Much has been discussed and analyzed about Serena Williams and her brilliant serving at Wimbledon and at the Olympics this summer. Williams broke the all-time Wimbledon women’s serving records for aces in a match (24) and aces in a tournament (102), while she fired seemingly aces at will on the same grass courts at the All England Club en route to winning Olympic gold. Roger Federer, meanwhile, utilized his potent serve in a much more understated way to secure his seventh men’s singles Wimbledon singles title.
Steve Flink, in his new book THE GREATEST TENNIS MATCHES OF ALL TIME, rated Serena’s serve No. 1 all time and Federer’s serve in a tie for fifth all-time (with John Isner). Here are Flink’s rankings in the first serve department as it reads in the book, that you can buy here http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0942257936?ie=UTF8&tag=newchapre-20&linkCode=shr&camp=213733&creative=393185&creativeASIN=0942257936&ref_=sr_1_cc_1&s=aps&keywords=greatest%20tennis%20matches%20of%20all%20time&qid=1342044520&sr=1-1-catcorr via amazon.com or directly from the publisher at www.NewChapterMedia.com. In the book, Flink rates the top five among men and women players all time in other categories as well, including forehand, backhand, return of serve, lob, mental toughness and many others
1. PETE SAMPRAS He made the serve the cornerstone of his game and no one in history has done it better or more elegantly. No one was harder to break or more difficult to read. He could do anything he wanted with his delivery, finding all four corners with ease and supreme deception. Sampras was unreadable at his best, explosive and deadly accurate, capable of serving clusters of aces. His first serve was very big, but he was not out to break the record for velocity, relying instead on incomparable precision and a masterful motion that never let him down. It was an unstoppable weapon.
2. PANCHO GONZALES He may well have had the prettiest serve the game has yet seen. Gonzales demoralized his chief rivals with his craftiness. His service action was immaculate and entirely reliable. He always looked effortless. He moved his serve around the box skillfully, demoralized rivals with his immense power and exploited his opponents’ weaknesses ruthlessly with his outstanding delivery. He could serve his share of aces but was particularly adept at finding the weakness in an opponent’s return.
3. BORIS BECKER The burly German was a stupendous server. His weight transfer was remarkable, as was his grip. Becker—unlike most of history’s other great servers—used essentially an eastern forehand grip for his delivery. That probably helped him with power, but he also could swing you wide with the slice serve and get plenty of kick when he needed that as well. Becker serving at his best was awfully intimidating.
4. GORAN IVANISEVIC The big left-hander could not match Sampras or Gonzales as a strategic server, but he was fearless in coming after opponents with brute force and surprisingly good placement. His magnificent first serve carried him into the Wimbledon final on three occasions in the 1990’s before he finally claimed the crown in 2001 as a wildcard ranked No. 125 in the world. It was a nightmare for adversaries to deal with his ad court serve because Ivanisevic could go wide with a vicious slice or go flat down the T with blinding speed.
5. ROGER FEDERER and JOHN ISNER Because he dazzled so many learned observers across the years with his propensity to hit virtually any shot in the book at any given moment, we tend to overlook Federer’s incomparably smooth and purposeful first serve. At his best, Federer’s serve is the most precise in the game. The 6’9” Isner has one of the biggest first serves ever, and an unfailingly pure motion. Isner’s delivery is devastatingly potent and almost impossible to read.
1. SERENA WILLIAMS Watching Serena Williams serve when she is in peak form is astonishing. Her motion is the most natural of any woman player I have ever seen. Her toss is reliable, her velocity impressive, her ability to rack up free points ever apparent. It is a daunting first serve, delivered with power and panache. As the serve goes, so goes Serena Williams.
2. VENUS WILLIAMS Venus has some technical flaws in her serve that can surface. She can fall into the habit of dropping her head after the toss, but the fact remains that her first serve has been one of the biggest weapons ever showcased in women’s tennis. She can be overwhelming when serving well and it has been a primary strength all through her career. Venus in full flight garners an extraordinary number of free points with the remarkable velocity of her first serve.
3. ALICE MARBLE During her heyday in the late 1930’s, Marble became the first woman to impose an aggressive and unrelenting playing style. She could hit the kick serve, a more severe American Twist, or flatten it out. As a serve-and-volleyer, she followed her delivery into the net, but without possessing such an excellent first serve, she could never have played that way in her time.
4. MARTINA NAVRATILOVA More heralded for her acrobatic play at the net, Navratilova was intimidating with her willingness to keep coming forward behind her serve. She did not have a big first serve, but as a lefty she pulled her opponents out wide with her slice serve in the ad court and hurt them as well with a kicking first serve in the deuce court. She was a masterful percentage server, mixing speeds and spins, changing direction ably.
5. ALTHEA GIBSON When this tall African-American woman dominated the game in 1957 and 1958—winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in both years—she brought with her to the arena an ultra-aggressive style of play, most notably a formidable first serve that was tailor made for fast courts. No woman before Gibson had produced such a potent serve.
1. PETE SAMPRAS For all practical purposes, it was as if Sampras did not really have a second serve. He had two first serves. For the first half of his career, Sampras seldom served-and-volleyed on his second delivery, but that changed from 1997 on. Once he started applying that extra pressure, the second serve—already immense and daunting—became that much tougher. Toward the end of his career, he was willing to risk more double faults while going for even bigger second serves and it was worth his while. His second serve stood in a class of its own.
2. JACK KRAMER The author of the first full-fledged “Big Game” among the men, Kramer was an incomparable attacking player. He prided himself on not having much of a disparity between his first and second serves—and there never really was that much of a difference. Kramer crushed his opposition with the depth of his second serve, the best of his time by far.
3. JOHN NEWCOMBE When Newcombe was performing at the top of his craft, he had an awfully good first serve that struck fear into the hearts of his rivals. But it was his second serve that essentially set him apart. He kept the second serve impeccably deep and then closed in to put away first volleys. In his era, Newcombe’s highly-reliable second serve was decidedly better than anyone else’s.
4. ANDY RODDICK The American owns one of the most powerful and celebrated first serves of his era. The extreme power of that delivery was largely responsible for his rise to No. 1 in the world in 2003. But Roddick’s second serve is extraordinary as well. He gets so much kick and extreme bite on the second ball that his rivals are hard pressed to find a way to combat it. It is a magnificent second serve.
5. PATRICK RAFTER The Australian won two U.S. Opens and made it to two Wimbledon finals by virtue of his capacity to spring forward as swiftly as anyone behind his serve and into the forecourt. Rafter’s first serve was a good one, yet his second impressed me more. The heavy kicker was particularly effective on hard courts, bounding high, allowing Rafter to take utter control of points.
1. SAMANTHA STOSUR The 2011 U.S. Open champion has a wickedly-kicking second serve that is not only the best in today’s game, but in my book the best ever. Stosur’s ad court second serve is almost unanswerable, bounding high and deep to the backhand, making life miserable for her adversaries, even those with extraordinary two-handed backhand returns.
2. SERENA WILLIAMS As extraordinary as her first serve surely has been, Serena’s second serve is of the same high quality. She keeps her opponents at bay with her depth, spin, variety and control. Even on those days when her first serve is slightly off the mark, Williams often endures because her second serve is so difficult to attack.
3. MARTINA NAVRATILOVA There was never much of a disparity between Martina’s top of the line first and second serves. She never set out to be a big server, but rather relied on location and depth to take charge. Most importantly, her second serve would kick up high and enable her to close in for the first volley. She could also go wide in the ad court with slice or into the body with heavy spin. Navratilova’s second serve depth was a trademark.
4. BILLIE JEAN KING One of the finest strategic servers of her era, King was an astute match player who knew how to make opponents uncomfortable on their returns by changing speeds and spins to exploit their weaknesses. King’s second serve was exceedingly well designed for her to get to the net quickly behind it. It was not overwhelming but she got in swiftly behind her serve and forced her opponents to keep their returns awfully low. She could swing her slice serve remarkably wide in the deuce court, hit the effective kicker to the ad court, and was always purposeful. In her prime, the bigger the situation, the better she served.
5. MARGARET COURT Because she was so tall and rangy, Court was highly intimidating as she worked her way forward on serve. There were times when her nerves would cause the stately Australian to double fault in the tense corners of tight contests, but, by and large, she got the most out of her second serve and directed it anywhere she wanted. A consummate attacking player, Court’s second serve on her finest days of work was a true barometer of the state of her game and her level of confidence. Her depth and placement were the twin virtues of her second serve.
Jeff Salzenstein, regarded as one of the top teaching professionals in tennis, has launched a free four-part video series on how to add speed, spin and consistency to your serve, available for instant access by clicking here http://jeffsalzensteintennis.com/go/tennis-serve-tips.html