniently forgotten. Whether it's the surfaces, the racquets, the strings or the players, the fact is if you had a guy scrambling, off-balance and five feet behind the baseline there was no way he'd be able to get a decent passing shot off in the 90's. Against guys like Hewitt, Nalbandian, Nadal or Federer himself, that's just not true any more.

The other thing is that Sampras is nuts if he thinks topspin has no effect on grass. It may not affect the bounce much, but it still has just as much impact on the path of the ball through the air, which is at least as important. Heavy topspin allows people to drive the ball at angles that are impossible if you're hitting flat. And if you can hit winners from the baseline with relative safety, why risk getting passed by going to the net?

Posted by superSnark 06/28/2007 at 03:25 PM


Posted by Gillian 06/28/2007 at 03:33 PM

Aw man, my mouth was watering to hear the transcript of that conversation. Oh well.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/28/2007 at 03:35 PM

In finding a new way to make this "chicken and egg" argument, let me submit to the "court" as Exhibit A one Mr. Andrew Roddick.

Mr. Roddick routinely, year after year, leads the ATP tour in service holds, sometimes aces, and often percentage of points won on first serve. Some other things are also clear about Mr. Roddick's game, one of which is that while his forehand and backhand are suitable for putting away the many short balls which his serve elicits, they are not as effective as those of many other players in drawing errors off of medium deep or even deep balls, or, for that matter, service returns.

I shall return to some other points of Mr. Roddick's game shortly, but first, a framing of the argument. In order for the esteemed Mr. Sampras to be "nuts," as JC puts it, the reason for the decline in the number of players attacking the net, either immediately after their serve or otherwise, MUST be an ADVANCEMENT in the proficiency of the defensive player. Because, if the passing shots, return of serve and general groundstroke play have not in fact ADVANCED, the only other explaination is that net play is declining simply becuase players are not going to the net as much.

Mr. Roddick provides a perfect example of the logical fallicy which routinely rears its head in this discussion. A player cannot win the same point by attacking the net and staying back (for purposes of this discussion I ignore the rare point when one player attacks the net and is forced all the way back by a lob).

Anyone who has observed Mr. Roddick's recent attempts at attacking the net against one Mr. Roger Federer can only conclude one thing -- Mr. Roddick is so completely un-comfortable at the net as to make, say, players such as Jimmy Connors and Andre Agassi, seem like the John Newcombe and Stan Smith, if not Paul Annacone.

Mr. Roddick does not chose to serve and stay back because of new racket technology, new strings, advancement in passing shot capability, or anything else. Mr. Roddick stays back becuase he is, perhaps, the most uncomfortable attacking player for a player who is an established member of the top five in the world that I have seen in thirty-five years of watching live tennis.

This does not have anything to do with Mr. Roddick's accomplishments as a tennis player. He routinely does not get nearly the amount of respect as he should considering his record, but that is a subject for another post.

The point is that Mr. Roddick is a prime example of the fact that even for the pros, its a rarity to have command of enough of the shots of the game to allow oneself to routinely vary fundamental strategy.

Its so rare than when players such as Federer, Henin, or Mauresmo are playing, you should alwasy watch them.

Ultimately, Sampras is right, players are not coming in as much, if at all, because for a variety of reasons the ability to attack the net, as a skill set, has declined to an unbelievably low level.

It may seem sort of "more positive" or something, to attribute this decline to an increase in the talent of the defensive game, but for that to occur IMO you need more than simple evidence of a lack of net play, you need evidence of high quality net play being defeated by even higher quality baseline play.

I see no such evidence.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 06/28/2007 at 03:35 PM

Back then they didn't have these monofilament strings that keep the ball an extra millisecond on the string bed and maximize spin, favoring better returns and actually keeping the passing-shots incredibly low...

I keep saying this because the moment I tried a monofilament string I was awestruck -- how I kept hitting it as strong as I could and the ball kept getting in (much to my surprise in a lot of shots), with a huge amount of topspin...

Much more than the racquets and the balls or the grass, I blame it on the strings.

Posted by cantona7 06/28/2007 at 03:42 PM

I think the reason that the serve and volley game has gone away is because kids are not learning to do it. There's a lot of pressure in junior development these days and too much emphasis on results at younger and younger age groups. Kids don't have the size, reach and power to effectively serve and volley. A ten year-old serve and volley game would be destroyed by another ten year-old's baseline passing shot game. So kids grow up learning that to win, they must stay back. The next time we see a serve and volley specialist, I bet he or she will have to come from parents and coaches who emphasize long term goals over short term glory. I remember when Sampras beat McEnroe in the 1990 U.S. Open, TV commentators were saying things like "where did this kid come from?" On the flip side, I remember reading about Vince Spadea in "Tennis" back when he was a 12 year-old and beating up all the other kids and everyone saying that he was going to be a great pro.

Posted by Jamaican Girl 06/28/2007 at 03:43 PM

Great post Pete

I agree with Pete; that Federer(every players for that matter) should come into net more often. It is ok to stay back on other surfaces, but on grass you need to be aggressive, come in more and go for your shots. Nadal, I think did that and played his way into the final. So every player not just Federer, should consider it.

Posted by amyo 06/28/2007 at 03:44 PM

I think the racquet technology also has something to do with why current tennis players return better. We have lighter and more powerful tennis racquets which in effect give the returners more time because these racquets allow us to make faster and more compact back swing.

Also, I think topspin do allows players to hit better passing shot. Nadal is a good example. He consistently hit passing shots that curve around net players.

Posted by Andrew 06/28/2007 at 03:48 PM

DM: Roddick's volleying technique just isn't good enough for him to play a consistent net attacking game. He fails to take the ball out in front of him with a slice action to create backspin, so his first volley often sits up and begs to be passed.

I don't think attacking the net against a well positioned opponent is a winning strategy - the pace and topspin available works in the defender's favor. Attacking the net against an out of position opponent makes much more sense. One of Federer's subtle skills is how quickly he recognizes that an opponent is sufficiently out of position to make a move to the net pay off.

In his matches against Nadal, one major reason for Federer's 4-8 record is that he hasn't been able to consistently manuever Nadal out of position.

Posted by Thomas Muster KAD 06/28/2007 at 03:53 PM

Sampras never played Nalbandian. Here are some other H2Hs:

Sampras 4 - 5 Hewitt

Sampras 3 - 4 Safin

Bruguera 3 - 2 Sampras

Haarhuis 3 - 1 Sampras

Krajicek 6 - 4 Sampras

Stich 5 - 4 Sampras

Posted by Sam 06/28/2007 at 03:54 PM

"Much more than the racquets and the balls or the grass, I blame it on the strings."

That it what Rafter said a few years ago.

Posted by Thomas Muster KAD 06/28/2007 at 03:55 PM

Of those listed above, the only points of evidence that support the argument that returners have become better even on grass are the H2Hs against Hewitt and Safin although both of these are almost 10 years younger than Pistol Pete.

Posted by Sam 06/28/2007 at 03:57 PM

"even for the pros, its a rarity to have command of enough of the shots of the game to allow oneself to routinely vary fundamental strategy.
Its so rare than when players such as Federer, Henin, or Mauresmo are playing, you should alwasy watch them. "

Amen, Dunlop. The rest of your post was good too. :-)

Posted by Thomas Muster KAD 06/28/2007 at 04:01 PM

The fact that Bruguera has a winning record against Sampras is just a reflection of the fact that Sampras sucked on clay ...

Posted by marytribune 06/28/2007 at 04:03 PM

One of the best proofs of Steffi Graf's greatness is that she doesn't need to make egocentric remarks about his role in the tennis history...

Posted by Thomas Muster KAD 06/28/2007 at 04:05 PM

Slightly OT: I now remember how badly Muster owned Bruguera ...

There is no strict transitivity in tennis ...

Posted by Suresh 06/28/2007 at 04:09 PM

That was a great article as usual Pete..was looking forward to the transcript of the 'chat' between Pete and Federer.

While , Pete may be right that no one is playing attacking tennis anymore on grass , it is probably worthwhile to take a 'whole picture'.

Players like Martin, Henman, Rafter who have played through the 90's have said that it has become tougher to volley and Rafter specifically blamed it on the strings.

One more thing - am I the only who feels that more serves get returned these days , specially after watching some old videos involving Becker, Stich, Pete etc.

Another point is - seems like a paradox when players who started their careers in early 90's say that players play a similar style these days but hit harder - Can it mean that maybe 'power' has neitralized variety or style?

Not to say that a volleyer cannot succeed on grass, but seems like there are points to argue both ways.

Posted by temes 06/28/2007 at 04:14 PM

You simply can't be a great net player without great ground strokes. Baseline play and net-play walk hand in hand. Federer has taken it to another level from your regular stay back-strategy by rushing the net often...but he could not do that without great ground-strokes to get his opponent truly out of position, as Andrew said. Players first and foremost need great ground strokes.
Often getting the most important skill, great ground strokes, is easy, but adding the volleying with suffient quality is problematic for many players. That is the reason why all other top ten players are such equal gray mass, and Federer is the dominant number one. I'd say if Federer didn't volley well he'd be number two and Nadal number one, or anyhow they would be very close in points, and this because Federer still would have one of the best groundstroke games as well.
Net game is taking full advantage of your groundstrokes, and Federer is the best in that. He hits a great shot, he's not gonna wait at the back court for a slighty less paced shot only to continue the rally but goes to the net and makes thing happen.
Nadal is the best baseliner there is, even if he stays all the way back he can still beat Federer or give him trouble, and to me that shows that expectional baseline game can also be an ideal style to play. But as we can see, Nadal can't dominate like Federer. So to me this tells, the most ideal way to play tennis is to have great ground strokes, and to take full advantage of them by rushing the net when one sees the opportunity.
I think purely to serve and volley is a way too risky tactic, it's basically either lose or win the point. You can make it much easier by only having a great serve and then taking control of the rally because of the great serve you just served.

Posted by 06/28/2007 at 04:38 PM

"It may seem sort of "more positive" or something, to attribute this decline to an increase in the talent of the defensive game, but for that to occur IMO you need more than simple evidence of a lack of net play, you need evidence of high quality net play being defeated by even higher quality baseline play."


Lleyton Hewitt is 5-4 against Sampras, 2-1 on grass with the only loss 7-6 in the third when he was 18 years old. He's also 9-1 against Tim Henman, 4-0 on grass. Against Federer, he was 7-2 prior to 2004, 4-1 on grass & carpet--Federer has turned the tide since, but not by rushing to the net.

Nalbandian is 5-1 vs Henman and three of those wins are on carpet. He also won his first five matches against Federer. He never played Sampras but based on his record against the best volleyers currently around, I think he would not have been Pete's favorite opponent.

I don't doubt that the quality of volleys has declined in part due to lack of practice, but using Roddick as an example is really loading the dice. Roddick's an atrocious volleyer, even Nadal is better. But players do come to the net less, in large part, because it has become riskier. And yeah, it's a bit of a spiral, because the more people stay back, the less confident they become at net. It's better on grass--there's no way Wayne Arthurs beats Tommy Robredo on a slower surface--but even on grass coming in is more dangerous than it was in the past.

One thing that may act to reverse the tide is the penchant that a number of the up and coming players have for the drop shot. Murray is the most adept practitioner but you see it from Baghdatis and even Djokovic and Nadal occasionally. Aside from Coria, the previous generation (Federer/Roddick/Hewitt/Safin) rarely used drop shots. I think the preference for staying back and reduction in the numbers of really good volleyers makes the drop shot a more attractive option than it was in the 90s.

Posted by Ruth 06/28/2007 at 04:45 PM

I think that what Pete is doing with his "what happens in Beverly Hills" comment is exactly what Roger should have done when he was asked for details about how Pete played against him on his visit to Pete's place. (Instead, he talked about how Pete was good, but not good enough to beat him etc etc.) I noticed, upopn reading Roger's recent responses to reporters' questions re: some conversations he had with Bjorg (see the first Wimby interview) that Roger has learned his lesson about handling such questions.

The teacher in me just loves it when people learn quickly from their mistakes, and this just gives me one more reason to admire TMF.

Posted by zola 06/28/2007 at 04:48 PM

***So, when Federer worked out with Sampras for a few days before Indian Wells this year, Pete raised the issue. And Roger explained. It was one of those moments: two dominant champions, talking shop.

And, as we all know, what happens in Beverly Hills, stays in Beverly Hills.

what does it mean?

If you can't explain something, please don't even write about it!

Posted by L. Rubin 06/28/2007 at 04:52 PM


What don't you understand? Beverly Hills is an uber ritzy area in Los Angeles, and I think Bodo was making a crack about the exclusivity of the place.


Posted by DMS 06/28/2007 at 04:55 PM

Thank you Dunlop for your post, always a good read. You don't like the defensive player has not been enhanced theory...I said to bob or somebody during FO that good groundies and a good approach are enough if the serve does not do it, do what? End points quickly and decisively. You don't need to serve volley to end points quickly in today's pro environment. Witness Federer, he even said so in his presser, he would like to serve volley almost always on first, sometimes on second, but I would not win matches. What do you think about that? I would be interested to hear your thoughts as this seems an ongoing topic.

Posted by ptenisnet 06/28/2007 at 04:58 PM

There is a tourism commercial for las vegas whose tag line is "what happens in vegas stays in vegas"
i think it might be a take off on that.

Posted by Sam 06/28/2007 at 04:59 PM

Liron: Actually, I thought that Pete was playing off the ubiquitous "what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas" commercials.

Posted by temes 06/28/2007 at 05:01 PM

Yes, I agree DMS, a great serve is usually enough to win points these days on grass. And if it's not winning you the point immidiately, it can be given credit for 80 to 99% winning you the point.

Posted by L. Rubin 06/28/2007 at 05:04 PM


Oh! OK, that makes sense. Still, my interpretation wasn't THAT bad!


Posted by piyush 06/28/2007 at 05:38 PM

Check out this from Roger himself:

Q. You were just speaking about perfection. Tennis is a fabulous game. If you could improve it, how would you do that?

ROGER FEDERER: I would like to come to the net much more often. That would be my ideal style of play. Serve and volley maybe a hundred percent of the first serves and once in a while on the second serve just to keep mixing it up. Like this, you'd have so many maybe more, you know, like points sometimes you can't control but you react to them because at the net you'll always have a lot of passing shots, volley winners. Sometimes that's really exciting. I wish I could play much more this way. If I would, I don't think I would win that many matches. That's why I prefer to stay back.

Rest of his interview is at:

Posted by codepoke 06/28/2007 at 05:42 PM

What a hoot. :-)

Last week we all wondered what Sampras would say. Thanks to our cliffhanging leader, we now all get to guess at what Federer said to Sampras.

My guess: "Unless the returner is floating balls back, I just don't get far enough into the court to hit a consistently penetrating first volley. The balls come back a hair too fast. And when I 'would have been OK to follow the serve in,' I can still hit a penetrating forehand and follow it in."

I have changed position on this in the last 6 months. I was a big fan of Sampras's game, but I think it's being displaced. If I'm wrong, though, and if serve and volley still "works," then we will see a rising serve and volley star come along soon. Tennis abhores a vacuum, and where there's opportunity for domination, someone will rise to fill it.

So, leave behind the arguments of Federer's presser and Sampras's treasured, hidden wisdom and look at the challenger circuit. If the world is filled with vulnerable baseliners who cannot stand to have time taken away from them, then some kid with great reflexes is going to starting eating them for lunch. And we'll know it's happening, because he'll step up on the big stage after scaring up fistfulls of titles.

It ain't gonna happen, though, and not because of some giant coaching group-think. It's because of larger rackets, wicked strings, slower courts/balls, and more aggressive returners.

Posted by Celia 06/28/2007 at 06:13 PM

codepoke- I was with ya until the last two sentences. It will happen. Maybe next year or the year after...

Posted by Pierre Des Joachims 06/28/2007 at 06:36 PM

There is net-rushing, and there is all-court tennis. Both rely on finishing a lot of points at the net, but they’re not the same.

Net rushing means you go to net as often as possible, with the goal of capitalizing on your serve, and also of putting pressure on the opponent’s shots and even causing one of his shots to break down. You don’t need exceptional groundstrokes to net-rush, and you might use this tactic to hide one of your own weak groundstrokes. A typical serve return is the chip and charge, a player who did this a lot was Taylor Dent, even chipping his forehand return back and rushing in after it. Net rushing can work well at the amateur level because it raises the tension of the game and can affect the game of the opponent, even to the point where his game falls apart, which is fun to do. But I think net-rushing is the beast that is going extinct at the pro level lately.

Serve and Volley means what it says, it is part of All-Court tennis, but there is still the question, which is one of the main challenges of tennis, of what you are going to do when you are returning. Most good players can count on holding serve most of the time, whether they serve and volley, or serve and stay back. If you look at players like Rafter, he wouldn’t necessarily rush the net on his return, he could rally, and his overall game was excellent, so he could wait for a good moment to hit an approach shot and then come in. His overall game is underestimated, when he won the U.S. open in 1998 he made 5 unforced errors in the final match. He could hit every shot, so to me Rafter was an all-court player who served and volleyed a lot.

Sampras is sometimes deemed a serve and volley player, but don’t forget how good his groundstrokes were, he could push people back in the court, and remember how many clean winners he would hit with that cross-court running forehand, and against guys who were pretty quick.

Then at the other end of All-court tennis I believe you would put the game of Federer, Henin, and Mauresmo. They definitely can finish points at net, but they do it when it is safest. I think this kind of tennis may be the best for adapting your game during a match, to be able to change your own tactics as needed, coming in more or staying back more depending on the situation, and even serve-and-volleying when it is a good idea.

Posted by sophie 06/28/2007 at 06:49 PM

Just as a matter of interest, check the results this last round of some serve and volley players - Mirnyi, Qureshi, Mahut, Llodra, Guccione - all defeated. Bjorkman got through and so did Arthurs and I wonder how long they will last. And what happened to Ancic, Henman and Bjorkman last year when they met Federer?

Posted by sophie 06/28/2007 at 06:50 PM

Should have added Mahut to that list last year as well.

Posted by french open fanatic 06/28/2007 at 06:57 PM

temes & dunlop - loved reading both your opinions - enjoyable for sure!
This statement in particular kind of says it all for me:

"You simply can't be a great net player without great ground strokes. Baseline play and net-play walk hand in hand."

Posted by Krazy Eyez 06/28/2007 at 07:01 PM

I have seen Roger discuss in the past that he thought playing serve & volley get's him a similar career to what Patrick Rafter had.

Posted by temes 06/28/2007 at 07:15 PM

french open fanatic: thanks.

Pierre DJ, you CAN rush the net without great groundies for sure, but that is not gonna get you very high in the rankings. It's just a hopeless tactic if you ask me.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/28/2007 at 07:41 PM

Well, I mean, it all depends upon how you define a "great" player. Another debate which often surfaces around here, with various armchair keyboarders, who could not could not get a game off of Anna Kournikova if she were forced to play on one foot and one leg, arguing that she is not a "great" player -- but I digress.

Point being, arguing about how the top ten in the world happen to be playing is really not arguing about trends in the game, the sample size is too small.

Forget Sampras, forget Roddick, how about that stone serve and volleyer, 36 year old Wayne Arthurs?

I've heard even Ray Stonada is not afraid of Wayne Arthurs groundstrokes.

Twenty one year old Wayne Arthurs was ranked 452 in the world in 1992.

Twenty six year old Wayne Arthurs was ranked 567 in the world in 1997.


So, let's go with multiple choice.

a) Wayne Arthurs is a physical freak of nature. Almost as good as Sampras, perhaps better, to still be serving and volleying his way through the Wimbledon draw at age 36.

b) Wayne Arthurs has a secret, which only Pete Sampras suggests exists, to foil the unbeatable combinations of new rackets and strings available to vastly superior athletes and baseliners such as Tommy Robredo.

c) The 2007 ATP tour could, of course, hit passing shots past Wayne Arthurs as if he was standing still, but are refraining to do so, out of respect for his advanced age. Of course, the ATP tour of circa 1997 had no such respect, and passed Wayno enough to keep him down in the 500s.

or, perhaps,

d) Despite the fact that the new rackets make it unecessary for almost all 13 year old boys to go to the net to win a point, and despite the fact that doubles has been de-emphasized at the junior level (with the resulting lowering of volleying standards), some kid is going to, against all odds, fall in love with the net game, and if its the "right kid," that kid will plow through fast court tournaments on the 2017 tour just like Nadal is now doing on clay. By that time, the rest of the ATP tour will have completely forgetten how to hit three or four passing shots to win a game.


Posted by temes 06/28/2007 at 07:59 PM

Dunlop Maxly, I don't think Wayne Arthurs' win over Robredo, with all things considered, is going to prove you any more right. I don't think it's a very strong argument for the utter superioity of serve and volley, to tell you the truth.

"Well, I mean, it all depends upon how you define a "great" player. Another debate which often surfaces around here, with various armchair keyboarders, who could not could not get a game off of Anna Kournikova if she were forced to play on one foot and one leg, arguing that she is not a "great" player -- but I digress."

You just didn't write that. =O

Posted by temes 06/28/2007 at 08:09 PM

Clearly Dunlop Maxply is one of those people with a slighty arrogantish attitude, it is not something I find particularly enjoyable, not even if it's very elegant and subtle.

Posted by tangerine popsicle (tangi) 06/28/2007 at 08:11 PM

Darren Cahill relayed this Tood Woodbridge story earlier this week:

Todd said that he saved a ball from each of the finals he played at Wimbledon and has them lined up on a windowsill. He said you would not believe how much they have changed over the years. One year they suddenly got bigger and fluffier. So, he said, you can see why grass court tennis isn't played the way it used to be just because the quality and disposition of the tennis balls has changed from the old days.

Another ball story told by Cahill: Tim Henman went into the referee's office at Wimbledon and asked why the balls felt different than they did five years ago and the answer was that the pressured balls are taken out of the cans several weeks before the tournament because it wasn't practical to have people opening cans as needed. Henman was reportedly furious.

I'm out of my league in this discussion but I really enjoy reading and learning from the very knowledgeable posters on this site.

Can someone tell me what "hitting through the ball" means? Does that mean hitting a flat ball? What about "hitting through your opponent?" Commentators say this a lot.

Thank you.

Posted by temes 06/28/2007 at 08:23 PM

C'mon Dunlop, tell me your level, you're a former pro? Clearly that would make you know everything, wait, even if you are only a nation champ, that would make you a lot more respectable poster, or even a regional champ. Heck, what is the point of all of us couch potatoes posting on this site anyways? I say, eliminate the comments section.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/28/2007 at 08:27 PM

For you temes, I'll work on it :)

Sometimes its a challenge to attempt entertaining, elegant, and witty without being snarky.

In any event, all editorial comment aside, the topic of this post really is the question of this era, especially this time of year.

And, its a question which does not lead itself to an obvious answer, if there is one.

Posted by temes 06/28/2007 at 08:28 PM

Tennis is rocket science.

Posted by tangerine popsicle (tangi) 06/28/2007 at 08:28 PM

Oops ... that should say "pressurized" balls on my 8:11 post

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/28/2007 at 08:29 PM

Now there, don't read it over again and get more upset each time!

Please. Its only a post.

Posted by temes 06/28/2007 at 08:30 PM

"Now there, don't read it over again and get more upset each time!"

LOL okay.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/28/2007 at 08:33 PM

Only read it over and over again if you find it brilliant.

If you find it annoying, or as Pete said "a typical old guy rant" just move on down the thread.


Posted by Heidi 06/28/2007 at 08:34 PM

Hunh. So it's the balls, or the rackets, or the strings, or the surfaces, or the training of the players, or the skill level out there.

Yup! One of those!

In all seriousness, I find these technical debates really interesting. What about other racket factors? Head size, length...?

Posted by Sam 06/28/2007 at 09:16 PM

DM: You forgot:

e) Robredo sucks on grass (5 wins combined at Wimbledon from 2001-06)


Posted by Twist Serve 06/28/2007 at 09:17 PM

I agree with most of the return-of-serve comments being made here. I believe Sampras won only one tournament (okay it was a big one, but still...) in his last 2 or 2 and a half years on tour even though speed guns showed that his serve was actually getting faster. In the match he lost to Federer, his fastest serve was timed at 136 m.p.h. I'm hoping that Pete will ask Pete about this. Sure he must have noticed more guys were getting his serve back even though he was serving bigger.

I also agree that it wasn't a coincidence that Federer started beating guys like Henman, Hewitt and Nalbandian after he stopped following his serve into the net. Turns out Federer is terrifically good from the baseline. Sampras, on the other hand, didn't have the option of discovering he was even better as a baseline player.

Posted by ajv 06/28/2007 at 09:24 PM

Dunlop, Wayne Arthur's ability to win at Wimbledon does nothing to prove the superiority of serve and volley tennis, and should not,in my view., lead impressionable 13 year olds astray. All it proves, yet again, is that Wimbledon rewards one dimensional players in the same way that red clay Roland Garros rewards one dimensional players. The difference, for that hypothetical 13 year old you mention is that if he decides to follow Arthur's model he better hope that by 2017 the game is awash in grass and indoor carpets, because otherwise he will have a difficult time (as does Arthurs) staying at the top of the game. There are just very few tournaments that reward that kind of game. How many grass court tournaments are there? I know there are a few indoor biggies in the fall in Europe, but how many of those does Arthurs, Karlo, the Beast win? The way to accumulate points in the today's game is to have the game that can succeed on clay and on medium paced hard court surfaces. That game is not serve and volley. The menu is: serve, forehand, return, and athleticism. You have any two of these and you are making mucho dinero.

Posted by Liza 06/28/2007 at 09:30 PM

Oh my dear Pete (not you, Bodo).

Posted by DMS 06/28/2007 at 09:30 PM

Fact is more baseline, some all-courters and few serve volley on men's side this decade in the top echelon of the pro game. And you can win grand slams, masters series events etc regardless of surface without serve volley, at least on the men's side. I don't pay attention to the women so I claim ignorance in that area. That is what needs to be explained, the rest of this is interesting hypothesis generation. I think Pete Sampras gave you a clue in his quotes as to why Agassi could do well in the supposed serve volley era of the 1990s and why Roger can do well as a baseliner- those two are freaks of nature, the rules of the era seem to apply less to them.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/28/2007 at 09:51 PM

Although it may read like it, I'm hardly trying to prove the superiority of s+v, or lead 13 year olds into the land of Wayne Arthurs. Wayne Arthurs, who has to make a living like anyone else, just happens to be a good example of a guy who has played for a very long time on the tour, and still plays the same way he did in 1991.

My point is that if Wayne Arthurs was not only "old" in tennis years, but playing an "obsolete" game to boot, he'd be selling insurance in Sydney right now, but here his is in the third round.

What you hear quite a bit of these days, is how s+v is "obsolete" which implies that the current form of play is not part of the 30-year swings of tactics that the game has seen for the last 100 years, but a permanent sea change.

That's the question. Is the change permanent?

Just put me down with Sampras, as being "amazed" at what I see come late June every year.

Posted by Celia 06/28/2007 at 10:02 PM

Serve and volleying is a dying art. That's why I play a sreve-and-volley game. It' a shame I wasn't around for that era. Now all I hear are grunts during points and bang-bang tennis. I hope they can build a time machine soon. I'd go back to the old days and never come back.

Posted by ajv 06/28/2007 at 10:05 PM

Dunlop, Sampra's amazement, and his comments to Pete, were all about....Wimbledon. He's amazed that guys are not taking advantage of the surface's quirks by serving and volleying. He's not amazed that there aren't more guys like Arthurs, or Karlo, or the Beast on the Tour, or that serve and volley is not de rigeur on the Tour these days. He knows that those guys, and that syle gets slaughtered on the Tour over 52 weeks. Not because they serve and volley, but because they don't have the additional skills which are needed on a Tour where grass and indoor carpet is an anachronism, and where clay and hard courts rule. Those skills must include at least two of the following: the forehand, return and athleticism. Now, by point to Pete is that the reason guys don't serve and volley at wimby is that the grass is not the kind of grass pete thrived in, that the returners are better than in Pete's heyday, and that a lot of these guys, even the ones who serve with power, cannot follow the serve in to the net.

Posted by skip1515 06/28/2007 at 10:08 PM

The two secrets of winning in doubles are:

1. Be faster at calilng "Yours", and
2. Choosing a strong partner who can carry you.


I've not had to hit one ball on this thread.

Thanks, Hank.

Posted by MrsSanta 06/28/2007 at 10:08 PM

It turns out that serve and volleying has more irrational KADs than Marat Safin. In any case I would like to agree with everything Temes said in his 2:25 post. The idea that we have all identified a sure fire, supremely effective way to to win matches which the best players on planet earth simply refuse to follow is silly. S&V as a primary tactic has appreciably become a less effective way of winning matches. It could be due racquets, balls, surface, string whatever but it is simply not effective as a primary tactic.

I really hate good old days arguments of any kind. They always come across ego masturbation sessions. Even when the proponent is the divine Pete Sampras.

Posted by skip1515 06/28/2007 at 10:10 PM

Sorry, that should read,

1. Be faster at calling "Yours" than your partner, and.....

(Once again, thinking, spelling and typing faster than I should.)

Posted by Christopher 06/28/2007 at 10:20 PM

Dunlop Maxply,

I generally agree with what you're saying in your posts and I'm very confident that a lot of these things are cyclical. There will be other great players who often serve and volley if that ends up being an advantageous way to play (and it will be if players forget how to hit real passing shots). Hasn't the USTA changed the ranking system for juniors to be a composite of singles and doubles next year to encourage (i.e. force) more doubles play?

But I really think there's no need for this:
"Another debate which often surfaces around here, with various armchair keyboarders, who could not could not get a game off of Anna Kournikova if she were forced to play on one foot and one leg, arguing that she is not a "great" player -- but I digress."

That's a bit much. Should art critics be required to paint as well as the artists they discuss? What about music critics? Should Pete B. quit his job just because he couldn't get a game off Pete S.? Of course not. If you want people to start off any post that might criticize Roddick's volleys by saying "full disclosure, Andy volleys better than I do (and could probably beat me on clay)," then maybe we should have a macro to save the typing time of saying "Kolya's still better on grass than I am" and "Safin is far more consistent."

Now to close with more agreement, it did always drive me crazy that the popular press would always end some story about Anna K. by saying something like "but she wasn't really much of a tennis player and never won a tournament." No, she was not "great" in the way that we would consider any slam winner a "great player," but she was top ten and #1 in doubles. The implication that she could barely play the game was crazy.

Posted by Sahadev 06/28/2007 at 10:22 PM

(f) Wayne Arthurs has such a good serve that he could take an afternoon stroll during each service point and still have a good chance of reaching the 3rd round of Wimbledon. He puts the serve in "serve-and-volley". What about those who actually have to put their volleying skills to use?

Henman, Mahut, Qureshi, Llodra and Mirnyi all exited the tournament in the past couple of days. It's easy enough to be "amazed" in the face of all the evidence, harder to come up with a more compelling explanation than that baseline-roaming zombies have mysteriously taken over the Tour.

Posted by ptenisnet 06/28/2007 at 10:33 PM

Hey Pete
Could you at least tell us whether Sampras bought Federer's explanation?

Posted by ndk 06/28/2007 at 10:54 PM

I can't wait until the book comes out...

Posted by jb 06/28/2007 at 11:27 PM

ahh ptenis - now THAT is a good question!

Pete? can you answer us that at least?

Posted by Inigo Knightley 06/28/2007 at 11:32 PM

Wayne Arthurs is from Adelaide!

Posted by John C 06/29/2007 at 12:29 AM

Pete Sampras is bitchin' about the changes in the game? He's extoling the virtues of his game. He's passively aggressively saying he's still the champ?

This is news? It's a broken record. Did the man say nothing that might be of interest?

Give me Lendl any day who admits what anyone with eyes can see... shot for shot, for whatever reason, players today would destroy those of yesterday. The pure S&V game simply won't work for anyone but a complete GOAT type person who probably doesn't exist.

Posted by remain anonymous 06/29/2007 at 12:52 AM

Sampras is right slowing surfaces is part of the demise for serve and volleyers. Not the entire reason but a big part. He still comes in very effectively on the 30 and over tour, vs players who hit harder with newer age racquets.

And someone said they slowed down the grass cuz tennis on "real" grass was boring. Also

And Pete doesn't have 2 bitch he's the king. Point blank period!!!!

As far as Lendl's comments.... Davydenko beating Edberg really??? On what planet??? Mars????
That's just evolution it happens in every sport and through life.

One MAIN reason S&V is dying is players aren't as skilled. U need strong fundamentals 2 be successful with that style. Where as now if one is not fundamentally sound from the baseline the frames, strings etc. can compesaate. U don't necessarily need great form due 2 the way the strings can torque balls 2day.

And 2 those who weren't paying attention the 1st time, I'll say it again....

Pete Sampras is the GOAT!!!!!!!!

Posted by 06/29/2007 at 01:12 AM

Pete(Bodo) and Pete(Sampras):
This is how every grass court game went back when the court was 'faster' and guys serve and volleyed: Ace. Big serve, volley winner. Big serve, return error. Big serve, forehand winner. Big serve, shanked return. Great tennis right?!

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 06/29/2007 at 05:31 AM

Great entry and great posts. Agree with the two Petes, Dunlop Maxply, Miguel Seabra, Christopher, Pierre, and yet parts of Temes's 2:25. You guys are hard to match!

I will only add this to the list of factors: perception changes reality. If there is a perception among the players that more returns are coming back, harder, with more spin, and more passing shots are whizzing by them, then they might tend to back down from their net-rushing. Add the commonly perceived slowing of the courts and increased heaviness of the balls and there could begin a crisis of confidence among them. John McEnroe likes to say that a S&Ver must stay the course, even when they watch many passing shots go by, knowing that over three or five sets, they will have the percentages in their favor. Therefore, having the mentality and fortitude to keep charging is key to their success. Lose that mental battle and the strategy loses its effectiveness and S&Vers start losing matches.

Then, when observers see S&Vers losing matches and Lendl-types winning them, the training of juniors heads off in the latter direction. And out come the legions of baseliners that play the tour today. The S&Vers that are left are uncommitted ones.

I'm not sure whether the last 25 years of tennis corresponds to this description, but I think the logic is sound.

Also noting:
Temes's line "You simply can't be a great net player without great ground strokes" is, by definition, false. If it read 'You simply can't be a successful net player without great ground strokes' it might be true, but not necessarily.

Mrs Santa: That the pros would refuse to follow great ideas is not so silly. Consider their stubbornness with respect to their own games. Also, governments (even federal governments) tend to carry on their ineffective practices despite public outcry. Groups of experts tend to inhabit their own socio-political, and sometimes physical, bubbles.

Posted by skip1515 06/29/2007 at 08:07 AM

Awww, come on boys and girls:

1. Tennis is a fundamentally defensive game. Make zero mistakes (i.e, always, always, always get the ball back in play) and you always win. There's no need for anything offensive similar to what's required in football (scoring in one way or another), basketball (ball through net), soccer/football or hockey or lacrosse (ball in net), or baseball (runs, home or otherwise).

Winning in tennis does not *require* hitting winners.

2. The combination of racquet size and construction, an evolution of grips of choice due to racquet changes, different balls and courts, and newer strings have made it easier to play error free tennis, most specifically off the ground.

This is especially true when you begin learning the game as a youngster, when the foundation of your adult game is put together.

3. Now, in 2007, the elements of #2 have been around long enough for an entire generation to learn the game, from the beginning, with benefit of these advances (sic).

Voila, you have an entire generation of players who depend on ramped-up defense, compared to the previous generations, for whom baseline play was primarily a war of attrition. Lendl may have ushered in modern tennis, and Arias, Agassi and others may have raised it another notch, but it’s taken a long time for the game to reach the point where it is now: players at all levels aim to control points from the baseline, hoping to power their way through their opponents. Of course the pros do this better than anyone, but generally speaking, club players are aiming for the same game.

BTW, a glimpse into the truth of this, from a marketing perspective at least, is the ad for the Prince O3 racquets. Sharapova says she switched because, “I needed a little more power.”

What? Maria, short on power? Only in today’s tennis world, where juniors grunt as they learn drop shots, could a manufacturer put that in the public domain and not be sued for making ridiculous statements. (Kidding, only kidding…)

4. Lastly, with 1, 2, and 3 you get a world filled with coaches who, in order to keep getting paid by parents who want their kids to succeed, understandably take the path of least resistance in crafting junior games that win in the juniors.

When more players served and volleyed, and came into the net more often, they weren't *all* great players, anymore than all of today's players are great players. But they all understood the mentality of attacking the net. The had learned how and where to hit the ball from childhood. By the time they entered the pros they were comfortable with that style of play.

That's not the case with today's players. Their positioning during forays to the net is proof. Darren Cahill’s frequently bemoaning cross court approaches hit with topspin, as well, and we haven’t begun to dissect their actual volleying.

Will this change? Tough to say. But the smattering of success of the few players who do attack the net, none of whom would qualify as great players (said with due respect), makes a strong case for the validity of the playing style, regardless of whether it's going to be resurrected or not.

Posted by codepoke 06/29/2007 at 09:16 AM

Spot on, Mrs Santa.

> But the smattering of success ... makes a strong case for the validity of the playing style

Nothing succeeds like success. Of course, when there's one serve and volleyer left in the draw at *Wimbledon* I find it hard to interpret that as a validation for a playing style, DM's and your expertise and persuasive arguments notwithstanding.

I'll repeat myself. Serve and volley is a successful strategy, but it was more successful yesteryear. The game has changed, and right now it's the man who can survive longest in no-man's-land who seems to be winning.

Yes, serve and volley was about taking time away from the opponent, but it was also about angles. With wood it was impossible to generate truly vicious angles until you were standing on the net. Today, you can generate deadly angles off any ball that hits wide enough or even a little bit shallow. So you see a Gonzalez or a Safin putting junk on short balls that's every bit as deadly as any volley ever was.

Taking time away was always a double-edged sword. It was a gamble the serve and volleyer was willing to take in order to get the wicked angles. OK. Now I can get the angles with a whip forehand, so why throw the dice on the time issue? Why throw away my own time when I can get so much angle off the short ball?

And a word about the flip side. The baseliners are coming back forward from the shadow of the back wall, too. They are getting jealous of all those angles the all-courters are finding, and they're moving up where they can take advantage of them.

My point is not that serve and volley is gone, but that it's crown jewels have been assimilated into the all-court game.

Posted by m_b 06/29/2007 at 09:16 AM

Whether the change is permanent will be very interesting to watch indeed... Also, how does the dominant trend of tennis schooling in the past decade and beyond come into the picture? While technology changes are most likely a relevant factor, it's always puzzling to see pro players who don't seem to know the first thing about volleying - which can only mean they weren't taught. Maybe volleys are not part of the winning game anymore, but at least recreational players should stick to them, as they are among the most fun and satisfying shots to hit!

Posted by codepoke 06/29/2007 at 09:18 AM

You know my favorite thing about clicking, "Post"?

That insanity-inducing jiggling advert in the lower left-hand corner of my screen finally stops jumping. :-(

At least they got rid of those overlayed/embedded pop-over ads. Somebody buy the guy that made that happen a round of the house's best and bill me!

Posted by skip1515 06/29/2007 at 11:07 AM


For what it's worth, I made a point of writing "attacking tennis" and not "serve and volley". We're so far removed from the day when any substantial number of players depended on s&v, much less were Hall-Of-Fame proficient at it, that this discussion is really about whether or not a player is constantly looking to attack the net, not whether or not they should s&v every point.

I undertand your point about who's left in the draw, but we're in the 3rd round, and those players who might fit this description (see Sahadev above: "Henman, Mahut, Qureshi, Llodra and Mirnyi") are journeyman practitioners of s&v, with the exception of Henman (in his heyday). Bjorkman and Arthurs are still in, while Henin and Mauresmo incorporate more net advances than they did 18 months ago.

That's the keystone of my position: there's no one tilling this ground with any expertise, and those who do so without great expertise have some success. As DM mentioned, please see Kendrick/Nadal last year.

I'm not so sure the angles weren't there 30 years ago with wood, either. You couldn't hit the ball as hard with as much angle, granted, but then you couldn't approach off a mid-court full swing the same way, either. It was tougher to scrape out a tough volley with an 85 sq. inch head, too.

In a post last year, after Wimbledon, I suggested that we were going to see more attacking tennis after the way players had been successful at that year's Championships. I believe that's come to pass somewhat. I agree that baseliners, as a group, are moving closer to the baseline for more points (e.g., Nadal and Roddick). Federer is still the only one who plays what I've called Serve & No-Man's Land, though to my eye he's retreated from that a bit.

The bottom line is that it's too easy to carve a successful career out of power baseline tennis for s&v to ever be the dominant style of play again. That doesn't mean it wouldn't work, however, or that aggressive, all court attacking play couldn't rule the roost.

After all, aren't Federer and Nadal both aiming for that, when Federer has to be patient but aggressive against Nadal, and Nadal's working on standing in closer, his serve, and his volley?

Posted by Jordyn 06/29/2007 at 11:10 AM

I think he should have competed this year. What a story that would have been! I guess if he really was afraid then he didn't want to go out there and make a fool of himself. I can see the headline now... "Pete Sampras loses in the first round of Wimbledon. 6-0, 6-0, 6-0".


Posted by omar 06/29/2007 at 11:44 AM

With all due respect to Pete, watching him win those Wimbledon finals against Ivanisevic was some of the most boring tennis matches I've ever seen in my life. Is it any suprise that tennis' demise in popularity occurred at the same time period that tennis' premiere event was giving us these ridiculous serving feasts.

Thank God the grass has been slowed down. Grass court tennis has become watchable again.

Posted by codepoke 06/29/2007 at 11:48 AM

> made a point of writing "attacking tennis" and not "serve and volley".

Then we really agree. The game is evolving what it means to attack, but attacking is still the point.

I love your "serve and no-man's-land" phrase. That's exactly the style of play I'm trying to develop. The difference between attack and defense these days seems to be whether the ball is rising or falling when you strike it. If you can use one rising short ball to transition to the net, then you my friend are an attacker. That's what Blake is doing to Ferrero right now, and it's beautiful.

Posted by remain anonymous 06/29/2007 at 01:03 PM

2 the guy who never posted his name but said.....

"Pete(Bodo) and Pete(Sampras):
This is how every grass court game went back when the court was 'faster' and guys serve and volleyed: Ace. Big serve, volley winner. Big serve, return error. Big serve, forehand winner. Big serve, shanked return. Great tennis right?!"

Sampras/Agassi 1999 F
Rafter/Agassi 2000 SF
Rafter/Agassi 2001 SF
Sampras/Becker 1995 F
Sampras/Rafter 2000 F
Sampras/Courier 1993 F
Agassi/Becker 1992 QF
Courier/Edberg 1993 SF
Henman/Rafter 1998 4th
Agassi/Ivanisevic 1992 F
Edberg/Becker 1988-1990 F
Becker/Agassi 1995 SF
Agassi/Rafter 1999 SF ur description????

Posted by remain anonymous 06/29/2007 at 01:12 PM

Jordyn 06/29/2007 @ 11:10 AM

I think he should have competed this year. What a story that would have been! I guess if he really was afraid then he didn't want to go out there and make a fool of himself. I can see the headline now... "Pete Sampras loses in the first round of Wimbledon. 6-0, 6-0, 6-0".

This is a joke. Agassi with a bad back, less mobilility, coming off 3 straight 5 setters, with no day off rest gave Federer fits for 3 sets in the US F, was up 3-6,6-2,4-2 30-0 b4 running out of gas.
And 34 yr old version of Dre who pushed Fed to 5 sets in Flushing a yr earlier.

And who did Roger play in the SF of Wim last yr???? Grandpa

And after Roddick played Federer tough in 06 US Open F(well for 3 sets, anyway), and b4 having match pts vs the world #1 in Shanghai b4 going down 4-6,7-6,6-4, which old retired player spanked Roddick 6-3,6-3 in an exhibition?????

I believe it was Peter the Great!!!!!

So 2 say Pete has no chance, or would get triple bagelled in the 1st rd is laughable. He would not be the favorite @ 35-36, and I do see it difficlut 4 him 2 play seven 3/5 set matches, but.....

Believe me a lot, and I mean A LOT of players 2day would not wnat 2 deal with Sampras on grass... even @ 35-36.

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