With everyone doing top 10 lists of the decade or the year, I decided to take a slightly different approach. I still made a top 10 list but not of any matches or any particular stats. This is the list of the best single strokes in the last 10 years.
This list was harder to make than I thought. I brainstormed with a lot of different players and looked at all of their strokes. The way I determined the list was based on how incredible, effective, and absolutely lethal these shots were. The way I ranked the strokes was based on how far the stroke was able to carry the player:
10. Ivo Karlovic’s serve: 78 aces in a single match on clay and this guy is nearing 30. His motion is a little unorthodox but how much does one really need to do when they serve out of a tree? The Karlovic serve falls at number 10 only because Karlovic is not that accomplished of a player. He was never able to translate the greatness of his serve into the rest of his game the way the players on the rest of this list do. Those 78 aces still weren’t enough for the win.
9. David Nalbandian’s backhand: How often do you hear the number one player in the world say they fear a shot? What about two number ones? Both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have expressed fear of David Nalbandian at some point in their respective careers. Nadal even specified it was Nalbandian’s backhand he was afraid of. This stroke was as smooth as silk and was a big factor in helping Nalbandian make several slam semifinals and win two MS titles and the TMC.
8. Patrick Rafter’s volleys: It’s pretty incredible to be on this list for volleying during the decade of baseline domination. But Rafter made two Wimbledon finals and played great in both despite coming up short. He was genuine serve and volleyer with incredible hands and he made the most of them. His two slam wins came in the last decade but he still showed off his skills against the baseline bashers of today.
7. Juan Martin del Potro’s forehand: If you’ve never seen this guy play, you are missing out. No matter what you think the reason is for Federer’s loss in this year’s US Open final, del Potro’s forehand was the deciding factor. He arguably hits the hardest forehand in history and he’s only 20 years old. The great thing about del Potro is that his serve and backhand are great, too, and they will all help him win several slams in the future. But the forehand is his money shot.
6. Marat Safin’s backhand: I almost put this at number four but I had to be fair to Roddick and Sampras. It’s no secret I love Safin and I may have put this shot a little too high on the list, but then again he did win more slams this decade than anyone I’ve already mentioned. And that’s why his backhand is on here. Despite his inconsistency throughout the years, the way he could fire this shot during his two slam victories (2000 US Open and 2005 Australian Open) was absolutely incredible. He was smacking winners down the line, cross court, in the middle, in the air, you name it. Not convincing enough? Safin’s backhand brought the great Roger Federer to his knees.
5. Pete Sampras’s serve: That’s right, Pistol Pete is on the list for this decade. Despite playing his best stuff in the 90s, he managed to win two slams in 2000 and 2002, both of his record breaking slams. And while he was slower and not as fit as he was during the 90s, his serve was always the greatest shot in the game. The reason this shot isn’t higher is because it did not help him much beyond those two slams and a couple of other finals.
4. Andy Roddick’s serve: Seven straight years finishing in the top 10 is why Roddick is above Sampras. It’s also why he’s above Safin despite my obvious favoritism. Roddick has tinkered with his style for years now. He’s played super aggressive, super defensive, a bit of both, a bit of nothing, but he’s always had that serve. An anomaly of epic proportions but quite a sight to behold. A lot of players say they want Karlovic’s serve, but Roddick has backed his serve up a lot better. Five slam finals with a win, not the greatest outside his serving but still pretty darn great.
3. Andre Agassi’s return of serve: This is more or less two strokes but it still fits on this list. Agassi had one of the greatest returns of all time because he was always aggressive and was able to make the greatest servers get nervous. He won three slams this decade and made a few other finals and was also the oldest number one in history. It’s all thanks to his incredible returns. A 34 year old limping Agassi withstood 51 aces from Joachim Johansson. Most players are always fairly in control when they’re serving, but Agassi was in control when he was serving and returning.
2. Rafael Nadal’s forehand: I love this shot. When Nadal is playing his best, his forehand cannot be described with the words of the mortals. Six grand slams, two other finals, 15 MS titles, and a world number one ranking. And did I mention he did all of this during Federer’s reign? A lot of players attack Federer backhand but only Nadal can do it so relentlessly and effectively to hold a significant edge in their head to head. For those writing Nadal off, as long as he can hit a forehand, he is never done. While del Potro has the hardest forehand, Nadal has the heaviest. His forehand has more rpm (rotations per minute) than Sampras’s second serve. That is just insane.
1. Roger Federer’s forehand: We all know about the world number one streaks and the slam record and the whole “dominating the tour like no one ever has” thing, but Federer’s forehand is probably the greatest AND most beautiful shot in the history of the sport. At his best, there is nothing Federer can’t do with his forehand. More spin? No problem. More power? No problem. More angle? No problem. Federer even has one of the greatest forehand drop shots I’ve ever seen. Federer also plays his best tennis when his forehand is clicking. And we’ve all seen Federer at his best, unbeatable. Even when he’s not at his best, it was an inside-out forehand that saved him against Haas at the French Open. Federer’s forehand has it all and its greatness translates into the rest of his game better than any of these other players.
Honorable Mentions: Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Richard Gasquet backhands, Tim Henman slice, Taylor Dent and Radek Stepanek volleys, Guillermo Coria and Fabrice Santoro drop shot, Lleyton Hewitt return, Fernando Gonzalez and Robin Soderling forehand.
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