By Evan Valeri
In this series of articles, I will break down what the ultimate ATP player’s game would look like in today’s singles game. This first article will dive into which modern players have the most desirable strokes.
Serve: Milos Raonic
In 2012, Milos “The Missile” Raonic led the ATP Tour in service games won (winning 93%), 1st serve points won (winning 82%), and break points saved (74% saved). He also ranked second in the field in aces, by serving 1002 untouchable bombs, only three behind big serving American John Isner. Milos is able to keep opponents guessing because he has a full artillery of serves to choose from. At the 2012 Rogers Cup he served the third fastest serve ever at 155.3mph. Milos backs the heater up by mixing in kick serves that can jump over the heads of opponents as they curve way outside the doubles alley, and sliding slices that are tough to retrieve unless you are stretch Armstrong. And to top it off he can vary the pace and combine the spins so opponents are left standing like the house beside the road as the ball flies past. The serve of Milos Raonic is the ultimate shot anyone would love to start a point with.
Forehand: Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal’s forehand is so good it has a nickname, “The Fearhand”. Fearhand is a very fitting name for the forehand of Nadal. He hits the heaviest ball that the ATP has ever seen. With nearly a full western grip he bludgeons the ball with never before seen power and spin from anywhere on the court. Nadal can hit the ball just as effective from shoulder height as he can from his shins. Rafa’s spin gives him a huge advantage over the rest of the field. It allows him to hit the ball higher over the net giving him great margin for error. Nadal can hit the ball harder and also bend and dip passing shots like no one else because of this tremendous amount of topspin. The fearhand is a weapon desired by many and is the best on the ATP Tour.
Backhand: Novak Djokovic
This could be the most complete shot in the game today. Novak is able to do anything with his backhand. He hits it offensively and defensively with equal effectiveness because he is just as comfortable hitting from an open stance as he is stepping into the shot. Djokovic can pull his backhand flat up the line for a winner at the drop of a hat, roll it with topspin on a crosscourt angle, or hit a deft slice to stay in the point or keep the ball low. Novak Djokovic strikes the backhand better than anyone in the world from anywhere on the court and it’s practically impossible for opponents to dissect and breakdown this stroke.
Volleys: Roger Federer
Many people may view this pick as a bit of a surprise. It would have been easier to choose more of a doubles specialist like Bob or Mike Bryan, Radek Stepanek, or Michael Llodra, but the volley in today’s game is more than just hitting the ball out of the air. Having a good volley in singles consists of not only getting it done once you get to net, but choosing the right time to attack and having the approach shot skill set to put you in the best position to hit effective volleys. Roger owns all of these skills that make up a great volleyer in today’s singles game. He picks smart opportunities to come in; hits his approaches to the correct locations, and once he arrives at net he can place his volleys anywhere. Federer can hit soft drop volleys, angles, deep penetrating skidding volleys, and can put away overheads on both the forehand and backhand sides. Roger Federer has the volleys that the best singles player in the world would need.
Return of Serve: Novak Djokovic
Considered by many to be the best returner in the modern game, he also appears in the conversation of best returner of all time for good reason. Djokovic is better than anyone at getting the ball back in play. In 2012 Djokovic ranked second behind Nadal in first serve return points won, break points converted and return games won, but those people that believe Nadal is the superior returner are construing this information incorrectly . Djokovic played nearly twice as many matches as Nadal, and Nadal’s shortened season was dominated by playing on the dirt. Djokovic also ranked second in second serve return points won, behind Andy Murray. While there have been better aggressive return players in the long history of tennis, think Agassi, Djokovic has a complete return game. He has the ability to be aggressive with returns while also somehow getting a stick on serves that catch him leaning in the wrong direction. He gives himself a chance to get into points, and with the game becoming more and more about staying in points rather than ending them, this is crucial and is what makes him the best in today’s game.
Combine the strokes of all these players and you would have a player with the most complete, rock solid, all around physical game. But as we have seen in the past, just because a player has superior technique and strokes doesn’t mean they will win every match. Tennis is said to be eighty percent mental, and without a good game upstairs, a player will never rise to the top of the ranks. The next article in the series will discuss what it would take to own an opponent mentally.