Ask seven professional tennis players over the age of 35 whose serve is the best they have faced and you might expect to find a near consensus. But when that question, along with others concerning the best basic strokes in the game, were posed to the players in the Oak Tree Grand Champions Tennis Classic, the answers were surprisingly diverse.
Tony Roche, a left-hander, thought Neale Fraser had the best serve he has ever faced. Fraser won back-to-back U.S. Open titles in 1959-60.
"I remember in 1960 that Fraser won Forest Hills and only lost his serve twice," Dennis Ralston said. "I remember that because he lost it once to me and he lost it once to (Rod) Laver."
Ralston, a right-hander, chose Pancho Gonzales, as did Charlie Pasarell, another right-hander. Of those who serve left-handed, Pasarell said he thought Fraser was the best.
John Newcombe was the choice of Colin Dibley and Frew McMillan.
Marty Riessen said John McEnroe with no hesitation, and in Tom Gorman's opinion, Butch Walts had the best first serve, with Roscoe Tanner a close second.
In the best forehand vote, Gorman, Riessen and McMillan all went with Bjorn Borg. Ralston picked Pancho Segura and Dibley stayed with Newcombe, whom he chose in three categories.
"A lot depends on the surface," Dibley said. "Borg is the best on clay, Newcombe on grass and McEnroe on cement."
Pasarell also went with Newcombe first and then Laver and Frank Froehling, the latter of whom is no longer in the tennis mainstream.
"That was the only thing Frank really had, but he did have a great forehand." "As far as a forehand, I think I would pick Ken Fletcher," Roche said. "Not too many people know who he is, but he toured in the '60s.
He won a lot of mixed doubles titles with Margaret Court."
Ken Rosewall got votes from Roche and Pasarell as having the best backhand. Ralston and Gorman picked him second behind Laver and Borg.
Dibley and Riessen went with Jimmy Connors in that category and McMillan went with Laver.
There was more of a consensus concerning volleys.
Newcombe got four votes (Pasarell, Ralston, Dibley and Riessen) for his forehand volley. Ralston was the choice of Roche and Gorman.
McMillan went with Lew Hoad, who won back-to-back Wimbledon titles in 1956-57.
Roche's backhand volley was picked by Gorman, Riessen, Pasarell and Dibley as being the best they've faced. Roche and Ralston cast their votes for Rosewall.
Interestingly enough, Tennis Magazine rated the best strokes of all time for both men and women recently, using five writers and Ted Tinling, a tennis couturier, as its panel. Laver, who is a contemporary of the players competing in the Oak Tree Grand Champions Classic, was their choice for best backhand volley.
It is Roger Taylor's opinion that Laver was such a great player in his prime that no one else counted.
"The best player any of us played against was Rod Laver," Taylor said. "So what if someone had a great forehand. The records of the young players, like Borg, are misleading. Rod Laver missed a string of Wimbledons (when professionals were not allowed in the tournament)."
Laver won back-to-back Wimbledon titles in 1961-62 and 1968-69. He also won the Grand Slam in '62 and '69.
Dick Stockton got five votes for his overhead. Roche said he couldn't chose one overhead and Pasarell went with Ralston, Rosewall and Jeff Borowiak in that category.
"Jeff is a space cadet, but he did have an unbelievable overhead," Pasarell. "As far as placement goes, I think Rosewall's was the best."
McMillan's first choice in the overhead category was Stockton, but he also mentioned Andrew Pattison, who is from Zimbabwe.
The best lobber McMillan has faced is Manuel Santana. The best lobber Gorman has faced in terms of touch is Zjelko Franulovic, a Yugoslavian player. Rosewall's lob got votes from Dibley and Riessen.
In other categories, Dibley said he thought Gene Mayer has the best touch in the game. Ralston said he thought Connors and Gonzales were the most relentless competitors, and he also picked Connors for return of serve.
The results of an informal poll like this are interesting because of the range of players represented. Stockton's overhead was the most agreed upon shot. It seems that in tennis, as elsewhere, "beauty" is in the eye of the beholder. BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 77529