Pete Sampras is most certainly one of the greatest servers of all time.
The 14 time grand slam champion relied heavily on his powerful, accurate and consistent serve to soften up his opponents and become the most prolific player of his generation.
Sampras played predominantly in the serve and volley era in his early career, before later having major rivalries with dominant baseliners like Andre Aggasi.
But, the one thing that remained consistent throughout his career was his unbelievable serve.
Sampras attracted the nickname ‘Pistol Pete’ for good reason!
The main strengths of Sampras’ serve was his pinpoint accuracy, constituency, power and his ability to find big serves (both first and second serves) in high pressure moments.
So, let’s take a more detailed look at the Pete Sampras Serve and get a better understanding of why it is one of the best of all time!
What Makes Pete’s Serve So Great?
There are a few elements to having a great serve in tennis.
The greatest of all time all have a great combination of power, spin, consistency and disguise, making their serves very difficult to return with any interest.
Sampras had all of these elements in spades, particularly power and disguise thanks to his unique technique.
Roger Federer practically imitates Sampras’s famous ‘back to the court’ trophy position, adding to his great disguise too.
So it stands to reason that the Pete Sampras serve is one that many players at all levels can emulate, so let’s delve into the details of how he was able to develop such a dominant weapon.
One of the most fundamental factors of a great serve is the technique. Sampras had close to perfect serving technique.
He mastered the fundamentals and developed an extremely consistent serve that he could rely on in the most highly pressurised moments on court.
Sampras served with a platform stance, meaning he kept his feet apart when in the trophy position.
This is a stance favoured by the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, as it is thought to favour accuracy over power.
Many of the most powerful serves of all time such as John Isner,
Andy Roddick and Serena Williams have opted for the pin point stance, where they bring their back leg up to meet their front leg as this is thought to maximise power.
Some may argue that this actually comes at the detriment of overall accuracy and consistency, but this can be debated on a case by case basis.
Nonetheless, Sampras’s ability to stay relaxed and loose helped him to generate a lot of power, whilst maintaining his accuracy thanks to his platform stance.
Another element of the Sampras serving technique that stood out from the rest is his high front foot at the start of his swing.
This helped him rock back and place almost all of his weight onto his back leg, allowing for a more pronounced weight transfer through his service motion.
This is a small technical pointer that a lot of the best servers in the world use to create a sort of rocking motion before they move into their swing.
It creates a loading effect on the back leg, meaning when you push off into your swing, you are carrying more momentum and are therefore better able to launch off the ground and into the court.
Sampras also has a deep knee bend, which again adds to his power generation and allows him to really explode off the court and into his service motion.
He is able to load up his leg muscles and jump up into his contact point, meaning he can hit the ball at an even higher height, improving his serving trajectory.
This gives his serve a higher bounce on the other side of the court and makes it even more difficult for his opponents to return.
A signature part of the Sampras serve is his exaggerated elbow bend at the end of his survive motion.
He actually forced his arm to snap down right after contact to accentuate his pronation, adding even more racket head speed to his serve.
This helped him to accelerate through contact more easily, again adding to his ferocious speed.
This was also implemented by Boris Becker and Andy Roddick, two very impressive servers indeed!
One final thing that stands out about Sampras’s serving technique is his racket lag.
He brings his throwing arm up in line with the baseline, helping to exaggerate his shoulder turn and keep his back facing the court.
But, he actually delays his hitting arm slightly so he can stay nice and loose and build up that momentum as he throws his racket into the ball.
This again helps to keep him relaxed and maximises the momentum he generates through his swing, allowing him to create more power and racket head speed through contact.
So, this is an easy tip you can add to your serve if you are looking to improve the fluidity of your swing!
We have alluded to the technical aspects of power generation that Sampras implements in his serving technique, but how was he able to generate power so consistently across a match and more broadly, across his career?
Well, one major factor was how easy Sampras’s serve was on his body.
Whilst he stayed in tremendous shape throughout his career, the longevity of his serving power can be largely attributed to his loose technique that didn’t put too much stress on his body.
This meant Sampras could fire down serves in excess of 130mph consistently and it really didn’t take too much out of him, where a lot of other players needed to put in a lot of effort to reach these speeds.
Sampras clearly had the classic tennis player build.
He had very strong legs and a lean upper body, perfect for loading and staying strong at the core whilst staying nice and loose in the shoulders, arm and wrist.
This is a perfect combination that maximises the efficiency of a player’s movement and power generation, as they are not carrying too much bulk up top, but can still use their powerful legs to move around the court with ease and create a lot of rotational power when they get to the ball.
Pete maximised this physical advantage along with his 185cm height to create easy power in his serve.
This was particularly notable on Sampras’s second serve, where he would often fire down 115mph or higher serves to get himself out of trouble.
You’ve got to be pretty relaxed to be able to do that consistently!
Pete Sampras was one of the best spot servers of all time. He was able to fire down huge serves with pinpoint accuracy time after time.
This made it incredibly difficult to return his serve, especially when added to his impeccable disguise and consistently.
His accuracy would effectively take the racket out of the opponent’s hand, as even if they were able to handle his power, they would struggle to even reach the ball as he could create such acute angles as he opened up the court.
Roger Federer doesn’t have the most powerful serve of all time by any means, but he, just like Sampras, prioritises accuracy and placement over raw power.
This also makes serving much less mentally and physically demanding, as you are not constantly chasing speed and can instead focus your mind on hitting your spots, knowing that your opponent will struggle to return the ball with any interest.
A key factor in Sampras’s serving success was his ability to disguise where his delivery would go.
He was able to disguise his serve with great effect, thanks to his ball toss and exaggerated shoulder turn before contact.
His ball toss was incredibly consistently placed and his long throwing motion made it almost impossible for his opponents to read where the ball was going.
Placing the ball in virtually the same spot every time, and being able to hit his serves with all types of spin, speed and placement from this ball toss was the real secret to Sampras’ serve.
The power, accuracy and consistency were of course very influential in making his serve so great, but the disguise really set it apart from the rest.
It meant his opponents would always be left second guessing themselves, never really knowing what the next serve would hold.
Therefore, when they actually did make contact, they couldn’t really do so with much conviction, as they would have to guess where the serve was going rather than read it.
Many players will say that you’re only as good as your second serve.
This is because you can have the biggest, most accurate first serve out there, but if you can’t produce a solid second serve under pressure then it all counts for nothing.
This is a department that Sampras really thrived in. His second serve was very reliable but also stood out as one of the most potent of his generation.
We occasionally see players like Nick Kyrgios or Daniil Medvedev firing down outrageous second serves as they throw caution to the wind, but Sampras did this as a deliberate tactic to throw his opponents off.
He would often fire down second serves in the most pressured moments, like when facing break points or when the score was tight in a tie break.
He was able to make the vast majority of these serves thanks to his effortless technique and immense confidence in his serve in general.
This made playing Sampras quite an intimidating prospect, as you knew when the going got tough, he would come up with the goods when serving.
Again, Sampras’s confidence and immense belief in his serve made for great viewing as he was able to dig himself out of trouble so reliably.
He had an ice cool mentality which saw him remain incredibly calm under pressure, helping him to stay loose as he would fire down big serves that he could approach the net behind.
Sampras was one of the most cool, calm and collected players under pressure of all time, reminiscent of Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer.
This sometimes emotionless demeanour silenced crowds and gave Sampras the mental edge, particularly when he needed to serve his way out of trouble and turn a match around.
Overall, Pete Sampras possessed one of the greatest and most recognisable serves of all time.
His technique played a major role in his success, as it allowed him to stay loose and generate insane power consistently throughout the course of a match and his entire career.
The accuracy and disguise of the Sampras serve really made it stand out from the crowd, as well as his ability to come up with the goods under pressure time after time.
Many players including Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have taken inspiration from the Sampras serve, leading them to becoming two of the greatest players of all time.
There is a lot we can all learn from the Sampras serve, so take note and try to emulate some of his success next time you are on court!