Death of a tennis art: Is this the end for serve and volley?

Story highlights

  • Former world No. 1 Ivan Lendl says serve and volley is too difficult in modern tennis
  • Hitting power and new technologies mean players now stay at the baseline
  • Roger Federer is finding it harder to serve and volley, says Tim Henman
  • Wimbledon legend Pete Sampras believes the technique is a dying art

It used to be one of the great sights in tennis -- the likes of Boris Becker and John McEnroe flying around the net, executing flawless volleys to follow up precision serves.

But the fearsome hitting power of modern tennis players has destroyed an art once finessed by some of Wimbledon's greatest champions, according to eight-time grand slam winner Ivan Lendl.

Czech legend Lendl believes the bold playing style -- mastered to thrilling effect on grass by legends such as Rod Laver, Stefan Edberg, Martina Navratilova and Pat Rafter -- has been outdated by advances in technology and training.

"The reason the guys don't serve and volley is mainly because of the spin on the ball that is given by the string and also by the strength of the guys and their technique," Lendl told CNN.

"So to come to the net and be fishing for that ball when the guy takes a full swing and it has 8,000 rpm on that ball ... it becomes very, very difficult to volley and put away."

Janko Tipsarevic's goal for Wimbledon
Janko Tipsarevic's goal for Wimbledon

    JUST WATCHED

    Janko Tipsarevic's goal for Wimbledon

MUST WATCH

Janko Tipsarevic's goal for Wimbledon 02:42
Becker: Venus Williams' future in doubt
Becker: Venus Williams' future in doubt

    JUST WATCHED

    Becker: Venus Williams' future in doubt

MUST WATCH

Becker: Venus Williams' future in doubt 02:18
Andy Murray's secret weapon
Andy Murray's secret weapon

    JUST WATCHED

    Andy Murray's secret weapon

MUST WATCH

Andy Murray's secret weapon 03:19
Cash vs. Lendl: 25 years later
Cash vs. Lendl: 25 years later

    JUST WATCHED

    Cash vs. Lendl: 25 years later

MUST WATCH

Cash vs. Lendl: 25 years later 03:10

In the next two weeks, Lendl is chasing the Wimbledon title -- the only grand slam that eluded him as a player -- as a coach for British number one Andy Murray.

But Lendl, who is now a U.S. citizen, appears unlikely to encourage the Scot to make frequent forays from the baseline.

Murray relishes Wimbledon's home comforts

"There are only a handful of guys that can do it right now -- Roger (Federer) being one of them," Lendl said.

But even Federer, whose serve-and-volley prowess helped secure six Wimbledon titles, has abandoned the technique.

Tim Henman, a four-time Wimbledon semifinalist and one of the few players of his generation to embrace the serve-and-volley game, thinks Federer has been forced to adapt his style at the London venue.

"He used to (serve and volley), but I think the conditions of the grass have changed so much -- the balls are probably heavier, the courts are much, much slower, so there is far less serve and volley," Henman told CNN.

However, the former British number one maintains that coming to the net can pay off at Wimbledon, adding: "I think you've got to really keep attacking on grass, it's the hardest surface to defend on."

Lost art

Yet Pete Sampras, the most lethal exponent of serve and volley ever seen at the All England Club, is less optimistic about the future of the technique.

"It's gone," he told CNN earlier this year.

"I love watching Roger, Nadal, Djokovic, but it's sad to see Wimbledon today with everyone staying back," Sampras said in March.

Pat Cash's Wimbledon climb
Pat Cash's Wimbledon climb

    JUST WATCHED

    Pat Cash's Wimbledon climb

MUST WATCH

Pat Cash's Wimbledon climb 02:21
Kvitova and Navratilova's Wimbledon
Kvitova and Navratilova's Wimbledon

    JUST WATCHED

    Kvitova and Navratilova's Wimbledon

MUST WATCH

Kvitova and Navratilova's Wimbledon 07:06
Jamie Murray interviews Andy
Jamie Murray interviews Andy

    JUST WATCHED

    Jamie Murray interviews Andy

MUST WATCH

Jamie Murray interviews Andy 00:59

"I developed the serve and volley game at a young age. I started at 13, 14 -- if you're 20 and don't serve and volley, it's too late."

Sampras concurs with Lendl that the state-of-the-art equipment used by today's players has hastened the decline of serve-volley.

"Technology might be an issue because with these big Babolat rackets, they don't need to volley, you just hit the crap out of the ball. Whereas we grew up with the wood racket, so you had to hit it properly," said the seven-time Wimbledon champion.

"It'd be nice to have someone come up that serves and volleys. It's definitely a lost art, and it's unfortunate."

Sampras would not be the only one saddened if the era of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic -- so often hailed as a golden one for tennis -- also came to be defined by the erosion of one the game's most exhilarating skills.

        Tennis

      • Rafael Nadal of Spain watches the ball in his match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia during during day seven of the China Open at the National Tennis Center on October 3, 2014 in Beijing, China.

        What does 2015 hold for Rafa?

        Rafael Nadal's body might be giving him a few problems, but his mind remains as strong as ever. Will the Spaniard add to his haul of 14 grand slam titles?
      • LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and his long time girlfriend Kim Sears arrive at Buckingham Palace on October 17, in London, England. Murray will become an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and receive his medal from the Duke of Cambridge. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

        Love game: Andy Murray to tie knot

        The Scot has served up a few changes to his support team in 2014 but there's one person who isn't going anywhere -- his new fiancée Kim Sears.
      • Despite being forced to retire at the age of 24 due to health problems, Lacoste remained in the game and went on start the "Lacoste" brand in 1933, which specialised in tennis products. The inspiration for the company's logo came from his nickname as a player, "le crocodile."

        'Crocodile' who broke all the rules

        His distinctive crocodile logo is seen on clothing all over the world, but Rene Lacoste also left a lasting legacy in the development of tennis.
      • Serena Williams of the US holds the US Open trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their US Open 2014 women's singles finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 7, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

        Serena savors U.S. Open win

        Serena Williams is without peer in the modern women's game and now she is on a par with two American tennis legends from the past.
      • American tennis player and golfer Althea Gibson (right) receives a kiss from compatriot Darlene Hard, whom she beat in two sets to become the first black woman to win the Women's Singles Finals at Wimbledon.

        The amazing life of Althea Gibson

        Over the course of her remarkable life, Althea Gibson was many things to many people -- but it was tennis where she really left her mark.
      • Courting couple at match point

        "I didn't cry once when I practiced in front of the mirror," says Martin Emmrich. But the nerves kicked in when he got down on one knee on court.
      • LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 03: Tennis / Frauen: Wimbledon 2004, London; Finale; Siegerin Maria SHARAPOVA / RUS 03.07.04. (Photo by Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images)

        'Baby' Sharapova's big moment

        It's 10 years since a teenage Maria Sharapova became the darling of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, launching herself as a star.
      • 'Swiss Miss' follows mom's lead

        Five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis has followed her mom into a coaching role, setting up a new tennis academy in Barcelona, Spain.