Publish date:

The Last Days of the Serve-and-Volleyer


The players still dress in white, and it's still hard to find any hint of commercial sponsorship on the courts. On the surface, at least, Wimbledon remains a bastion of tennis tradition. But where it matters most, in the game itself, the All England Club has all but pierced its navel and put on a pair of capri pants. Pure serve-and-volley has no place at Wimbledon anymore.

On Monday two of the game's last serve-and-volleyers, Taylor Dent and Max Mirnyi, fell out of the draw, losing to Lleyton Hewitt and Thomas Johansson, respectively. Dent, so stubbornly attached to the net-rushing style that he can't keep a coach, came in on 104 of 105 serves and went down 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, while Mirnyi accepted reality and charged in on only 46 of 80 deliveries.

Over the last five years the All England Club's measures to slow the game--thickening the grass, depressurizing the balls--have been so successful that Wimbledon has actually taken the lead in killing off the grass-court style. "A serve-and-volleyer will not win here," says Tim Henman, the game's best volleyer. "Coming in behind a second or third shot is probably the most effective way to play on grass now."

More powerful rackets, of course, began the demise of the style long ago, and, in truth, the grass is still fast enough to reward some serve-and-volley play. But even Roger Federer, who has the skill to come in behind every serve, has drastically reduced his netward travels since winning his first Wimbledon in 2003. The 24-year-old Dent insists that "a pure serve-and-volleyer can win anywhere" but admits that to do so today demands the highest levels of fitness and execution. No one argues that, say, a Pete Sampras couldn't still serve-and-volley his way to a Wimbledon title. But anyone not as great won't. "There's no expertise in the field anymore," says '87 Wimbledon champ Pat Cash, who doubts he could win today. "We're a dying breed. Sampras was a dinosaur. We're all dinosaurs now." ■




Dent's grass-court game couldn't take him past the fourth round.