Remembering serve & volley

In the early and mid 90s, there were a lot of big servers on the ATP tour - Sampras, Becker, Ivanisevic, Krajicek and others, who took advantage of their overhead power by closing out points early at the net. And there were also strategic, graceful, and athletic movers like Edberg and Rafter who knew how to work the court and their opponents.

While I didn't enjoy watching 5 sets of 1-2 stroke "rallies" at Wimbledon, it was fun seeing well executed serve & volley tennis, and different style of play match-ups like Becker and Agassi.

Today, the only serve & volley you see is in doubles, and you have the exceptional singles player taking advantage of a faster surface. Ironically, one of the only players with gracious serve & volley game left is a Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez, and Spaniards are usually known for their baseline power. So what happened?

There were a few developments over the past decade that made serve & volley less successful. As a result of the big servers in the 90s, the game was slowed down in most places - for example by using slower balls or creating more friction on the surface. This happened even in places like Wimbledon, where grass court tennis today almost looks like conventional hard court tennis. A lot of people say that return skills improved as well, and that Luxilons and other poly strings made returns more effective. And then there are just less serve & volley idols like Edberg and Rafter around, so it's also less likely to see followers.

Does all this mean that it's not worth trying to become a good serve- & volleyer? I don't think so:
  • First of all, if you play any doubles, you might know that you still win doubles at the net.
  • Second, adding more diverse skills to your game gets you closer to becoming a truly complete player, which many strive for. Why hit the same few strokes and be stuck in the same game for 40 years or so?
  • And last but not least, it might help you win matches too. Maybe coming in whenever you can is the right strategy against your opponent. Or you could throw them off every once in a while with a serve & volley play, like Federer and Haas have started doing lately. That's a good play to disrupt return rhythm.
I compiled a few of my sample videos for inspiration below. Notice for example how the slippery surface and the opponent in some of the clips pretty much demand serve & volley play! Watch best in fullscreen and high quality setting, and let me know if you have any questions or comments:

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