On court, the power game is linked to the economy of energy—points end after fewer strokes and in less time. On the other hand, a game built around strategy, like the Serve and Volley game, is linked more to patience. I believe the gradual disappearance of the Serve and Volley in modern tennis can be traced back to several factors; the difficulty and time commitment required for its development, equipment advancements, improvements in the players’ physical fitness, and the fans thirst for the more “glamorous” game.
It’s no secret that the American culture favors instant gratification: fast food, high speed internet, ATM machines, digital photography, video games, express lines, frozen foods, etc., etc. All take little energy with immediate results. It’s no different with sports. We inherently choose the path of least resistance.
Some of the great Serve and Volleyers include such great players as Pat Rafter, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Max Mirnyi, Jonas Bjorkman, Taylor Dent, Martina Navratilova, Jana Novotna, and occasionally Justine Henin. To master the Serve and Volley is to add the most effective weapon in the game of tennis to a player’s arsenal. So, why is this style of play going the way of home cooked meals? That’s easy, because it takes time and a whole lot of effort to achieve the desired results.
No age group is more addicted to instant gratification than our youth. So, it makes sense that when a young player is training they would prefer to reap the immediate rewards of mastering a booming forehand than spending years honing their Serve and Volley skills. As the players mentioned above demonstrated gracefully throughout their careers, the Serve and Volley can be a deadly, game-defining weapon, but without perfect execution, the weapon holder can easily become the victim.
In the days of wooden racquets, the serve and volley was crucial to players like Laver, McEnroe, Navratilova, and Shriver. Rallies lasted longer, passing shots were slower, and a one-two punch right off the bat could make all the difference. Now, with fancy-named, carbon-based racquets—O3s and K Factors, Aero Storms and Hyper Hammers—the Serve and Volley style of play is under heavy fire.
Of course, it’s not only the racquets that are more powerful, so are the players themselves. Today’s professionals are in much better shape—our fitness knowledge increases every day, right along with our advancing exercise technology. Hulk-like ground strokes whiz by so quickly that only the Hawk-Eye can see whether they land in or out. Audience members leave matches with whiplash just from trying to follow the points. Such a face-paced, high-powered atmosphere makes strategizing look almost silly.
Body types fit play styles. It’s a shame that in today’s game many of the tall, quick athletes who are perfectly suited for the Serve and Volley, now remain glued to the baseline. For me, and other long-lived fans of the sport, it is still a joy to watch great Serve and Volleyers, like Max Mirnyi, John Isner, Jonas Bjorkman, and Ivo Karlovic continue the time-honored tradition of showcasing the mastery of the game of strategy.
To the masses, Serve and Volleyers are just not as entertaining or glamorous to watch as is the power game. For fans, it is exciting to see a player like Andy Roddick hit record-breaking serves and smash forehand winners down the line. Children with dreams of a career in tennis often hope to reach this “glamorous” level of play…as soon as is humanly possible.
In order to become an effective Serve and Volleyer, it takes even the most skilled players until their early 20’s. When young athletes face the pressure at 17 or 18 years old of ITF junior rankings and earning college scholarships, they often opt for the route that will have them winning the most matches at a young age which, of course, is the power game.
It saddens me to think of the game of tennis without some really good Serve and Volleyers, but I can understand why they have become so few and far between. When assessing and working with young people, I am always looking for the combination of skills in a youngster that could make them a great Serve and Volleyer. If I am successful in convincing them and their parents of the benefits of mastering these skills, then the true work begins for the team. But, for me, and hopefully for them, it’s all worth the effort.
Nick Bollettieri is the founder and president of the Bradenton, FL-based IMG Academies, which consists of the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy, IMG Leadbetter Golf Academy, IMG Madden Football Academy, IMG Performance Institute and IMG Baseball, IMG Basketball, IMG Lacrosse and IMG Soccer academies.
For more than 30 years, IMG Academies has helped countless youth, adult, collegiate and professional athletes reach their full potential in sport and life by providing expert coaching, customized programs and world-class facilities within an energetic environment across a 400-acre campus. Find more info on the school-year Academy program or year-round camps at www.imgacademies.com.