By Ossian Shine
LONDON (Reuters) – The young guns stalking the Big Four of tennis at Wimbledon should dip into the past to secure their future, former world number one Mats Wilander told Reuters on Friday.
While Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have looked imperious so far at the grasscourt grand slam, the up-and-coming contenders need to study some of the greats of the game to gain a foothold.
“I agree there is no room for serve-and-volley in tennis if you try to do it all the time,” said Wilander, in London leading Eurosport’s coverage of the event. “But should it be used way more than it is? Yes, of course it should.”
That style of tennis, where the server follows his delivery into the net to hit a volley or a smash, has all-but disappeared from the modern game as athletes have become stronger and racquets more powerful. Prior to 2002 it was the go-to tactic for almost all the champions over the years.
Since 2002, when the grass surface was slowed down by Wimbledon organizers, it has virtually disappeared, as players thump the ball from the baseline waiting for an opening to blast a big forehand or backhand winner.
In the first four days of the tournament only seven percent of points played in the men’s draw were serve-volley — even though the success rate was almost 70 percent. For women the statistic was worse — one percent of points were serve-volley.
“That is ridiculous. I mean, as I say, you can’t do it all the time because the returns are so good these days, and the passing shots, but at the very least one in five points should be serve-volley,” Wilander said.
“Especially against the guys who chip back around 30 percent of their returns.
“These young guys are going to need to switch it up, try some new things. They are going to have to rush the top guys, not let them play like they want to play.
“Because guess what happens when the top guys play the way they want to play — there is a reason they are ranked one, two or three in the world: because they are better than you!
“You need to take time away from them, make them uncomfortable — and one way to do that is to serve-and-volley.”
One player who has bucked the trend at these championships is Mischa Zverev. The Russian-born German has serve-volleyed more than 80 percent of his service points so far, at a success rate of almost 70 percent.
Next up for the elder of the two Zverev brothers is Federer. The Swiss has been known to chip returns from time to time, so Wilander’s theory will get an early test.
“Why not?” the Swede said smiling. “It will be interesting. Roger was beaten by Sergiy Stakhovsky here in 2013 when the Ukrainian serve-volleyed almost everything. So, yeah, it will be interesting.”
(Editing by Ken Ferris)