When I was growing up, I used to love watching tennis on TV. But I must admit watching 1990s Wimbledon matches were not very exciting for a kid to watch. Guys would relentlessly use the serve and volley to end the point as quickly as possible. This happened all game. Then the other guy would serve and do the same. This went on throughout the entire match. If you ever saw a baseline rally, it was a rarity. That’s one of the reasons I loved watching Agassi so much. He brought a baseline game to a tournament dominated by a bunch of deadpan serve and volley players.
It was only years later, that I began to admire the great serve and volley players of years past. Not because of their personalities or workmanlike attitude on the court. No, it was in appreciation of how difficult it actually is to serve and volley and win at the highest levels.
It led me to wonder if the serve and volley game will ever return to pro tennis in singles. Of all the articles I have read on the subject through the years, not one player or coach has been quoted to believe so. Has tennis finally killed the serve and volley forever?
We recently wrote an article on why the serve and volley died out in professional tennis. In order to know if it will return one day, we needed to look at the factors that caused its demise. In my personal opinion, I believe serve and volley will return to professional tennis again and I’ll state my case in this post. It will take someone with the serve of John Isner, the athleticism of Novak Djokovic and the hands of Stefan Edberg to bring it back though.
If you are a reader of this website, you know that I advocate the serve and volley. At the club level, it’s still effective and 5.0 level players and under can use it to win the lion’s share of their matches. But at the professional level, it hasn’t been able to survive the changes that have occurred in tennis since the 1980s.
How The Serve And Volley Game Will Make Its Return To Tennis
As we just saw, the serve and volley game has become all but impossible in tennis today. However, I believe in cycles and I think it will come back around to professional tennis. If I had to guess when it will happen, I would say 10 years. When it does return, there will only be a small percentage of serve and volley players – similar to the 1990s. This new breed of player will use the S&V game to make huge dents into the baseline style nobody is capitalizing on now.
Consider what we are up against:
- It’s going to take an excellent server with a very high degree of athleticism and great hands to overcome the advantages the baseline players enjoy today.
- I don’t see the ITF making any changes to tennis soon in the way of the balls or courts.
- String and racket technology are reaching near their peak (not much more room for improvement).
With players and coaches now fully ingrained in the baseline style, and familiar with the abundant spin and power in today’s rallies, it will allow for new ways to innovate in tennis–and what is well forgotten is again new. Then the next 10-20 years will allow players and coaches a chance to develop a different tactic for beating the baseline game. What tactic is that? Surprise! It’s the net game, specifically serve and volley.
The Ultimate Tennis Player
From the advent of tennis up until today, Roger Federer has to be considered the ultimate tennis player. As of the writing of this post in September 2018, most would vote him the greatest player of all time, as his credentials back that up. The Fed possesses a very effective serve, great touch at the net and fantastic groundstrokes. On top of that, he’s a good athlete, fleet of foot, intelligent and has a great feel for the game. Despite all that, he wouldn’t even be a top 10 player if he served and volleyed exclusively. Maybe somewhere around 15-25 if Zverev has only ever reached 25 for a brief time.
I Have A Dream…
The rest of this post is all speculation, but it’s often what I visualize when thinking about what it will take to bring the serve and volley game back to tennis. For one, it starts with the ideal tennis player. This player is a different type of animal – one that has never been seen on a tennis court before.
First, I visualize a player that loves the net. This player (let’s say it’s a man) has lived at the net since he learned tennis as a four-year-old child. He was taught perfect volley technique and is comfortable any place on the court. He has a passion for the game that rivals Nadal and his coach has made him watch the great serve and volley players of years past over and over.
I talk about a grown man here but consider, in reality, he is most likely a small child somewhere in the world today. Now, this perfect tennis player has the same baseline technique as the top players of today since he too will benefit from advanced racket and string technology. This ideal player, who is our hero, is about 6’3-6’5” tall and has the athleticism of an Olympic athlete. For sure he could have played professional basketball, soccer, or maybe even been an Olympic 400 meter runner.
Being that he is tall, he already possesses a big advantage with his serve. He can consistently serve in the 130-135 mph range but can also put huge kick on the ball and place it. Being that he is a natural serve and volley player, he is perfectly comfortable coming in behind his serve. The analysts remark his volley game is reminiscent of Edberg despite his height, and his court prowess is similar to Federer.
We’ll skip his junior career and brief time at the challengers. On those circuits, he becomes the first player in 30 years to exclusively serve and volley and consistently win. At the age of only 19, he makes it to the top 50 in the world. He is still honing his game and has not won a major, but the tennis community and world has been put on notice.
Six months pass, he turns 20 and enters the U.S. Open as the number 15 player in the world. Nobody wants to face him, as his potent serve and volley game is something they’ve never had to deal with. Ever since Zverev retired 20 years previously, nobody on tour has attempted to serve and volley – much less on both first and second serve consistently.
This perfect tennis player, our hero, breezes through the first four rounds to the quarterfinals to face the world’s #3 player – a baseline god who is the next level up from Djokovic. It’s a close match, but our ideal player shuts down the return game of his opponent in the fourth and fifth sets to win the biggest five-set match of his career thus far. McEnroe, still announcing in the booth, joyously chirps, “the constant pressure of his volleys and booming serve were enough to get the job done. It’s good to see the serve and volley back in tennis.”
In the semifinals, our ideal player faces a surprise #23 seed who is having the tournament of his life. But our hero feels extremely confident playing against this opponent, who has never beaten him before. He takes him out in three sets, mixing up his serve and volley style with a few baseline points to keep his foe guessing. All the world is now talking about the amazing run our hero is having. Some are wondering if it’s a fluke or if the serve and volley game can make a comeback. Brad Gilbert thinks it’s for real and states it after the match on live TV.
Future US Open Test
In the U.S. Open final, our hero will take on the #1 player in the world. He’s a pure baseline player with devastating groundstrokes and a serve as good as Federer. It’s the first meeting between the two. The #1 player has had to work hard in his last two matches, winning baseline wars reminiscent to the great battles Rafael Nadal used to have. At the same time, our hero has been able to preserve his energy by coming to the net on 78% of his points. The IBM stats show he has won an incredible 72% of his points at the net throughout the tournament. He will have to increase that number a bit to take out the world’s #1 player.
This match will be a true clash of styles: baseline god vs serve and volley master. The first set is neck-in-neck with each holding serve going into the tie-breaker. The continuous net pressure imposed by our hero is wearing on the baseline god. The latter has to be perfect with his returns and passing shots. Lobs are nearly impossible with the height and cat-like quickness of our ideal player. It’s now 5-4 in the first set tie-breaker and our hero serves a huge ace to go up 6-5. In the next point, a big kick serve out wide results in a slow put away our hero slams into the crowd. He takes the first set and feels confident walking back to his chair.
In the second set, our hero gets the break and wins it 6-4. The baseline god is reeling and a feeling of despair comes over him. Never before has he felt so uncomfortable playing another opponent. If he’s not perfect with his strokes, he’ll lose the point. This puts incredible pressure on his serve game as well. Not having the ability to come to net himself, the baseline god doesn’t have that option and will fight it out where’s he most comfortable – the baseline. It’s the baseline or bust for him, while our hero is fine anywhere he finds himself on court.
In the third set, the baseline god is fading in energy with all of the running he’s had to do to retrieve our hero’s precision volleys. Our ideal player is brimming with confidence and can now see the finish line. His long reach, quick steps and great anticipation make it seem like the entire court is covered. Almost every first volley in this set puts the baseline god on the defensive. Defeated mentally and physically, the baseline god sinks and our hero caps off the third set with a decisive 6-1 score. As the match ends on a put-away volley, he raises his hands in the air and smiles. Pete Sampras, Patrick Rafter and Mischa Zverev, all present at the match, rise and clap in unison, nodding their approval.
Our hero is the new U.S. Open Champion of 2032! After the match, McEnroe proclaims the serve and volley has made it back to tennis. Coaches and players from all around the world take notice. Not long after, our hero rises to the top five in the world and wins another major and several masters 1000 tournaments. His style looks absolutely unbeatable when he’s on top of his game. To boot, he’s only 20-years-old. Soon after, kids want to be him and play the serve and volley style.
With the belief that the serve and volley game can win at the professional level, other players try to adapt it into their games. It’s like Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile. Once one person can do it, it’s now a possibility for anyone.
They have mixed success at first. Few players are even close to having our hero’s all-around talent and physical prowess. But in the ensuing years, more young players develop into pure serve and volley players, some with a very high level of success. Finally, the serve and volley makes its return to tennis. The cycle has been spun and things have come full circle. No less than five players in the top 20 are now serve and volley specialists. This creates an awesome style match-up with the baseline gods and tennis enjoys a new golden era of entertaining play.
I really enjoyed sharing with you my vision of the future in professional tennis. That’s how I see it happening anyway. All it takes is a breakthrough by one player and the rest will follow suit. It always happens that way in sports. If a new and innovative method works for one player or team, most other players or teams will copy it.
Of course, if this mythological perfect tennis player doesn’t exist, my little vision for tennis won’t happen. This person will absolutely need to have the physical gifts, not just the talent, to pull it off. If he or she is not tall and athletic with great hand-eye coordination plus a determination to come to net, this is all just a fantasy.
To be fair, this whole scenario could occur with a female player as well. While it’s more plausible that a male will do it first, it’s entirely possible in the women’s game as well. In some ways, it’s even a little easier. In the meantime, we can look forward to a steady diet of baseline play in professional tennis. It’s not bad. I just know that one day the serve and volley will make its return. And when it does, it will shake the entire foundation of tennis to its core and prove a lot of people wrong.