CHENNAI: With a tennis ball acting as an extension of Kevin Anderson’s left hand, he looks assured. He tosses it up and gets ready to launch it down the T. A fraction of a second later, that sound of a racquet head connecting with a tennis ball resonates around the perimeter of the arena.
Time, less than a millisecond, stands still before Anderson is up 15-0. The ball kisses the chalk and leaves the opponent bemused. The guy at the other end wastes a challenge. Maybe he doesn’t, but that’s just an annotation.
This scene played itself out more than a 1000 times last year — 1074 aces (third on the 2015 list) to be exact. That the World No 12 relies a lot on serve is promulgating the obvious but some of his serving numbers from 2015 are staggering. He won 89% of his service games (sixth last year, won 835 (fifth) out of a total of 942) and 80% of his first serves (fourth) yielded points for the South African.
While the lanky 29-year-old isn’t aware of these numbers — he doesn’t look them up but is surprised when someone mentions he served over a 1000 unreturned bombs — his punctilious preparation reveals a lot.
“I got a routine I stick to just before I hit the baseline,” he says. “I’m already mentally ready and know where I’m going to land. It depends on how I feel on the day, the opponent and also the need to keep my opponent guessing. I’m obviously not going to keep landing it on the same spot throughout the match.”
The process, he says, can be both art as well as science. “I think it’s a combination of both. Learning it (serving) while growing up; it’s more about time to me. As time goes on, there are very few who can experience the way I hit a serve. For most part, I just love the feeling that I can recreate so many serves.”
He isn’t the only big-server at the Chennai Open. Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller generated impressive numbers last year — 765 aces (fourth), 87% of service games won (eighth) and 80% of his first serves got him points (fifth). The experienced leftie doesn’t have a routine but his postulate makes for interesting observation.
“I guess it’s a little bit natural. I’m tall and lefty and these two things help a lot.” But Muller’s plan revolves around howitzer-like serves. “It’s not only the serve but also the way I try and use it. Over the years I’ve tried to use it the right way and it has helped a lot.”
Vasek Pospisil (17th in aces last year) may be a bit down the pecking order but his posit holds water. “I’m tall and it’s important to have a big serve because I need to have cheaper points. I’m not built like some of the other players who prefer to run all day. Generally taller players ranked in the 100 are good servers and that is my weapon.”
Eleven of the top 12 for aces last year are all ranked 38 or above, with Roger Federer (6’1”) being the shortest of the lot. Curiously, Stan Wawrinka (6’), 13th on the list, is the shortest among the first 24. The Swiss has a common mantra. “Practice it lots like all the other shots,” he says. “Get my rhythm going and try and find the zone.”
Going by the numbers, they don’t just find the zone. They live in it.