MEN'S TENNIS: THE BEST RETURNERS OF THE LAST 25 YEARS
July 11, 2012
As a companion piece to my list of the ten greatest servers in tennis history, I have decided to compile a list of the game’s standout returners over the last 25 years. ‘But why only the last 25 years, James?!’ I hear you cry. My reasoning is thus: it would be unfair to compare eras that were quite distinct, in that improved racquet technology changed the sport dramatically during the mid-1980s. When it becomes apparent that Jimmy Connors did not make the cut, well, now you know why.
As was the case in the previous article, the sum of a player’s return will be taken into consideration. Decisions will also be weighted in favor of fast-court returners. It should go without saying that this is not an exact science, and I do not have a concrete formula written down as a guide to my choices. It is entirely subjective. With no further caveats in mind, let’s get on with the list.
8. Roger Federer
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I expect to take some heat for this selection, but at least hear me out first. Let me be clear, Federer makes it onto the list purely based on his astonishing ability to neutralize monstrous first serves during his peak.
His ability to absorb the pace of the serve and knock it back to a good length was unmatched from 2004 until 2006. Statistically, the Swiss was the best fast-court first serve returner between those years.
The newly crowned World No. 1 may have crept up even higher on the list if not for his puzzlingly passive second serve return. Federer almost exclusively chips back even the slowest second serves, generally content to begin the point in a neutral position.