"He likes to play alone." Those are the words that professional players use to describe those among them for whom rallies are a heresy. Whether we call them bombers, crazy servers, "acemen" or any other suggestive adjective, we take you on a journey to meet the "killers" of engagement, the finest triggers who only need one shot.
Ricardo « Pancho » Gonzales
"If the fate of the Earth was depending on it, the man that I would like to see serve to save humanity would be Ricardo Alonso González" wrote Sports Illustrated by electing him among the 15 greatest athletes of the century. If Bill Tilden or Ellsworth Vines were previously known for the excellence of their engagement, Pancho Gonzales is commonly regarded as the first to have scored a point without his opponent being able to hit the ball, or even just touch it, which was an accomplishment in itself. He was also the first able to serve over 150 mph, "it was his service which decided the fate of a game,” remembers Tony Trabert, one of his great rivals. “We were a few players to have a good baseline game, overall better than his, but the service was so exceptional that we could only get a handful of points on it. That's how he made the difference at the end of the day.»
Roscoe « the rocket » Tanner
"In my days, the service was a face-off. Today, it has become a killing." When he judged in these words the evolution of the service during the 1970s, the Musketeer Jean Borotra probably had in mind the American Roscoe Tanner. Left handed with a high-powered forearm, he inherited the nickname previously reserved to Rod Laver: "Rocket". If he didn't had the talent of the Queensland's redhead, the winner of the Australian Open in 1977 had however the same overdeveloped arms... and overpowered: yet playing at the time with wooden racquets, he established in 1978 a fabulous speed record for the service at 152 mph, which would stand for a quarter of a century, until the emergence of Andy Roddick.
Boris « Boom-Boom » Becker
Aces in career (4436), with first ball successes (79%) or service games won (86%), look no further: if service-related data categories are monopolized by players of the twenty-first century and the 1990s - because of the equipment evolution - Boris Becker seems to systematically appear as the spearhead of previous generations. His clean services - a simple ball and racquet pendulum swing, gesture accentuated over the years - marked entire generations as Becker's serves redefined power standards in his time.
« Pistol Pete » Sampras
In the 90s, a decade full of powerful servers, Pete Sampras wasn’t really the one who served the faster or the stronger. But "Pistol Pete" had two custom weapons: first, a unique explosive power allowing him to have no downtime between the end of his service and his rush to the net: a time saving with big consequences since he could play a volley shot in excellent conditions. Then his second ball. To be precise, Sampras had no second ball; he had a second chance at first. Explanation: "I have always applied a risk management strategy on the second ball, even if I have to make a double fault. But over the length of a match, I was winning more points than I was losing". For this, the American added to his technical safety an essential parameter: an exceptional self-control. The little "plus" that allowed him to make the difference so often against the nervous Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon...
Goran « Acemen » Ivanisevic
...But on pure efficiency, if we had to keep only one, it would probably be him. Most of the aces records are his owns: 10,183 throughout his career (only player so far to have passed the 10 000) 1477 in a single year (1996) and 213 in one tournament (Wimbledon 2001). His contemporary Marc Rosset, though not clumsy himself, said: "In terms of aces and ability to kill the point on the first try, the most annoying of all was Goran. When he was feeling well, it was coming from high up, and it was fast. It was a nightmare. He was left-handed, and had a gesture with which he didn't show any clues about its zones... Besides, everything about his style was frustrating for the receiver during the match. For me, he was the worst of all. With him it was 'boom' game over. All Done. No need to try and volley. »
Andy « A-Rod » Roddick
A revolution. When he arrived on the Tour in the early 2000s, Andy Roddick brought a violence into the service that even Ivanisevic, Rusedski and Philippoussis, references of the moment, couldn't approach. Roddick was the first to serve regularly over 140mph, even verging on several occasions 155 mph (with a record at 154 mph in 2004). Above all, despite some odd gestures, the American was among the few fans of "everything for a powerful service", having avoided serious shoulder injuries throughout his career. In short, a model for natural gesture, reminding us how, more than any other, a good service is partly innate.
Wayne « the unbreakable » Arthurs
"The best server I ever met", said Andre Agassi. "Technically, he's the ultimate server,” according to Jim Courier. Unlike many other aces hunters, Wayne Arthurs didn’t have an oversized morphology. Just above 6 feet (6.2), not particularly massive (12,5 stones) Arthurs was slender, almost skinny. But whatever the height or weight; his left-handed service was meteoric and especially unreadable. Speed, angles and ability to hide his zones, the Australian controlled absolutely all the characteristics of a perfect engagement. With 4375 aces in just 278 games, his average in career of 16 aces per game puts him just behind the giants Karlovic and Isner.
« Doctor Ivo » Karlovic
A slightly stooped gesture, before a long spring making the service look like a simple overhead: with a disadvantage in terms of mobility because of his 6 ft. 11 in, Ivo Karlovic has found in his impressive segments a lethal weapon: the taller you are, the more angles you can find. And since he is the tallest player ever seen on the ATP tour... To date, the Croat hit 9393 aces in carer, the second highest behind his elder Goran Ivanisevic... but in just 500 games, averaging a staggering average in career of 18.4 aces per match! In addition, as much by choice than by necessity (his weakness in the rallies is acute) Karlovic often applies the recipe for risk taking in the second ball dear to Pete Sampras... but with less panache, fortunately for his opponents. In 500 games, he only went back to the dressing room without having scored a single ace once: it was against Gael Monfils in Monte Carlo in 2008.
« Big John » Isner
Like many giants, John Isner moves his heavy carcass with a form of indolence. This misleading appearance of softness can also be seen in the first service gestures of the American... just before lightning. Even more than his first ball - eminently fearsome, it goes without saying - we appreciate Isner's second, a true signature: capable of generating an incredible kick, it’s not uncommon for the receiver to get lobbed after the bounce, as the ball squirts. This characteristic makes him a player finally more comfortable on abrasive surfaces (slow hard or even clay), where the effect of the kick is maximal, rather than on very fast surfaces. It also allowed him to be on the podium of the Open Era’s most efficient players in the second ball, just behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and before Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic. Just that.
Sam « The Navanderra Express » Groth
The surprise guest of this top. The tennis world discovered Sam Groth in May 2012. Until then passed under the radar while he was already 24, the Australian colossus (6ft 4in 15.4 stones) hit a staggering first service timed at 163 mph at the Busan Challenger or 8 mph more than the record set a few months earlier by Ivo Karlovic! Since then, he continued to improve his statistics at the service: in 13 games played in 2015, he already hit 203 aces, almost 16 per game… But this doesn't prevent him from being ranked at the 69th place worldwide. Living proof that a big service isn't everything.
Bob Falkenburg, Jack Schroeder, Mike Sangster, Colin Dibley, Chip Hooper, Steve Denton, Kevin Curren, Slobodan Zivojinovic, Marc Rosset, Richard Krajicek, Greg Rusedski, Mark Philippoussis, Ivan Ljubicic, Taylor Dent, Joachim Johansson, Milos Raonic, Albano Olivetti, Jerzy Janowicz…