Melissa Pine: The lost art of the serve-and-volley
Modern advances hamstring the serve-and-volley, but it is a unique skill that has thrown up some of the greatest names in the sport
There is a sense of majesty to it all when you watch footage of Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova serving and volleying at Wimbledon - moving forward, swift footwork, hitting a crisp volley that their opponents lunge for, or miss.
The serve-and-volley is such a difficult tactic to master, but they made it look effortless with their great hands, quick feet, amazing touch and intuition to know where the ball is going.
These days, it is increasingly common to hear die-hard tennis fans talk about how the game is not the same as it used to be.
The variety has been lost, they say, with the stylish serve-and-volley game a thing of the past.
Grass courts have historically been the fastest surface in the sport with low and fast bounces, often unpredictable because the balls skid, making it challenging to stay in rallies from the back of the court.
The ground strokes were trickiest to get to, combine that with the heavy wooden rackets of yesteryear, and it makes complete sense why the best strategy was to get to the net, and as quickly as possible.
However, the serve-and-volley game has been gradually disappearing at Wimbledon.
While statistics released after last year's Wimbledon found that 71 per cent of rallies were still fewer than four strokes, only a tiny majority of them involved serve and volley.
It was an almost identical picture at the US Open and Australian Open, and not much different at Roland Garros. Have the advances in technology and new grass-court upgrades changed the shape of the game?
The figures suggest the uniqueness of grass is gone. The perception is that the All England Club's decision to change to a new, more durable, perennial rye grass in 2000 has made those serve-and-volley skills increasingly redundant.
In 2002, for example, ironically the year baseliner Lleyton Hewitt won the title at Wimbledon, serve-and-volley made up 33 per cent of total points in the men's draw.
By 2010, it had dropped to single digits and has remained there since, even if the success rate remains close to the historical benchmark of 70 per cent.
Even visually, looking at footage at the end of Wimbledon this year, you can see much of the court is grass green, except for the barren patch behind or around the baseline.
Compare this to old footage in the '70s through the '90s and the dusty bare surface was along the service line and towards the net.
It was a time when serve-and-volley maestros like King and Navratilova, and masters like John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras ruled at SW19.
Current players talk about how in the last 15 years, the balls have changed, that the courts are generally a little slower, the game is so much more physical and that the players are stronger. They hit passing shots and winners from anywhere in the court.
It's easier to hit a ground stroke when the ball bounces true, and players have more time to react.
Some also argue that with the advances in racket and string technology, the game is so much more faster that it's hard to come to the net.
Many players are never taught serve-and-volley and coaches just don't focus on it any more.
It's difficult to learn and hard to be successful with it at first, and kids and coaches don't like failure.
There are many who say that the serve and volley is a thing of the past.
But there are also many who believe that a player who owns a unique style, can be the next queen or king of the court.
- Melissa Pine is the vice-president of WTA Asia-Pacific and the tournament director of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. She is also a former NCAA player at Washington State University and served as assistant coach of the team post-graduation. To find out more about the WTA Finals, visit www.wtafinals.com