The serve is arguably the most important shot in tennis. It is the only shot that a player can control absolutely, as all other shots are a reaction to what your opponent may do.
There have been many great servers over the years in the professional game. But determining who is the best individual server can be a challenging task.
Sure, you can simply take the player who has hit the highest number of aces across their career, but this does not always translate to success on court on its own.
A player needs a multitude of skills to back up their big serving, so other statistics such as percentage of service games won, service points won, unreturnable serves and of course titles won need to be considered too.
So, whilst having a big serve is not the only thing needed to make a great player, there are a number of players that stand out above the rest for simply having some of the best serves of all time.
First though, let’s break down what is needed to create such a dominant serve.
What Makes a Great Serve
There are a number of elements that make up a great serve. Speed is definitely one of them, but at the highest levels of the game there are a few other elements that go into being a great server.
Having a powerful serve that can achieve insane speeds is of course a major part of becoming one of the best servers of all time. All of the best servers had the ability to hit through their opponents and rely on their serve to get them out of trouble when they most needed it.
Of course, having a fast first serve keeps you opponent on their toes and will inevitably mean ther serve will be difficult to return simply because opponents have so little time to react. Whilst it is not the be all and end all of being a great server, it speed plays a major role in the games of all the players on our list.
When speed is combined with spin a player has a lethal combination at their disposal. Being able to great massive amounts of topspin on kick serves or carve out a slice serve with ease makes for a very difficult serve to return.
Adding spin can also increase the unpredictability and consistency of a player’s serve. This is because adding spin increases the control a player has over the ball, whilst mixing up different spins keeps your opponent guessing.
It’s all well and good being able to hit a serve with a lot of power or spin, but if it is directed straight at your opponent every time they will be able to make every return.
Therefore, being able to place your serve exactly where you want it with accuracy is a key skill that the best servers of all time share.
Having a great serve that remains powerful and accurate throughout the course of a match is another key element of making a great server. Many players can serve well for a set or two, but those that can bring the heat game in, game out throughout a 5 set match are the ones that go down in history as the greatest servers.
Again, a serve can be as powerful as you like. But if it is easy for an opponent to predict where it will be hit every time you won’t have much success. Therefore, being able to hit multiple serves from the same ball toss placement and being able to mix up the speed, spin and direction of your serve are attributes that all the best servers possess.
The Best Tennis Servers of All Time
Now, it’s time to celebrate the best tennis servers of all time. These players showcase the art of serving in its own right and have the statistics to back it up. Whilst they are in no particular order, they are all incredibly impressive servers that are greats of the game in their own right.
‘The Serve Dr’ Ivo Karlovic is regarded by many as the single greatest server of all time. Standing at 6”11, he holds the all time record for the most career aces served, with a staggering 13,653 in 690 matches! He therefore averages nearly 20 aces per match and will consistently serve at speeds in excess of 140mph.
He even held the record for fastest serve at 156mph, which was later surpassed by John Isner.
Ivo’s serve comes from such a high contact point that it is the high bounce alongside the pure speed that baffles his opponents. Karlovic is one of the best tennis servers of all time and belongs on top of any serving list.
America has a history of producing great tennis servers. None are much greater than John Isner. He holds the official record for the fastest serve of 157.2mph which he hit in the 2016 Davis Cup.
Isner is second on the all time aces list with an astonishing 12,475 and tops the list of percentage first serves in play. Big John’s serve is one of the most difficult to return because of the insanely high bounce and pace that it is delivered with. He is also able to hit unbelievable amounts of topspin, which is why he sits 3rd of all time on 2nd serve points won. Like Karlovic, Isner will consistently serve in the high 130mph range and is incredibly consistent with his power delivery.
John Isner is an unbelievable server and is regarded by many tennis professionals as one of the best servers of all time.
The great Roger Federer may not have the biggest serve of all time, but his insane accuracy, placement and variation put him 3rd in the all time aces count. Roger is able to fool his opponents better than anyone else, as his serve is so well disguised.
Considering the majority of great servers on our list are between 6”4 and 6”11, it is impressive that Federer sits so high up the serving rankings considering he is just 6”1. This is testament to his consistency and accuracy when it comes to serving, as these more than make up for his lack of outright pace.
Roger Federer will go down as one of the greatest tennis players ever, but his often overlooked serve is one of the most impressive parts of his game.
The great lefty Goran Ivanisevic is certainly one of the best servers of all time. He was famed for his powerful serve and extremely fast motion. Goran would often take the ball on the rise as he hit his serve, giving his opponents no time to react or predict where he would be aiming.
He complimented this powerful weapon with an impressive attacking game style. Goran was a serve and volley player that liked to finish points on his own terms. He will certainly go down in history as one of the best servers of all time.
‘A-Rod’ Andy Roddick held the record for the fastest serve in the world at 155mph for a number of years. Famed for his unorthodox abbreviated service motion, Roddick was a great competitor that relied on his impressive serve to get him out of trouble.
Many players hailed Roddick’s serve for its unbelievable pace and consistency, as he could continue producing this power even when playing long 5 set matches. He was the one of the most impressive servers of his generation and had a powerful all court game to back it up. He would often impose his aggressive game on his opponents and force them into errors, a lot of them being from unreturnable serves!
‘Pistol’ Pete Sampras was one of the first and most iconic big servers. He would bring the heat on both his first and second serves and was again famed for his consistency. The 14 time grand slam champion had an incredibly accurate serve that was bombed down with insane power, often hitting speeds in excess of 135mph.
Sampras served as inspiration for many of today’s great servers, as he was ice cool on the court and would use his big serve to silence any crowd.
Feliciano Lopez has one of the most elegant and powerful serves we’ve ever seen. He is one of the longest standing players on the ATP tour and holds the record for the most consecutive grand slam main draw appearances at 66!
There is no doubt that Feli’s unbelievable serve is a major reason why he has been successful on the tour for so long. His classic serve and volley game has stood the test of time and Lopez remains one of the fittest players on the tour. Yet, it is his serve that has been most impressive over the years.
Serena Williams has one of the most classical service motions of all time. She is one of the most dominant servers in the women’s game and can consistently reach speeds in excess of 120mph.
Her serve is regarded by many as the greatest ever in the female game. Whilst she sits at 3rd on the official fastest serve list behind her sister Venus and Sabine Lisicki, her serve is so consistent and backed up by her incredibly aggressive game that it has led her to winning 23 grand slam titles.
Sam Groth burst onto the tennis scene in 2012 when he hit the fastest unofficial serve of all time at a challenger tournament in Busan. This serve clocked in at 163.4mph and caught the world’s attention.
Whilst this was not an official record in its own right, it does show what an unbelievably powerful server Groth is. He has spent the majority of his career playing challenger level tournaments with some fleeting appearances on the ATP World tour, but he can certainly be regarded as one of the greatest, yet underrated servers out there.
Nick Kyrgios is fast becoming one of the greatest servers of his generation. His impressive fast arm motion is very difficult to read and he consistently bombs serves down at over 140mph.
One of the most effective elements of the Kyrgios serve is the disguise he puts on it. He has been known for hitting underarm serves and this just adds to his unpredictability. He is impressively high in the ATP serving rankings, especially for being so early in his career and he will almost certainly be regarded as one of the best servers of all time when he hangs up his rackets.
Georgina Garcia Perez
Georgina Garcia Perez hit the fastest serve on record in the women’s game at 136.7mph back at the 2018 Hungarian ladies open. Whilst this is not an official record, it is significantly higher than Sabine Lisicki’s 131mph so Georgina can definitely be regarded as one of the best servers of all time for her raw out and out pace!
The best tennis servers of all time bring some real heat to the court. Their ability to hit unbelievably fast, accurate and consistent serves sets them apart from other greats of the sport.
There are a range of factors that make an impressive serve, including disguise, placement, consistency and of course power. All of the servers in our list are past, present or future greats of the game and their incredible serves play an integral part in that.