Building the perfect tennis player

Building the perfect tennis player – down to the very last detail

We are here to build the perfect tennis players. That’s right – the perfect tennis player. We are going to build him from scratch by taking attributes of existing players – past and present – and instilling these attributes in our perfect player. And this is not going to be some superficial nonsense where someone has the serve of Ivo Karlovic and moves like Michael Chang. Sorry, that’s just not geometrically compatible unless the person is a shapeshifter. And of course, it leaves so many details untouched and ambiguous. No, we are going to go into the nitty-gritties here. We are not going to leave anything up to chance, or up to interpretation. And we are going to create a tennis player that does not sound like he’s come out of an X-Men comic.

So let’s get down to business:

Physical Attributes

First we need to decide the upon the physique of our player. Is he going to be a giant like Karlovic or Isner, have bulging muscles like Nadal or have sinewy athleticism like Federer, Djokovic or Edberg. Well, realistically we are going to decide upon the height and the body type here. As long as these 2 are decided, our player is sorted for now. We are going to go provide him further attributes that would better define his power, flexibility and movement later. But his body must be compatible with the attributes we would eventually want him to have.

Height – What is the perfect height for a tennis player? This is highly subjective. Historically, a lot of players with a height 6 feet and slightly more have enjoyed tremendous success. We see that 3 of our 6 greatest men’s tennis players of all time, Federer, Sampras and Nadal – have a height of 6’1”. Indeed that seems to be a very successful height for tennis players, and this is the height that we are going with.

Verdict : 6’1” (185 cm)

Body Type – Federer, Djokovic, Sampras, Edberg, Lendl, Borg, Connors – you see where I’m going with this? A super athletic body with well-toned muscles and not a strand of fat or tissue out of place!

Verdict : Athletic


Serve – the first and most important shot in tennis! Whose serve do we want? Well, we are straight away counting out the likes of Ivo Karlovic – who incidentally holds the records for both the highest percentage of service games won and least percentage of return games won on the ATP Tour. Will the Karlovic serve be just as potent on a 6’1 frame? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s just not compatible. The Karlovic serve is built to make use of his tremendous height. Ok, so no one 6’6 and above. That’s where we draw the line. Our 6’1 player is not going to have the benefit of serving from a tree.

1st serve – We need a deadly first serve. Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, famous servers from different eras come to mind. Even lesser names like Wayne Arthurs, Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic are in the mix. But in the end, we are going with the monster first serve of Goran Ivanisevic.

Verdict : Goran Ivanisevic

2nd serve – The old adage goes “a player is only as good as his first serve”. But who has the best second serve of them all? Well, there are 3 main contenders here. Sampras was well known for his tremendous second serve. And after him, Federer has picked up a similar reputation. The other guy, whose second is perhaps slightly less celebrated – undeservingly so – is Roddick. Sampras certainly had the best second serve of his time. But I believe Federer and Roddick took the second serve just a tick higher with their overall accuracy, skill and variety on that shot. Federer, Roddick and Sampras won 56.8%, 56.0% and 52.6% respectively of their second serve points throughout their careers, all incredible numbers. But in the end, we are going with Federer for this shot.

Verdict : Roger Federer


When you think of all the great returners throughout history – Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Hewitt, Agassi, Connors, Edberg – you realise that different returners have different strengths. Depending on whether you are looking to go after the second serve of Nadal on Rod Laver Arena or looking to neutralize the Roddick serve on Wimbledon Centre Court, you might lean towards different returners. Our perfect player must have all the necessary returning skills required to be the best returner under all circumstances.

Stock return – This is going to be the standard return that is going to be the majority of our players’ returns against most players. And I think Djokovic probably has had the most well-rounded return of all players.

Verdict – Novak Djokovic

Aggressive return – This is when we want to really go after the serve and cream the return. And nobody has done that better than Andre Agassi.

Verdict – Andre Agassi

Defensive return – When you need to break down a huge server on a rapid court, you need the blocked and chipped return. If the opponent is charging in behind the serve, the best you can do is get the return down at his feet. Federer is the best at cutting big servers down to size.

Verdict : Roger Federer

Chip and charge – A very infrequently used tactic nowadays, the chip and charge return can be a great tactic for someone who is proficient at the net. And we are going with the chip that Bjorn Borg’s nightmares were made off. John McEnroe’s chip and charge was usually more of a glide down the line that almost skimmed along the ground.

Verdict – John McEnroe


Time to decide the forehand and backhand! The forehand will be the dominant shot. A question arises here though – should we go for a single handed backhand or a double hander? Each has its pros and cons – the single hander has better variety, can generate better angle, is better against lower balls and when you’re up the court with less time to set up. The double hander can generate more power and depth, and is better when you are further back in the court and the ball is bouncing higher and you have more time to setup. But hey, we are building a perfect player – a complete player. Why not give him the advantages of both. We are going to create a player who can hit both the single and double handed backhands depending on the situation. For this we are going to choose 2 backhands that complement each other so that we get the best of all the advantages stated above.

Forehand – There have been a lot of celebrated forehands throughout history. Lendl, Sampras, Gonzalez, Nadal, del Potro and many more. But there really is one forehand that stands out above the rest, and that is the Roger Federer forehand. It’s as big and as consistent a weapon as you can wish to have off the ground. He can take it early, on the rise, from a height or half-volley it and hit it crosscourt, down the line, inside out, inside in, all with the same lethality and penetration.

Verdict : Roger Federer

Double-handed backhand – Borg, Connors, Agassi, Djokovic – all possessed tremendous backhands. But no one has hit the double hander quite as cleanly and consistently as Novak Djokovic. And he is also the most proficient of the lot at attacking the high ball out to the backhand.

Verdict – Novak Djokovic

Single-handed backhand – Possessing the ability to take the backhand early – often half-volleying it for winners, generate ridiculous angles, and easily the greatest backhand slice ever, we are going to pair Federer’s single hander with Djokovic’s double hander for an unstoppable combination.

Verdict : Roger Federer

Net Play

Well, to make our player super proficient at the net, we would need to borrow attributes from among the greatest net players of all time – Sampras, Becker, Edberg, Cash, McEnroe.

Forehand volley – We are going with the forehand volley of probably the most talented net player the game has ever seen – John McEnroe. The feel that McEnroe had on the forehand volley was unparalleled.

Verdict : John McEnroe

Backhand volley – Edberg was just smooth as butter at the net, and his backhand volley was a work of art.

Verdict : Stefan Edberg

Movement at the net – Noone had better anticipation at the net and no one covered the angles at the net quite as well as McEnroe. When he hit his volleys, it often felt like he was almost on top of the net and there was rarely any way past him once he managed to get himself to the net.

Verdict : John McEnroe


Movement is critical for a tennis player and our player is going to outmove, outrun, outmaneuver and outlast any opponent he might come across.

Foot speed – Who is the fastest player in tennis history? I do not know if there is any official data on this. Unsurprisingly a list of the fastest sprinters of tennis – Monfils, Nadal, Murray, Hewitt, Sampras, Borg – based on the simple eye test include some of the most successful players of all time. The final vote here goes to Rafael Nadal. A young Nadal would chase down every damn thing on the court, opponents could just not get the ball past him. If you have any doubts regarding this selection, just check out the following video.

Verdict : Rafael Nadal

Athleticism – We’ve got Nadal’s speed. Now we’re going to ramp up the intensity of our players’ game with Sampras’ cat like athleticism. Sampras’ athleticism would add a bit of extra zing to McEnroe’s net coverage too. Expect a few slam dunks along the way.

Verdict : Pete Sampras

Footwork – Let’s pile on the intensity with Federer’s lightning quick short sharp steps, giving our player the ability to play an incredibly high tempo from as far up the court as he wishes. At the height of his powers, people used to wonder how Federer could move so quickly around the court without making a sound. We already have Federer’s forehand. His footwork will also ensure that we run around to the forehand side to unleash as many of them as possible.

Verdict : Roger Federer

Stamina – Most of the most successful players at major levels have tremendous stamina. It’s a necessity, you need to be able to play at an incredibly high level for 5 sets. But has any player run on batteries that last quite as long as Rafael Nadal’s! He could play for 5 hours with barely a drop in his level. And he could come out and do it all again the next match. And this is not hyperbole, this is something he has done multiple times, at the latter stages of Grand Slams. Australian Open 2009 anyone?

Verdict : Rafael Nadal

Flexibility : This is a criterion that exists because of one man and one man only. Novak Djokovic introduced to the tennis world a level of flexibility that was hitherto unimaginable. And this flexibility makes him better at hitting shots at the end of his range than any player, by some margin. And we want that ability in our player too.

Verdict – Novak Djokovic

Other shots

Retrieval – The ability to keep the ball in play is a tremendously valuable attribute for a tennis player to have. And few players have done it quite like Djokovic and Nadal do it today. And while Nadal has frustrated many an opponent with his ability to just get another ball back in play, a certain Bjorn Borg has probably frustrated players during his time even more by effortlessly putting ball after ball back in play. It was a different time, and wooden rackets definitely made it more difficult for players to hit through Borg. But he still gets our vote for this attribute.

Verdict : Bjorn Borg

Drop shot – 3 contenders for this slot – McEnroe, Federer and Murray. All 3 of them have varying relationships with the drop shots too. McEnroe used it extensively throughout his career and he was pretty proficient at it. Federer used it sparingly towards the beginning of his career and more and more as his career progressed. However, he has always had tremendous feel and disguise on his drop shots. Murray on the other hand used to use it extensively during the early part of his career and many would say he used it too much. He has since reduced its usage over time. In the end, we are choosing the delicious Federer drop shots, with a long history of leaving both fans and opponents bamboozled.

Verdict : Roger Federer

Lob – Murray and Lendl are the 2 players who are competing for this slot. Both have tremendous feel on the lob. Ultimately, it’s Murray’s lobs that we are going to choose for our player. Even 6’11 guys like Ivo Karlovic would attest that it’s a pretty solid choice.

Verdict : Andy Murray

Passing shots – We already have groundstroke attributes that are a combination of Federer and Djokovic. Now we’re going to augment that with the ability to pick your spot under the pressure of an on-rushing opponent. Both Federer and Djokovic are all-time great exponents of the passing shot. Nadal and Lendl are arguably even better at it. But the greatest exponent of the passing shot has to be Borg. His opponents could scarcely break him down from the baseline, and when they decided to force things by coming to the net, that adventure ended all too often with an inch perfect passing shot whizzing past them. His out of the world passing shots was one of the key contributors to a baseliner winning 5 consecutive Wimbledon titles in an era when that was almost unthinkable. .

  Verdict : Bjorn Borg

Flair shots : We do not want our player to be a trick shotter. What we do want is our player to be able to pull off something special from seemingly impossible positions and to sometimes surprise his opponents with ridiculous changeups. And this one is a no-brainer – Federer. Be it tweeners, squash lobs, winners off smashes, drop shot returns or the following shot which I cannot quite find the words in the dictionary to describe so I’ve just embedded a video, he’s your man.

Verdict : Roger Federer


Competitiveness – Rafael Nadal is the best point by point competitor that the sport has today. In the 20th century, that was Jimmy Connors. And we are going with Connors here. He was a fierce, fierce competitor who did not give an inch. He loved winning, and he hated losing. And that competitive streak did not go away even at the ripe old age of 39 as you can see below. And while that did lead to him going overboard on several occasions, no one competed quite as hard as Jimmy Connors.

Verdict : Jimmy Connors

Mental strength – When the going gets tough, the tough get going. This is certainly true for the likes Djokovic, Nadal, Hewitt, Sampras, Connors, and many more great champions. And yes, all these guys have shown what they are made of in the big moments time and time again. But Djokovic’s ludicrous winning percentage of nearly 75% in deciding sets, numerous five set victories over his biggest rivals in the biggest matches, multiple victories from the brink of defeat including those from match point down and ability to win despite seemingly not playing his best make it hard to argue against him for this attribute.

Verdict : Novak Djokovic

Anticipation – The ability to see what the opponent is going to do before he’s even done it – the ability to get that fraction of a second head start compared to other players! Federer, Nadal, Agassi and McEnroe are some tremendously talented players with great anticipation that comes to mind. But perhaps one guy that out-anticipates them all is Andy Murray. He had an uncanny ability that seemed like he started moving towards where the ball would go even before the ball did.

Verdict : Andy Murray

Playing style

In this section, we make sure that all the attributes we have discussed come together to make a coherent tennis player that wins matches. Firstly, our player will be a left-hander. Most professional tennis players will tell you that being a lefty is an advantage. It is true in a lot of sports. And even more so in tennis, where players develop patterns of play that they like to execute over and over. Since a vast majority of players are right handers, most players – righties and lefties alike – are more comfortable playing right handers. They have patterns of play better developed for right handers and deal with the patterns of plays of right handers better in general. We have chosen several shots of various right handed players, but ultimately, it’s the mirror image of the Federer forehand that we would see out on the court.

Finally, since our player can do everything, and do everything well, we are going to go for an aggressive all-court style of play. Federer is probably the best personification of the all-court game, and we are going to use that as a base. But this player is going to take it to another level. He has all the big weapons, and he’s going to look to unleash the moment he gets the chance. He has a tremendous serve, and a deadly forehand and footwork to develop a killer serve+1 combination. He is going to throw the S&V in there too quite often. He is going to look to use his footwork, athleticism, anticipation and ability to take the ball early to play from an advanced court position and take the first strike whenever possible. And if the opportunity presents itself, come in and finish the point off at the net.

While our player is going to take any opportunity presented to him to step in and be aggressive, very often the rallies on your return games start with you in a defensive court position. And our player will not mind that. He has the speed, stamina and the pace and depth of groundstrokes to play long rallies from behind the baseline.

Our player is also going to use all his different skills and variety to his maximum advantage. He is going to hit hard and with depth from the back of the court. He is going to take the ball early, play with more angle and use the slice more often when he has the opportunity to play closer to the baseline. He is going to come to the net and keep the opponent guessing as much as possible. On faster and lower courts, he would use the slice, the chipped and blocked returns, and play further up the court. On slower and higher bouncing courts, he would drive through the return, play with more depth and topspin and carefully pick his moments to step into the court. Being such a complete player, he can also vary his patterns of play based on his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses too.

Verdict : Left-handed, aggressive all-court game.

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